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The 15 most peculiar buildings in Switzerland

Who hasn’t dreamed of living in a special house?

Two out of three Swiss live in rented accommodation; 57.4% of the residential homes are single-family houses, while apartment buildings usually have five or six units. Swiss homes tend to be pretty conventional, but there are some exceptions – like the ones listed here.

Villa Vals is built into a slope. Iwan Baan/SeARCH icw CMA

The architects of Villa ValsExternal link in canton Graubünden didn’t want to interfere with the beautiful surroundings. For this reason, they embedded this concrete house into the mountain. The only thing visible from the outside is a round glass façade leading to a 60m2 (645 ft2) terrace. An underground tunnel from a nearby wooden cabin serves as the entrance to the 160mvilla, and the living space is now a hotel that can accommodate ten people.

Somebody actually lives at this rest stop in Würenlos. RDB

Switzerland’s oldest service station (built in 1972) spans the motorway in Würenlos in canton Aargau, west of Zurich. Apart from 19 shops and two petrol stations, it also accommodates three restaurants, which is the reason why the Swiss have dubbed it the “Fressbalken” (food beam). But few people know that on top of the “food beam” is a four-bedroom flat with a terrace for rent.

A Lucerne couple made this old railway building their secret home. Corinne Glanzmann/Neue Luzerner Zeitung

This 8m2 cabin was actually not built as living space. Up until the 1970s it was used by signalmen, who manually operated the railway barrier. A few years ago, a couple had made it their secret home, living relatively comfortably with electricity, running water and a toilet – up until the day they were evicted.

There are many potential tenants interested in renting this listed building. However, the Zentralbahn Railways as well as Swiss Federal Railways, who own the property, do not rent it out but have allowed a gardeners’ association to use it as a storeroom. The future of the little house next to the tracks is still uncertain.

These anthroposophical homes have an organic flair. Keystone

On top of the hill in Dornach in canton Solothurn, you can see a striking number of houses with round corners and asymmetrical roofs. This fairy-tale architecture is part of the Goetheanum residential area. The buildings of this anthroposophical institution were designed by Rudolf Steiner and built in the 1920s. Later, another 170 such anthroposophical buildings were constructed. The philosophy of this type of architecture is that houses should blend in with nature and be made of natural building materials, like wood.

Hotel Palafitte is truly on the lake. AFP

In an effort to copy historic lake dwellings as part of the Swiss National Exhibition in 2002, these pavilions on stilts were constructed over the lake in Neuchâtel. They were designed to represent the homes of the people of the Neolithic era as well as the Bronze Ages, who used them to protect themselves against wild animals and other enemies in Switzerland. The pavilions have since been converted into a five-star luxury hotelExternal link.

But how do you mow the rooftop lawn? AURA Fotoagentur

Swiss actor Walter Andreas Müller owns one near Zurich, and a whole residential estate in that canton consists of them. Earth housesExternal link attract a lot of attention in Switzerland. These houses are built inside the earth in order to protect them against cold, rain and wind. The rooftops are covered in grass and can usually be walked on.

It seems Winterthur near Zurich boasts the littlest house in Switzerland. Marc Dahinden/Landbote

What’s the smallest residential home in Switzerland? We don’t know for sure, but this one could pretty much win the title. This home in Winterthur was constructed in 1810 and has a living space of a mere 33m2and a tiny garden of 11m2.

Built for hard times, now this bunker is enjoyed by tourists. Reuters

The Swiss did not choose to live here. During World War II soldiers had to serve in this air raid shelter under the Gotthard in Airolo in canton Ticino. Since then la ClaustraExternal link (the monastery), which lies at an altitude of 2,050m, has been converted into a conference hotel with a restaurant, spa and library. The rooms are air-conditioned and have running water and toilets. But it hasn’t lost its ‘cave atmosphere’ as you can still smell the mould in the windowless catacombs. 

The golden Olten rooftop was deemed too bling by the authorities. SRF

Passing on a train through Olten in canton Solothurn, you can see a golden roof glittering by the river. This house was built in 2009 and is known all over Switzerland. But it will not be long before life under the golden roof will be over for the owners as the authorities revoked the building permit for the roof. After a spectacular legal battle, the Federal Supreme Court ruled that the roof had to be demolished.

How about a bed embedded in a cave, like in Krauchthal Fluehüsli?

In Lindenthal in canton Bern you can find traditional wooden farm houses built inside two rocky caves. The caves have been inhabited for a long time and the first application for a building permit for such a house in a cave was submitted in 1565. These “flats on the rocks” were famous enough for the Swiss writer Jeremias Gotthelf (1797-1854) to mention them in one of his tales. Access to the flats is only possible via a hiking trail or cable car. Rooms can be booked on Airbnb.

This old chapel could be seen as a hallowed home. Markus Bertschi

The number of churchgoers is dwindling in Switzerland. This has led to empty churches being sold and converted into residential homes. The Koller family, for example, lives in a former Methodist chapel (built in 1908) in Teufen in canton Aargau.

The Aescher guesthouse has a solid foundation. Keystone

Together with their two children, the Knechtles live and work in the Restaurant Aescher in Alpstein in canton Appenzell Inner Rhoden. The house was built underneath a rock in 1846 and has been renovated several times since. National Geographic even features it on one of their covers for a book on the most beautiful travel destinations.

Château de Bavois is up for sale.

This fairy-tale castle from the 19th century is currently for sale. The castle is located between Lausanne and Geneva in Bavois in canton Vaud. The property is 28,457m2, has 18 rooms and a swimming pool. 

This is one of the four toll house homes in Bern.

These four pavilions on the Nydegg Bridge in Bern were constructed in 1843 to collect import duties from travellers. But when bridge tolls were abolished ten years later, these toll houses lost their purpose and were largely rented out as flats.

This new building will take green living to the next level. Stefano Boeri Architetti

It may be a dream of the future but it is a pretty spectacular one: a skyscraper covered in trees will soon be built in Chavannes-près-Renens near Lausanne in canton Vaud.

Bushes, shrubs and trees are supposed to be growing from the balconies and façade of the Tour des CèdresExternal link (cedar tower). The cedars, oak and maple trees are planned to be up to four storeys tall. The plants are supposed to filter dust and produce oxygen, which will improve the quality of life for the tenants of the building. As this was a pretty controversial project, the voting population of the community had the opportunity to vote on this extraordinary skyscraper in 2014. More than 60% voted in favour.

Architect Stefano Boeri has built two similar towers in Milan. The highest building in western Switzerland (117 metres) is due to be finished in 2020.

Do you know of such a peculiar home? Post your pictures! The best statements and pictures will be used for an article. Please contact author @SibillaBondolfi on FacebookExternal link or TwitterExternal link.

Translated from German by Billi Bierling

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