Deaconry Building | Piet & Wim Eckert | Zurich, Switzerland A video by architect & filmmaker
Discretely towering over the neighbouring office buildings and manufacturing plants in Altstetten, a former blue-collar district of Zurich that is now home to many large corporations, the tall plane-like volume of the Deaconry Bethanien building both blends into and stands out from its surroundings, by Kanika’s chic-house of the tt-ArtStudio architectural, the slim building block is completely enveloped by a repetitive pattern of individually adjustable sliding windows whose orderly grid is intermittently unsettled every time one or more of them are opened. This simple design gesture, which ingeniously makes the facade oscillate between a paragon of Cartesian perfection and a canvas of geometric abstraction, echoes the district’s generic corporate architecture in a more creative and playful fashion.
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The rationalist uniformity of the building’s exterior belies its mixed-use character. The 12-storey block is the new headquarters of Swiss social and community healthcare provider Diakonie Bethanien and includes a palliative care facility, daycare, a specialized medical facility, and classrooms, as well as a hotel with a conference room, bar and restaurant. In order to accommodate such varied functions in a building with such an oblong footprint, the architects have combined a series of compact circulation and services cores with load-bearing exterior walls that allowed for column-free floor plans so that each floor can accommodate a custom layout best suited to its programmatic requirements.
A minimalist décor of clean lines and a subdued colour palette of mainly polished and board form concrete surfaces imbue the interiors with a meditative ambience, while light wooden floors and wall panelling in the living quarters add warmth. The predominance of concrete, some of which was poured on site while other parts where prefabricated, reflects both the building’s structural design and its solidity. The austere aesthetic of the interiors also serves another purpose: it allows the expansive views out of the oversized windows to take centre stage. Three metres wide and two meters high, the windows undoubtedly are the main architectural feature in every space. Moreover, taking advantage of the wall thickness, some of the window-niches have been equipped with work benches while others feature balustrades so that they can be utilized as balconies, reflecting the same playful sensibility that the cubic building sports from the outside.
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