Sabine von Fischer

Any enquiry about the space of a periphery is marked by a paradox: etymologically, the word “periphery” connotes both “line” and “edge.” In mathematics, the periphery is the perimeter; in geography, it suggests points relative to a more or less distant center rather than a single point. (2) The peripheral lies outside the middle, on a border, or on a horizon. What happens, though, when the periphery becomes business hub, construction site, living space, or workplace?
“Coexistence, as it is found in the city of today, with the presence of space both provisional and unresolved, could become the theme of an urban plan in itself. It is the design that no longer ‘solves problems,’ but instead, defends the ambiguity of fractions against the terror of the image that reigns in the purged new settlement areas, be it through some dramatic scenario created by engineers or the set design of nature and history.” (3)
Just as Marcel Meili’s “Letter from Zurich” describes in the late 1980s, there were issues surrounding the urban development sites both in- and outside the city centers which had to be addressed. Definitions had by no means been clear for some time. Both the urgency to provide housing and the increasingly blurred boundaries between the urban and the rural called for suitable tools to assess the newly discovered periphery as a viable field of action.
The term “periphery” has been used in the theory of urbanism since antiquity. Yet the idea of “borders,” integral to the word, prevents certain relationships from being taken adequately into account. This may be the reason why in the vocabulary of urban planning, the word has become more or less obsolete. In 1997 Thomas Sieverts coined the term Zwischenstadt (intermediate city) as an alternative to describe zones in-between city centers, and Franz Oswald, in 2003, offered the description of a Netzstadt (network city) where, according to his article, “city and countryside coalesce.” (4) At the same time, Angelus Eisinger and Michael Schneider published an Avenir-Suisse study that introduced the terms Stadtland Schweiz (city-country Switzerland) and Stadtlandschaft (cityscape) into Swiss discourses. (5) The Contemporary City Institute at the ETH Studio Basel—at least ever since a comprehensive study was published in 2006—uses the promising term “peri-urbanism” (Peri-Urbanität) to describe the characteristic spaces of urban development in Switzerland. (6)
In the space typology of the Swiss Federal Office for Spatial Development, the current categories include “Cities and Agglomerations,” “Peri-urban Rural Area” and “Peripheral Rural Area.” Here the periphery is, in fact, quite far removed from the city itself; it no longer lies between the city and the country but marks the outermost zone of the rural area instead. (7)
The understanding of the term periphery has changed over the last few decades; it has also moved out of a strictly urban planning and into a societal context. “Periphery is everywhere,” Walter Prigge titled a collection of texts, which includes Regina Bittner’s essay “Space without Qualities.” In it she describes the dissolution of the distinction between center and periphery as an overall societal change. (8) Is the periphery a place without qualities, without ties or sense of belonging —analogous to the protagonist in Robert Musil’s The Man without Qualities, published from 1930 onwards as a series of novels? Does the everyday of the periphery demand observational tools different from rationalism and determinism? (9) As a result of altered urban and rural structures, “center” and “periphery” are nowadays no longer geographic categories but rather “metaphors for social conditions.” (10) As a consequence of these urban and rural planning discourses, the word “agglomeration” has gained currency. The perception of spaces is no longer influenced by its location—inside or outside of a border—but instead by the concurrence and superposition of different qualities. (11)
One possible reason, however, why the term “periphery” has not disappeared from the vocabularies of architects and city planners altogether is the tension between what appears as the center and that which lies outside of it: it is the condition for any conception of space, which, in turn, is a prerequisite for creating places.

(1) Marcel Meili, “Ein Brief aus Zürich,” in: Lesearten, ed. by visiting professor Eraldo Consolacio, ass. Patrick Huber, Eric Maier, Markus Wassmer, Zurich 1989, pp. 163—173, here p. 164 (published in Spanish and English translation in Quaderns 177, Barcelona 1988, pp. 18—33).

(2) 1. the perimeter of a circle or other closed curve; 2. the external boundary or surface of a body; 3. the outward bounds of something as distinguished from its internal regions or center. Source: The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, rev. ed., Springfield, MA, 2004.

(3) Meili 1989, p. 170.

(4) Thomas Sieverts, Zwischenstadt zwischen Ort und Welt, Raum und Zeit, Stadt und Land, Braunschweig 1997; Franz Oswald/Peter Baccini/Mark Michaeli, Netzstadt, Basel 2003; Franz Oswald/Nicola Schüller (eds.), Neue Urbanität — das Verschmelzen von Stadt und Landschaft, Zurich 2003.

(5) Angelus Eisinger/Michael Schneider (eds.), Stadtland Schweiz, Basel 2003.

(6) Roger Diener/Jacques Herzog/Marcel Meili/Pierre de Meuron/Christian Schmid, Die Schweiz. Ein städtebauliches Portrait (three atlases, maps), Basel 2006.

(7) Bundesamt für Raumentwicklung (ARE), “Themen,” source: (last accessed Feb. 6, 2014).

(8) Regina Bittner, “Raum ohne Eigenschaften,” in: Walter Prigge, Peripherie ist überall, Edition Bauhaus, Frankfurt a.M. /New York 2000, pp. 364—371.

(9) Marc Angélil/Michael Hirschbichler, Abecedarium zur Peripherie, Berlin 2013. The collection of images and texts references, among others, Gilles Deleuze/Félix Guattari, Mille plateaux, Paris 1980; Roland Barthes, Mythologies, Paris 1957.

(10) Konstanze Noack, “Peripherie,” in: Stephan Günzel (ed.), Lexikon der Raumphilosophie, Darmstadt 2013, p. 302.

(11) Susanne Hauser/Christa Kamleithner, Ästhetik der Agglomeration, Wuppertal 2006.

Situation Färbi-Areal «Am Rieterpark»

Among the new outer-city developments built in recent times, there is no community in German-speaking Switzerland that has developed as dynamically as the city of Schlieren, while being exatmined in several research projects. Situated at Zurich’s westernmost city limit, the example of Schlieren illustrates an urban development from an agricultural, through an industrial, and, finally, to a peri-urban culture. In late 1985 the Schlieren dye-works on the Färbi site, like countless other industrial operations, went out of business only a few weeks after the closing of the legendary railcar works. On the other side of the railway tracks, opposite the city center and the former site of the railcar manufacturer commonly called “Wagi,” the “Färbi” left a tract of land with no promise of either future program or use. With the end of the industrial era and the closing of the factories, the once-flourishing industrial complex became part of the “periphery” and “failed territory” that was primarily defined by being “outside.”
The city of Schlieren’s “failed” industrial zones exemplify peripheries which cannot be defined by the concept of “suburb,” because they have their own specific history. At the end of the 1980s, railway and automobile transport routes often ran along fallow tracts of land. At the same time—and because of the factory closures—topics such as unemployment and social injustice were on everybody’s lips. While in 1991 contaminated ground on land once owned by the Färbi was hauled away [cf. fig.], (14) ideas for a new usage of the land only came up years later. In 2003, the Tages-Anzeiger published an article about Schlieren entitled “Living in the Canton’s ‘Trash Can.’ ” (15) There was an urgent need for action—a need to find new uses for the sites after the demise of their industrial purpose. No less than nine different architectural offices were commissioned the same year to work on master plans for the former Färbi premises.
Galli Rudolf Architekten proposed a masterplan scheme for the site; with its programmatic and topographical understanding, the plan was so compelling that it was declared the competition winner and the architects were commissioned to further develop their concept [cf. Färbi-Areal «Am Rieterpark»]. With its layout of three ribbons of built structures and a high-rise on Rietpark, the plan also convinced the jury because of its balanced sense of scale. The goal was to build an urban neighborhood that would have a connection both to the already existing city center of Schlieren north of the railway tracks as well as to the metropolitan centers in the wider surroundings. The building density is perforated in a way that residential and surrounding spaces can enter into a dialogue. In its report from February 2004, the jury explained its decision in favor of the project by Galli Rudolf Architekten as follows:

(14) Ulrich Görlich/Meret Wandeler, Auf Gemeindegebiet. Schlieren—Oberengadin. Fotografien zum räumlichen Wandel im Mittelland und in den Alpen seit 1945. Zurich 2012, pp. 7 f. (the entire image archive is accessible online)

(15) Helene Arnet, “Leben im ‘Abfallkübel’ des Kantons,” in: Tages-Anzeiger, Oct. 10, 2003, p. 15.

Situation Wohnsiedlung Sihlgarten

Komplexe Konstellationen in Grundriss und Schnitt sind ein Thema, das sich durch die Bauten von Galli Rudolf Architekten zieht. Auch in einem anderen Randgebiet, in Leimbach im Südwesten von Zürich, wurde mit einer prägnanten Figur in einer peripheren Situation Raum gefasst. Zwischen 2003 und 2007, parallel zu den Planungen für Schlieren, entwarfen die Architekten eine Wohnsiedlung für die Baugenossenschaft Hofgarten mit 57 Wohnungen entlang der Sihl. Die L-Figur des Baus ist grossräumig wie die Landschaft von Unterleimbach, einem einstigen Weiler, der 1893 gemeinsam mit Mittelleimbach und dem Engequartier in die Stadt Zürich eingemeindet wurde, aber topografisch von der Stadt abgetrennt bleibt [ vgl. Abb. Situation Wohnsiedlung Sihlgarten ] .
Wie der Gestaltungsplan und die realisierten Bauten auf dem Färbi-Areal stellt auch der horizontale Winkel der Siedlung Sihlgarten einen Bezug zur Entwurfsrecherche von Steven Holl her — als intertwining (Verflechten) und interlocking (Verzahnen). Dies geschieht über die in die Ausläufer der Uetlibergkette, das Flussbett der Sihl und die niedrige Bebauung von Unterleimbach eingebettete Figur der Raumklammer. Die liegende L-Figur fasst einen trotz der Grösse intimen Hofraum, der sich mit der Freifläche des ehemaligen Friedhofs zu einem grösseren Grünraum erweitert.
Die umlaufende Fassadenverkleidung der vertikal angeordneten Travertinsteine mit ihren feinen Rissen — ähnlich versteinerten Baumrinden — suggeriert eine Gleichzeitigkeit von Natur und Kultur, Feinem und Grossmassstäblichem und thematisiert so die Kontraste des Ortes [ vgl. Wohnsiedlung Sihlgarten ]  . Die Frage der Grenzen stellt sich in der Siedlung Sihlgarten vehement: Zwar hatte die architektonische Moderne das räumliche Kontinuum gefordert, aber Innen und Aussen haben sich unter den klimatischen, sozialen und politischen Bedingungen des 20. Jahrhunderts immer wieder neu ausgeprägt. Die geschlossene äussere Fassade aus rhythmisierten Bändern schirmt die Wohnungen vom Verkehr ab, während die schwebenden Brüstungen als umlaufende Balkonschicht innenseitig den offenen Hofraum bespielen.
Wie die Nachbarschaften sind auch die beiden Seiten der L-Figur komplementär angelegt: Wie in Hitchcocks Film Rear Window entfaltet sich im Inneren der Randbebauung ein vielfältiges Leben, das sich allen offenbart, die durch den offenen und öffentlichen Durchgang in der Ecke des Winkels entlang der Sihl in den Hof eintreten. Die Situierung des Haupteingangs in der Ecke sorgt auch dafür, dass die Dynamik der Figur in den gesamten Hofraum fliesst.
Die städtische Peripherie von Leimbach hat auf das Haus eingewirkt, die Elemente der komplementären Situation sind im Innern zu einem Repertoire von Grundrissen verschiedener Grössen und Figuren verknüpft: Ein- und zweigeschossige Wohnungen verbinden die privaten Räume zum Hof, zur Sihl und zur Strasse. Zwischen Hofraum und Sihl liegen die grösseren, von Fassade zu Fassade durchgehenden Familienwohnungen. Der Jurybericht von 2004 wertete die offenen Wohnküchen, die teilweise grösser als die Wohnzimmer sind, als Neuentdeckung. Gegenüber der befahrenen Ausfallstrasse war aber aufgrund der damaligen Lärmschutzvorschriften kein Wohnen von Fassade zu Fassade möglich. (20) Mit der durchdachten Grundrisstypologie reagierten die Architekten auf die durch den Lärmschutz diktierte Isolierung sowie auf eine Programmänderung der Genossenschaft, die mehr kleine Wohnungen brauchte: Entlang der Strasse entwarfen sie mit Laubengängen erschlossene Klein- und Maisonettewohnungen.
Wie beim Färbi-Areal wurde der gemeinschaftlichen Nutzung des Erdgeschosses auch im Sihlgarten grossen Wert beigemessen. Die Atelierwohnungen sind beliebt: Ein Raum im Erdgeschoss mit Verbindung zur darübergelegenen Kleinwohnung bietet Platz für verschiedene Bedürfnisse heutiger Lebens- und Arbeitsformen. Die Bewohnerinnen und Bewohner haben den Hof längst in Beschlag genommen: Tagsüber beleben ihn die Mädchen und Jungen des Kindergartens, abends und an den Wochenenden die Bewohner der näheren und weiteren Umgebung, für eine Pause auf dem Weg zum Waschsalon oder zum Gemeinschaftsraum. Das Zusammenspiel mit der Umgebung unterstützt auch der revitalisierte kleine Quartierbach, der quer durch den Hof fliesst. Die Raumklammer der Siedlung Sihlgarten fasst weit mehr als die verschiedenen Wohnungstypen; es sind auch das Flussbett und dessen Vegetation, die Grünräume am Fuss des Uetlibergs und die Fussgängerebene des Quartiers, die hier aktiviert werden.
Die Wohnlichkeit der Anlage beruht auf der choreografierten Massstäblichkeit des Entwurfs: Gegenüber den Lagerhallen zwischen der Sihl und der nahen Autobahn sind die Fassadenabwicklungen lang, gegenüber der kleinmassstäblichen Bebauung am Hang entsteht ein geschützter Raum. In jeder Facette des Zwiegesprächs mit der Umgebung oszilliert die grosse Raumklammer zwischen Annäherung und Aufforderung — was sich angesichts der späteren Entwicklung des Gebiets Manegg als weitsichtige Geste erwies. Das Sihltal ist eines der Territorien, wo sich Landschaft und Industrie seit Generationen überlagern und eine Intervention ohne Ambivalenz wohl zum Scheitern verurteilt wäre.

(20) Im Sommer 2005 zeigte das Architekturforum Zürich die Ausstellung Lärm. Das Ohr wohnt mit, die sich mit dem Einfluss und den Konsequenzen der Lärmschutz­vorschriften auf Grundriss-, Fassaden- und Stadtraumgestaltung beschäftigte. Yvonne Rudolf war zu dieser Zeit Mitglied des Vorstands.

Situation Wohnsiedlung Luegisland 1

With the project for the Vitasana cooperative on Winterthurer- and Luegislandstrasse in the northern part of Zurich, Galli Rudolf Architekten faced the challenge of the at times precarious current urban planning credo of “inner densification.” In 2009, the architects were assigned the task to design a dense urban neighborhood in a peripheral area of the city, which, while in the spirit of a garden city, could no longer rely on the traditional model of the loosely organized garden city.
Between three-story apartment buildings in Zeilenbauweise and six-story high-rises, the architects were required to preserve the character of the original plan that municipal architect Albert Heinrich Steiner had realized in 1948, albeit with a minimal percentage of green and open spaces. This reinterpretation in some ways reflects the shift in meaning of the term “garden city” since Ebenezer Howard first introduced it in 1898: while Howard’s model envisioned a network of cities in a green belt around a core city, the term at the time of Steiner implied a suburb with extensive green areas. (21) Since its incorporation into the city of Zurich in 1934, Schwamendingen was a periphery inside the city limits. Its green areas remain a vital factor in the current development scheme for the Luegisland site: the exterior spaces are arranged to form a free-flowing, continuous network [cf. fig.].
The suburban development was to target an urban audience—a task that the architects had to confront rather with tactics than with strategy. (22) More than twenty years after Marcel Meili’s 1988 “Letter from Zurich,” urban development no longer implies the appropriation of rural areas. In the Schwamendingen development “Luegisland,” city, suburb, and garden city overlap and form a palimpsest of city models. The garden city as a counterpart to the city had been overtaken—much like the terms “city center” and “periphery”—by progress, as Meili described:
“The territory in which we work has gradually changed in nature over the last twenty years. It has become infinite and thus renders any thought of a new and better outside all but impossible. The urban no longer subdues the rural; rather, the periphery appropriates this contrast in order to suspend it.” (23)
Schwamendingen is such a place where the periphery has appropriated the contrasts. Galli Rudolf Architekten reacted to this situation by interlocking the spaces at both the urban texture and building scale. Their tactic was to stagger the heights and establish connections between the exterior spaces. On the level of the buildings, the volumes are articulated with large balconies, textured surfaces, and through-views, creating a kind of relief over different levels which supports the identity of the whole ensemble. Earth tones of different shades from light to dark, which differentiate the ground and upper floors of the buildings, intensify the dialogue between the single parts and the entire ensemble. In the oblique morning and evening light, the shadows cast onto the roughcast exterior facades and the reliefs of the buildings trace the multitude of textures in the urban fabric.
In the four buildings realized for the expansion of the neighborhood, three apartment types cater to different household sizes and lifestyles [cf. Wohnsiedlung und Gewerbe Luegisland]. These diversified types are also reflected in the outer facade. The building along Winterthurerstrasse takes up the theme of “hybrid buildings” with the most obvious gestures: on the side facing the main road, a vertically articulated block with a rough, dark stucco facade, which houses smaller-sized apartments with deep room sequences, sits atop a light-colored, limewashed plinth that is used for commercial purposes. Angled double-story balconies and room sequences along angled partition walls create a dynamic—both horizontally and vertically—that is supposed to attract the “young urban professionals” to life in the suburbs. The two longer buildings along the inner side of the complex also feature uninterrupted facade-to-facade apartments—here with smaller scale and conventional depth—typically suited to couples’ households. The deep block structure houses larger family units, each laid out in one of the quadrants of the floor plan. From this building, balconies cantilever out into the exterior. Inside the apartments, a continuous sequence of rooms forms a round-tour.
Among these three building types stand the carefully and sparsely renovated towers, no longer situated in a park landscape, but instead in between a conglomerate of earth-colored buildings. A mere response to the demands of the site, the urban model, or the wishes of the cooperative alone would not have sufficed to design a project such as this one. The quality of the Luegisland complex lies in analyzing the building site and program as a palimpsest and reacting to it with multifaceted tactics.

(21) Daniel Kurz, Die Disziplinierung der Stadt. Moderner Städtebau in Zürich 1900—1940, Zurich: gta Verlag 2005, pp. 118 f., 313 f.

(22) Michel de Certeau transferred the terms “strategy” and “tactics” from military vocabulary into the description of everyday actions: De Certeau 1980.

(23) Meili 1989, p. 164.

Situation Wohnsiedlung Fehlmannmatte

In the residential and commercial development Fehlmannmatte completed in 2014, the topic of “edges” takes on new meaning: this is not a building on the urban periphery, but instead along the periphery of an archaeological excavation site in the center of Windisch. The Fehlmannmatte grounds went undisturbed for many years after archaeological traces were found here in 1902 that indicated a site commonly known as a “Forum Romanum.” More recent research established the site as a training ground for Roman legionaries between the Aare and Reuss rivers, thus also explaining its vast dimensions [cf. fig.].
The archaeological finds on the ancient training ground are not the only cultural asset of national significance in Windisch; the former Königsfelden Monastery with its famous church is situated north of Zürcherstrasse. Today the main building serves as a clinic and is surrounded by a large park. The technical college (Höhere Technische Lehranstalt) Fritz Haller designed in 1962 to the northeast constitutes the historic center of the Brugg-Windisch Technical University’s campus, recently expanded with a prominent new building by Bern-based office Büro B. To the south of Fehlmannmatte the ruins of the ancient amphitheater, still used for openair events, recall the area’s Roman past. In the midst of this ancient built heritage, a certain reverence for the past was part and parcel to any new development—but how could any modern architecture bridge this immense historical gap?
In the initial planning, several of the competition entries attempted to retrace the site’s Roman legacy with an enormous perimeter block. Originally owned by the community of Windisch, the site allowed for a fairly high density compared to other developments in this neighborhood, which also suggested the form of a perimeter block. While further pursuing their winning project, however, Galli Rudolf Architekten realized that a reconstruction of the one-time dimensions within the prescribed perimeter of the archaeological remains of the Roman stakes would be structurally impossible [cf. Wohnsiedlung und Gewerbe Fehlmannmatte]. Furthermore, a closed form could not have entered into a dialogue with the neighboring single-family-house developments to the same amount as the open courtyards of the now realized complex.
The five volumes have been positioned on the site strictly according to a series of principles. Similar to the set of rules for the Färbi site, their forms are not freely designed but conform to certain rules: as if the buildings were pieces carved from a single long bar, their lengths and number of stories are variations of the basic design—depending on their respective role in the urban fabric.
In the five-part ensemble, the two five-story buildings, eighty- and one-hundred-meter-long with eighty-eight rental units in total, mark its function as a center for the town of Windisch and trace the inside perimeter of the Roman foundations. Towards the back, the longitudinal sides of three shorter four-story buildings with a total of fifty-two condominiums are oriented towards the smaller, more dispersed developments to the west. They show that, even with the prerequisite of densification, appealing residential spaces can be created that strengthen the identity of a whole community. In the interior the architects put the whole spectrum of apartment typologies into play, which results in a variety of large and small, single- and double-story, elongated and condensed room arrangements. Rooms with overheight ceilings on the garden level and beneath the terraces of the attic apartments contribute to the creation of intimate and communal spaces [cf. Wohnsiedlung und Gewerbe Fehlmannmatte].
The buildings on the Fehlmannmatte express the superposition of past and present through a kind of static presence. The design has incorporated the rigidity of Roman architecture, not, however, its colors. The subtly proportioned relief of volume setbacks, wall textures, and window reveals lends the large, light buildings an air as if they had always been there. Off-white limewash covers the bricks of the large ensemble, which makes them look monolithic. The window reveals of exposed concrete, reinforced with fiberglass, over the light-toned brick veneer look like they have been chiseled from stone. They paint a relief of grooves and openings onto the long street facades, complemented on the courtyard side by projecting raw-concrete loggias.
This strategy of creating contours on different scales, which could already be observed in the architects’ variegated treatment of building heights, balconies, and wall textures of the Luegisland development, develops a striking elegance in its monochromatic version on the Fehlmannmatte. The monoliths, reminiscent of Roman times, are unmistakably different from the neighboring buildings. Yet, by inserting courtyards the architects interlocked them with the neighborhood in the heterogenous center of Windisch.
On the plinth along Zürcherstrasse, which contains commercial spaces, visibly heavy raw-concrete facade blocks underscore the buildings’ presence in a nearly stoical manner. Wide, uncovered grooves leave no room for doubt that the tectonic reference of this ensemble can be found in antiquity. The recessed ground level signals a public space in this prominent location in Windisch’s center opposite the Königsfelden park grounds, Haller’s university buildings, and along the busy thoroughfares. By the subtly urban gesture in the positioning of the buildings’ volumes, the project frames private, semi-public, and public spaces in deliberate ambivalence, and thus fits the regional significance of Windisch without appearing obtrusive.
Just as the periphery fails to follow a single line but incorporates many different kinds of spaces instead, the typologies of the four projects discussed in this essay are multifaceted. In the first three housing developments—just outside of or just within Zurich’s city limits—the site is formed by the palimpsests of the urban peripheries; in the final example—the center development in Windisch—it is the archaeological remains of the perimeters of former settlements and buildings that challenge the architects with questions that can only be insufficiently answered with common strategies. The interlocked and intertwined interior and exterior spaces of Galli Rudolf ’s built answers, both horizontally and vertically, are crossing the borders between experiment and tradition, between vision and market value, cityscape and landscape—although the distinction between all these terms has long been blurred. The housing developments designed by Galli Rudolf Architekten contain spaces with numerous designations and variable interpretations. At times they can be both interior and exterior, both private and communal at once. They expand the possibilities for dwelling, working, living, and interacting.

Sabine von Fischer is based in Zurich. After practicing as an architect in both Zurich and New York, she was an editor for the journal werk, bauen +wohnen. She taught at several universities, until 2013 at the Institute for History and Theory (gta) of ETH Zurich, where she also completed her PhD. She has authored numerous texts for newspapers, magazines, and academic books.