ZURICH – In contrast to the familiar images of cows grazing in the picturesque Alps, Switzerland is a country also known for its technological innovations, in particular in civil engineering.
The nation in the heart of Europe has recently finished work on the Gotthard Base Tunnel, a 57 km railway tunnel and the world’s longest after it surpassed the 53.9-km-long Seikan Tunnel in Japan.
Gotthard Base Tunnel through the Alps opened in June and is expected to launch full-fledge operations in December, serving as a key route connecting northern and southern parts of Europe.
Meanwhile, the Tamina Bridge, which is scheduled to be completed in June in the northeastern canton of St. Gallen, will be one of the longest arch-shaped bridges in Europe.
Contributing to the country’s development of new, cutting-edge infrastructure are Japanese architects, including 71-year-old Riken Yamamoto.
Construction of a large-scale complex designed by Yamamoto is underway next to Zurich Airport, an international transportation hub located in the country’s largest city.
The Circle at Zurich Airport is expected to contain a convention hall with space for some 2,300 people, two hotels with a total of 550 rooms, a university hospital, shops, restaurants and offices comprising 260,000 sq. meters of floor space. It is scheduled to open at the end of 2019.
“I believe this is the first attempt in the world. Usually, airports, like Haneda (in Tokyo), have only souvenir shops. But this is completely different,” Yamamoto recently told reporters.
“This (complex) is not for the airport itself. The planned ‘city’ is for local residents of the Zurich region,” he added.
Since his involvement in the project, Yamamoto has been enlightened by the Swiss construction industry. A commitment to environmentally conscious decision-making, taking the future into consideration, is key, he said.
For example, the complex will be equipped with energy-efficient outer walls, which will push up the construction cost. But calculating total maintenance costs over 50 years, the energy saving will make it a cheaper option in the long term.
This idea is in contrast to how projects are done in Japan, where a budget is typically planned annually, Yamamoto said.
In order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and improve work efficiency, prefabricated construction materials are brought in instead of being made on site. Also, fewer engineers are involved in the project, thanks to a mechanized operation procedure.
Foreign architects, including Yamamoto, feel welcome in the market because the competition system is open and transparent.
“I don’t feel I am being treated differently because I am Japanese,” he said.
In the case of The Circle, which is located 12 minutes away from the heart of Zurich, 14 teams were selected out of 90 applicants, before being narrowed down to five.
The five participants were each provided work space within the airport terminal and given several opportunities to make presentations and discuss revisions of their plans with the client. Yamamoto was given the green light after about one year.
“Currently, I am working with the help of local architects. There exists a well-organized mechanism for lots of experts (with various backgrounds) to work together here,” Yamamoto said.
Yamamoto, who was a professor at Yokohama National University, said another advantage of the Swiss construction industry is that architects and engineers are treated equally, which makes working in the country more attractive.
“I feel the client entirely trusts us. Explanations in every meeting are shared by all people involved,” said Yamamoto.
Daniel Meyer, vice president of the Swiss Society of Engineers and Architects, echoed Yamamoto’s sentiment, saying the nation is always prepared to accept a variety of values and designs through open competition, in particular in architecture.
Meyer said Le Corbusier (1887-1965), who was born in Switzerland and is known as a pioneer of modern architecture, had a significant influence on the professional education system in the country.
“He always taught that engineers and architects are on the same level, mentioning the importance of dialogue between them,” Meyer said. “It’s very important that we have architects abroad, especially from Japan, because Japanese have (a lot) of affinity” with Swiss people in terms of architecture.
Other Japanese architects are jumping on the bandwagon.
The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, one of the leading tech institutes in the world, chose a design by Kengo Kuma for a new building, which will include an exhibition space to showcase the institute’s research projects and the Montreux Jazz Cafe to archive the recordings of the world-famous jazz festival.
The 250-meter-long facility, named Under One Roof, is scheduled to open in November.
Kuma has drawn international attention as the main architect of the new National Stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
Within the same premises along Lake Geneva, the Rolex Learning Center was established in 2010 and has a library, restaurant as well as study and relaxation spaces designed by SANAA, a unit comprising Japanese architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa.
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