Le Corbusier and tourist kiosks in Zürich

Centre Le Corbusier
Centre Le Corbusier / Heidi Weber Museum, Zürich

Zürich on Pentecost Sunday. After a wet morning encamped in the city’s Kunsthaus, we caught the number four tram along Seefeldstrasse, to visit the Bellerive Museum’s exhibitory mash-up of Alphonse Mucha, seventies psychedelia and Japanese manga. On the walk down to the Bellerive we passed by the Heidi Weber museum, designed by Le Corbusier and dedicated to the artist and architect’s life and works. Sadly the Weber museum wasn’t open at the time, but we could walk around and admire the exterior of the house.

The grounds surrounding the building are generous enough to create a significant buffer between the Corbusier house and its more conservative neighbours. Had the house ever been used as a private dwelling, such generous amounts of space would have been useful in protecting the privacy of those living behind its glass walls. But the house was originally conceived and planned as a museum, designed by Le Corbusier for Le Corbusier. Sadly however, the great architect never got to see what was to be his final work realised. He died two years before its completion in 1967.

The next morning we found ourselves on Bürkliplatz, enjoying an unexpected upturn in the fortunes of the weather. As we sat and watched the tourists embarking and disembarking the boats for trips around the lake, I was struck by the similarities between the a tourist kiosk that stood close by, and the Corbusier house seen the previous day.

Tourist Kiosk, Bürkliplatz
Tourist Kiosk, Bürkliplatz

In its geometric form, use of primary colours, and transparent structural properties, the kiosk shared numerous affinities with the Corbusier house, which lay a fifteen-minute walk away around the lake.

Centre Le Corbusier
Centre Le Corbusier / Heidi Weber Museum, Zürich

And yet had dissimilar could the functions of two buildings be. Le Corbusier’s house was conceived of as a museum, and financed by the Swiss art collector Heidi Weber. It’s the epitome of high modernism in its architectural expression, and as self-referential as one of Mondrian’s De Stijl works. And though it is a public museum, its opening hours (weekends only during the summer) are rather selective, to the extent that it is easy to view the house as a monument rather than a museum, hermetically sealed off from the outside world.

Centre Le Corbusier
Centre Le Corbusier / Heidi Weber Museum, Zürich
Tourist Kiosk, Bürkliplatz
Tourist Kiosk, Bürkliplatz

By contrast, the kiosk on Bürkliplatz—to my mind—recalls the purer (socialist) ideals of an earlier architectural modernism that had lost its way by the time Le Corbusier conceived his Swiss museum in the postwar period. It’s a multifunctional open structure, designed to be used by all members of the public. It offers a ticket kiosk, tourist shop, free public toilets, and shelter from the sun and rain. Moreover, it’s clean, bright and airy, and was presumably cheap to construct.

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