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This conversion of a former detergent factory in the centre of Zurich brings life back to the city.

Ever since decaying garment; warehouses were colonized by artists in New York during the '50s and '60s, the concept of reclaiming large industrial structures has become a familiar pattern in cities with redundant docks or industrial quarters. By bringing people back into urban centres and helping to reinvigorate neighbourhoods, the re-use of old buildings has tangible economic, social and environmental benefits.

In the heart of Zurich, a former soap and detergent factory has been imaginatively converted to house a mixture of residential and commercial uses. Ten years ago, the factory was closed and production moved to the outskirts of the city. At the same time, a planning zoning law was introduced allowing construction of housing and offices in former industrial areas and the adaptation of existing structures to serve new functions.

Local architects Kaufmann, van der Meer & Partner were asked to make a proposal for refurbishing the factory. The programme combined 50 flats of varying sizes with some 6000 sq m of commercial space. The original factory complex had evolved over time according to the needs of industry and Kaufmann, van der Meer's scheme shares this accretional quality, gradually evolving over six years. Further additions are planned, so the refurbished complex retains a strong sense of organic growth.

The original four-storey brick warehouse forms an armature for a range of new uses. Lower levels are given over to various creative and commercial functions, including a small dance school, television studios and office spaces. Two new storeys of flats have been added on top of the warehouse, stepping back to form small terraces. An external walkway connects the flats with the rest of the building. At the west end of the complex, the former soap tower has been converted into single-storey loft spaces, with sheer glass walls offering uninterrupted city views.

A new block runs along the south-east edge of the site, containing flats organized around two basic plan forms. Duplex studio flats on ground and first floor have direct street entrances and compact, mezzanine sleeping galleries overlooking living spaces. Those on the upper floors are reached by an internal glazed street formed in the chasm between old and new blocks. Connected by a spiral staircase, each three-storey flat has two bedrooms at entrance level and a large intermediate living and kitchen space. The topmost level leads to a generous terrace, created by stepping back the building volume. Low planters separate the terraces, which have been enthusiastically colonized by residents to create small green oases in the sky. These are also overlooked by new flats on top of the existing warehouse block.

The structure of the new elements had to be very light, so that existing footings could sustain additional weight. This has generated a quasi industrial language of thin steel frames crisply infilled with metal, glass and gypsum panels. Detailing and materials have a spare, minimal elegance. Registering as identifiable additions that clearly express the building's revitalized function, the new parts sit lightly and easily on the old block.

Through careful planning, the architects have created a great and impressive variety of housing types, from loft spaces, to multistorey flats with gardens and terraces. Such formal diversity will hopefully encourage social diversity, so that the building has a sense of community, as opposed to being a socio-economic ghetto. By suggesting how redundant industrial buildings can successfully be brought back into use and contribute to city life, the project has valuable lessons for the future.


Kaufmann, van der Meer & Partner, Zurich

Project team

Chuker Azalez, Hansjorg Betschart, Jan Bollag, Bernhard Friedl, Kathi Gering, Hubert Gessler, Matti Hefti, Peter Kaufmann, Susanne Kaufmann, Beat Kuttel, Ernst Muller, Rolf Nimmrichter, Eliane Platzer, Stefan Schaad, Georg Strassburg, Pieter van der Meer

Structural engineer

H. R. Schalcher


Gaston Wicky

1.The former soap and detergent factory has been imaginatively recolonized to house a variety of commercial and residential uses, bringing life back into the city centre.

2.Stepped building volumes create terraces for flats at upper levels.

3.The new parts display an industrially inspired language of light steel frames infilled by glass and metal panels.

4.The former soap tower has been converted into loft-like apartments.

5.Elevated walkway and bridges lead to flats on top of existing warehouse block. The chasm between the old and new parts forms a top glazed internal street at lower level.

6.Circulation spaces retain a robust, factory-like quality.

7.New elements sit lightly on top of the existing brick warehouse.

8.Typical loft apartment in the tower.
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:architectural design
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EXSI
Date:Nov 1, 1999
Previous Article:FITTING IN TILBURG.

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