John Thackara | Essays

Design Steps to Heaven

The city's new cultural centre

I recently visted Luzern, in Switzerland, for a workshop at the oldest art and design school in Switzerland, Hochschule Luzern.

My host, Andy Polaine had asked me to set students in the first semester of the MA Desig, a challenge.

The task I gave them was as follows: find a neglected asset somewhere in Luzern and design a service to increase its value to the city.

As the workshop began, I assumed that some groups of students would focus on the city's new cultural centre. Designed by Jean Novel, the building had taken twenty years to conceive and plan. With an overhanging roof 35m 100 feet) above the ground, the building had cost the city 130 million euros to build.

This was an iconic building with a capital "I". I thought it must surely have potential as the focus of some new kind of civic activity.

But then a strange thing happened. When I asked the students what they thought of their new centre, they pronounced it to be "quite nice" — and hastened on to tell me stories about other features of the city that they had found more engaging to work with.

The first joint winner was called 'Straight way to heaven'.

The church used for the project

The team had identified a church as their neglected asset and proposed to increase its value as a meeting place by opening it up to bouldering in the city.

The group did not expect the church authorities to be thrilled by their idea, but our jury found their service communication to be so engaging that they were made joint winners.

The second winning project in Luzern, was Graveyard Alive and was especially enchanting. The group had discovered that the city's Friedhof Cemetery contained a lot of as-yet-unused space.

The Friedhof Cemetery 

They came up with a sublime closed-loop service concept: offer people the opportunity to donate their bodies, once buried, as nutrients to save endangered plants and cultivate biodiversity.

The group had already talked with workers in the graveyard [in favor] and identified a leading Swiss seed bank ProSpecieRara to provide the seeds.

The next step is to sign up the first customers....

Bouldering in the City/Straight Way to Heaven was the work of: Christoph Gabathuler, Myriam Gämperli, Erika Frankhauser Schürch and Antonio Russo.

Graveyard Alive was the work of: Nadine Bucher, Anete Melece and Dominik Büeler.

Posted in: Architecture, Education

Comments [3]

Good ideas, churches are indeed becoming more and more neglected, especially in a relatively aetheist society such as here in Switzerland. I'd like to point out, though, that "Friedhof" is simply the German word for cemetery, as opposed to a specific name given to a particular cemetery, so writing "The Friedhof Cemetery" is probably not what you're going for.

In the light of people being burried on top of each other, to call the cemetry something like "Friedhof Cemetery" (or Graveyard Cemetery) seems almost appropriate ;-)
Kristi van Riet

Good Ideas. The poster is well thought. It would have worked - churches would be OK with getting younger generation of crowds for sure. Imagine the service talk around achievement or courage against the backdrop of the chappie above.

Jobs | July 15