The centre of a village or a road leading into a town used to be marked with an old oak tree or stone boulder. Today in Switzerland this is often signalled with a roundabout featuring a piece of art or a sculpture. What’s the incentive behind Swiss hometown roundabout art, which is often expensive and controversial?
Switzerland is not the only country to use the humble roundabout as a stage for artwork, but in Switzerland, the decorative road features are plentiful and eye-catching. Thomas Rohrbach, communications officer from the Swiss Federal Roads Office, explained there is no way of knowing exactly how many roundabouts there are in the country. In typical Swiss style, “the country’s roundabouts are a matter for regional municipalities and the data has not yet been compiled”. He did divulge that there’s been a high level of interest in the matter recently.
Asked if the art distracts the flow of traffic, he responded that the sculptures don’t create a problem. If anything, they slow down traffic while passengers try to see what unusual object stands amid the flow of vehicles.
Just around the corner
The world’s first roundabout was built in New York in 1905. Due to a growth in traffic, the city needed a safer flow of vehicles, Paris then followed. The French are proud of their roundabout art and there are no less than 500,000 roundaboutexternal link art pieces throughout the country.
As in France, hundreds of thousands of commuters, tourists and truckers pass through Switzerland each year and are witness to roundabout art in one region or the other. Friederike Schmidexternal link initiated some of Switzerland’s most famous roundabout art projects and is one of the first contacts for most of the municipalities when it comes to constructing a new piece.
The first roundabout to win an award for its art was called "Encounter". It was voted the most beautiful in Switzerland in 2005 and was created by Greek artist Costas Varotsos. It can be found in the north of Switzerland.
In May 2019, a roundabout design of a record turntable in Switzerland – shown in the image gallery above - went viral on social media, gaining widespread attention for its simple and clever design.
It might not be to everyone's taste, but the art of decorating a roundabout seems to be here to stay in Switzerland. It's a calling card for all the small municipalities that are proud to have people pass through their home.