1996 Baltensweiler AG, Luzern

Bauherrschaft: Baltensweiler AG
Auftragsart: Direktauftrag
Generalplanung und Architektur:
Oliver Schwarz Architekten, Oliver Schwarz
Leistungen: Planung und Ausführung
Anlagekosten: CHF 2 Mio

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A glass cube on the threshold of Lucerne Oliver Schwarz‘s latest work

The arterial road leading out of Lucerne in the direction of Zurich is an extremely ugly affair. Wedged between two ranges of hills, the main axis is flanked by a motley collection of blocks of flats, industrial buildings and small shopping centres strung together without any recognisable order.

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Since many of the buildings provide the same commodities, for example petrol, their proprietors have attempted to draw attention to their services by means of a shrill, blatant vocabulary which is so repetitive that it makes an exceedingly tedious impression and thus has -the opposite effect to what was intended. Responding to surroundings like these in such a way that the result of his deliberations is in no way strident but nevertheless makes a unique, autonomous impression is no easy task for a discriminating architect. The Baltensweiler AG building, an atelier which has manufactured lighting appliances of a high aesthetie c,4libre for over 40 years, is located directly after the „Ebikon“ place-name sign. Whereas a pretty little chalet was sufficient for the purpose at the beginning, 25 years ago it became necessary to add a subsidiary building which was in use until it, too, became too small.

The 48-year-old Zurich architect Oliver Schwarz , whose innovative „deck house“ interpretation of the terrace house high above Lake Zurich caused a considerable sensation (NZZ 14.10.95), has now designed a transparent glass building for the second stage of the Baltensweiler AG extension. This architecture clearly owes a good deal to the influence of Mies van der Rohe, Le. it is characterised by a clearly defined primary form, in this case a rectangular body over a square ground plan with 19-metre sides, a modular construction method and meticulous attention to detail. Since the building had to be inserted into a slope, the lower half of the ground and first floors consists of concrete slabs, and only the second floor is transparent on all sides. The structural framework consists of three massive concrete slabs, suspended on steel supports, which also define the dimensions of the wall (it is an open question whether it would be more correct to speak of a fa~ade which envelopes the framework or a multi-layered wall).

Although - with the exception of the ~,central column and the lift and staircase shaft which neutralises the torsional forces - the ground plan is freely partitionable and thus indeterminate, Schwarz lavished a great deal of care on the transition between the floorkeiling to the outer skin. A complex series of girders, supports, pulling and protective structures connects the horizontal concrete slabs and the vertical column, and the column, via the horizontal reinforcements, with the triplelayered glass surfaces. The use of minimal joints ensures that the glass edges are vertically flush with one another, and they are‘horizontally emphasised by steel strips of the same thickness as the outer layer of glass. The greatest challenge was posed by the corners - a familiar bugbear which has driven architects to despair ever sinee classical antiquity. As Schwarz remarks, „everyone cheats with the corners“. Designed without corner supports, the Baltensweiler AG has concealed suspension rods -to prevent any distortion of the concrete slabs. Inside the building, ~his method of „cheating“ creates an impression similar to an oriel situation.

Unlike its unimaginative neighbouring buildings, Schwarz‘s architecture refers directly to its function. The glass cube acts as an advertisement for its product, creating the impression of a hieroglyph, or an over-dimensioned lighting appliance. Although the theme of „transparency“ is as topical as building with and in glass on today‘s architectural scene, Schwarz‘s latest work should not be dismissed as merely fashionable. lt succeeds in making its point without reverting to illusionism, rather like Jean Nouvel‘s Fondation Cartier in Paris, and the glass envelope has nothing to do with „intelligent“ fa~ades which control the transfer of heat and light with the aid of eleetronics. Surprisingly, the consumption of energy is regulated by the floorkeiling slabs with integrated water pipes which work on the tiled stove principle The Baltensweiler AG glass building is not only a symbolic presence in architecturally desolate surroundings, it is also proof that the influence of Mies van der Rohe is still thoroughly acceptable even under today‘s increasingly exacting ecological premises. Fabrizio Brentini NZZ

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