Like many institutions of higher education in the postwar period, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössische Hochschule or ETH) in Zürich began looking for ways to expand its downtown location in the 1950s. Following the master plan drawn by architecture professor Albert Heinrich Steiner, work began on the construction of the new Hönggerberg campus in 1961. In 1967, the physics institute was the first to move to the new campus, to be followed by the forestry, agronomy, biology and architecture institutes in later phases.
Room was already tight for the ETH architecture department even as the second building phase at the Hönggerberg was ongoing. In 1968, the department took over part of the infamous Globus-Provisorium, a “temporary” structure built for the Globus department store in 1961 that is still standing today (it’s now a Coop supermarket although there are apparently plans to turn it into a “future workshop”).
By spring 1976, the new Hönggerberg location was ready and the architecture, civil engineering and land use departments started to relocate there, not without protest from the student body who wasn’t keen on swapping their urban (if decrepit) digs for a hilltop location a long bus ride away. Having myself attended ETH, I confirm that nobody was very keen to commute to Hönggerberg for physics, and it wasn’t only because it was physics.
Nevertheless, the outer campus offered twice as much room to the departments that made the move. The phase 2 complex that welcomed them had been designed by the architect Max Ziegler and his associate Walter Eyer, and included a computing centre, a cafeteria, student shops and the Baubibliothek (construction library). Completing the offer was a new research building by Erik Lanter.
The buildings are organized on a grid of 9.6 x 9.6m and conceived as a series of interconnecting blocks, four of them square and raised on stilts to provide open circulation on the ground floor. These square structures were initially all meant to be auditoriums. The largest of the four was however reassigned to the library partway through the project, when the decision was made to move the architecture department. As a result, there are no windows in the library. Instead, the architect recessed the second floor and provided light wells along the periphery, as well as a central one above the staircase. That way, both floors can benefit from natural lighting.
In 2009-2010, Dominik Bastianello of Jolles Architekten completed a careful renovation of the library, including the replacement of the light wells that were suffering from water infiltration. The most visibly striking part of the intervention, however, is the interior wall cladding. Serving double-duty as fire retardant and acoustic absorption, the wall plates are perforated with small openings arranged so as to resemble paragraphs of text.
As the library of one of Switzerland’s largest architecture school, the Baubibliothek is a true mecca for anyone interested in Swiss architecture. Besides local students, it regularly welcomes researchers from around the country and abroad. Its magazine collection alone is worth a cross-country train trip (and the dreaded bus ride to Hönggerberg)! An extensive materials collection completes the offering.
The images shown here date from my visit in September 2021.
- Schalcher, W. (1976). Die Neubauten für Bauwissenschaften und Architektur der ETH auf dem Hönggerberg. Schweizerische Bauzeitung, 94(42).
- Hanhart, H. U., & Risch, G. (1968). Die ETH-Aussenstation Hönggerberg. Schweizerische Bauzeitung, 86(21), 352–383.
- Marti, H. (1959). Die Aussenstation der ETH auf dem Hönggerberg in Zürich. Schweizerische Bauzeitung, 77(14), 202–204.
- Haffner, F. (2018, März). Als die ETH nach Höngg kam. Höngger Zeitung.
- Baubibliothek ETH Hönggerberg, Zürich. (2010). Jolles Architekten GmbH.
Library detail pages are primarily a place for me to collect information I gather on the libraries I visit, and are frequently updated. None of this should be considered authoritative, I am not an architect, nor a historian. If you notice something incorrect, please let me know!