The people have spoken: the boat is full and cannot accept any more!
LAUSANNE “Not so,” says a noted Swiss architect who has done a comprehensive study showing that Switzerland could accommodate as many as 14 million inhabitants over the next three decades, with no decline in lifestyle and without building more towers. Basel architect Harry Gugger, who worked on London’s Tate Modern gallery, compared his country to Greater London because both have populations of eight million. London is expected to exceed 12 million by around 2031 and Gugger’s study, Swiss Lessons, published in English in cooperation with students at Lausanne’s EPFL, claims Switzerland’s population will reach 14 million by 2048.
“The official figure is 10 million by 2050, but we chose a higher symbolic figure to illustrate that such an increase is possible and we chose 2048 as a symbolic year – the 200th anniversary of the Confederation.” The study is a scientific examination of how further densification can be achieved without detriment to the beauty, ecology or economic benefits of the country. It was done before the 9 February vote, which Gugger acknowledges may slow population growth in the short term, but he believes that Switzerland will continue to attract immigration.
On 13 April, voters in Lausanne will vote in a referendum to address their own population problem – a proposed 85m-high tower block called the Taoua. Some liberals say the western Lausanne project is being pushed by speculators while select conservatives say it will ruin views of their city. Lausanne Mayor and Green Party member Daniel Brélaz believes it is a good example of “sustainable development and quality densification of urban space”.
“Towers are not the answer,” maintains Gugger. “They are very expensive and cause more problems for society.” Some property developers agree. The residential property agency, home.ch, notes on its website that “multi-story buildings for purely residential use are no longer up-to-date. Buildings which ideally cover the whole spectrum of human activity are more popular.” It goes on to cite the difficulty of finding suitable tenants, who can afford apartments or even offices “at such dizzy heights.”
Switzerland’s love affair with skyscrapers began in the 1960s, when they began popping up all over the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Zurich has its Prime and Mobimo towers; Basel, the Trade Fair Tower. But the creation of high-rise residences in satellite suburbs, such as the Tour de Lignon in the Geneva outskirts, tarnished this image in Suisse Romande. In addition, Swiss building regulations mean that constructing towers is both difficult and expensive. Tall buildings must have a certain amount of open space around them, so the surface area of a plot dictates the height limit.
The EPFL study favours low-rise buildings of five to six floors on average and building in spaces between cities and towns, in places like Olten, a rail hub half an hour from Bern, Zurich, Basel and Lucerne. “Olten is a medium-sized town with a lot of open space that is neither park nor agricultural land that could be built on,” notes Gugger, adding that other medium-size towns, such as Lenzburg and Nyon, could also accept more density. Gugger says that even in Geneva, the so-called villa zone could be better used to accommodate low-rise density. “Traffic and costs are the problem in Geneva, not density. It is not even a city in the fullest sense. We are talking about creating a better mix of work, home, cultural and recreational services.”