House 2, an architectural installation in Zurich, involves hundreds of students in its creation and fosters a dialogue with and about the city.
Houston turned two parking lots into a vibrant parkland called Discovery Green. A former highway viaduct threading through the heart of Seoul is now the kilometre-long Skygarden, seeded with more than 200 different native tree and plant species. And Toronto is working on revitalizing land underneath the Gardiner Expressway to create a recreational zone called the Bentway. For many cities dealing with densification and the need to improve residents’ quality of life, reactivating underused urban spaces has become a creative opportunity.
This summer, professor Dieter Dietz of the ALICE laboratory at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne challenged 200 first-year architecture students to collectively envision, build and program a 240-metre, multi-use structure to temporarily occupy the area beneath a rail viaduct in downtown Zurich. The resulting open-lattice wood construction – prefabricated by the students in Lausanne, then shipped and assembled on site – features undulating, interconnected floors for various kinds of public gatherings. These include tours by the architects, concerts, plays, a sound installation and screenings. From the bar at one end to the outdoor theatre at the other, the design captures the team’s desire to avoid “homogeneous architecture” at a time when city populations are increasingly heterogeneous.
Conceptually, House 2 takes its inspiration from sociologist Richard Sennett’s 2012 book, Together, about the politics of cooperation. Throughout the process, Dietz put the emphasis on collaboration, calling on students to think about how we negotiate social differences in our daily lives. “Everyone involved contributed ideas, their values, their energy,” says Dietz of a team that included architects, scientists and doctoral candidates. “There must be space for difference in our societies. That idea is lived and transformed into built form with House 2.”