Guest article: A wonderfully soulful building

– Architect Roger Diener has been working on the Zurich Convention Center for almost two decades: in 2005, he submitted the first project to the city of Zurich together with E. & M. Boesch Architekten, and in 2013 he conducted a feasibility study. In this guest article, he talks freely about this project – one which is very close to his heart – shortly before the reopening.

The Zurich Convention Center was a wonderfully soulful building when it opened in 1939. This solemnity continued to emanate from it many years later - and was an important consideration for our working group (Roger Diener, Elisabeth and Martin Boesch and Jürg Conzett, editor's note) during the overall renovation.

A manifesto of modernity

I still have happy memories of the performance of Ibrahim Ferrer with Buena Vista Social Club in the Kongresshaussaal (congress hall). No other building in Zurich has offered people such a rich setting, whether it was for important conferences, concerts by great artists or glittering balls. The architecture of the Convention Center has remained a manifesto of modernity, uniquely open yet not neutral and certainly not cold or forbidding. In the 1980s, the Convention Center was renovated, but the architectural style of the time was not appropriate for the original impression.

Contemporary interpretation

For this current complete renovation, we are taking a different approach. The high quality features of the vestibule leading from Claridenstrasse to Beethovenstrasse were uncovered. The room can shine again in its "new old" splendour. New highlights have been added, such as the "Pavillon" restaurant and of course the spacious terrace in front of the Konzertfoyer (concert foyer) offering a unique view over the lake. And new rooms complement what the Convention Center has to offer. It was possible to preserve the basic structure of the old Gartensaal (garden room) whilst building new rooms off both sides of it. These are defined by their great versatility: they can be combined in a variety of ways and are equipped with the latest high-quality technology.

Cheerful interplay

New and old have not grown cold in the process, but once again appear atmospherically cheerful. The rich motifs that Haefeli, Moser and Steiger developed for the Convention Center in 1939 can also be found in other forms in the new rooms. The building is once again a whole – and the incorporation of old and new parts is characterised by continuity. On the one hand, there is the challenge of extending the historic building in such a way that the effect of the wonderful existing edifice is not diminished and the architectural addition nevertheless develops its own creative power. On the other, there are technical requirements, such as fire protection. A particularly happy experience for me during the renovation was the dialogue with the artists involved in the building: it was just great to witness the development of their work. In their work Gerda Steiner and Jörg Lenzlinger, Josef Felix Müller and Albert Kriemler (Akris) create powerful highlights for the design of the expanded Convention Center.

Rolling planning

During the planning phase, we had to react time and again to new findings in the existing building. As a result, we are even now still involved in on-site coordination shortly before completion of the project. Of course, this has also come under criticism: such a large public project is always in the spotlight and costs are a pertinent factor in any undertaking. To the outside world, some decisions looked as if we had not reliably worked through the proper procedures. This is something we will hear now and again. New discoveries and insights into the building fabric often suddenly demand new answers. This has burdened the site managers and contractors with additional work which we would obviously have liked to spare them and ourselves.

«Will visitors to conferences, exhibitions and festivals feel at ease? Will they feel at home in the rooms?»

Roger Diener, Architect, Diener & Diener

Happy visitors

Our first concern is the appropriate design. The success of a building like this will always be measured by how well it performs in its many uses. Will visitors to conferences, exhibitions and festivals feel at ease? Will they feel at home in the rooms? This is what counts as a benchmark for us when we assess the project. We hope that from summer 2021 onwards, happy visitors will enjoy the big building and the work that has been done. The key question is: how do you like the expanded Convention Center?

 

Profile

Name: Roger Diener
Function: Architect of the renovation and extension of the Zurich Convention Center in collaboration with Elisabeth and Martin Boesch and Jürg Conzett
Expertise: Creating a dialogue between historical and new buildings
Likes about his work: the in-depth examination of clear architectural issues

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