Constructing The Swiss Landscape

From Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Studio Basel, Switzerland has been described as a thoroughly urbanized nation. This exhibition takes a different tack, examining Switzerland as a landscape—a landscape of mountains and lakes, agglomeration and infrastructure, and design interventions large and small.

The Swiss landscape, even more than that of other European countries, is both a symbolic and an artificial construct. It is the stuff of folklore and national identity, founded on Lake Uri and the mythic oath of William Tell on the Rütli, with the Gotthard massif as the ur-mountain and source of the great rivers Rhône, Aare, Rhine, and Ticino. It is a heavily engineered landscape, one that is mapped, harnessed, and traversed, in which the Alps are a military fortification, tourist destination, generator of electricity, and witness (or victim) to technological feats such as the high-speed rail connection between Milan and Zurich. From this perspective, the landscape is inherently tied to cultural history, and this exhibition foregrounds contemporary Swiss approaches to the melding of nature, urbanity, and infrastructure, as informed by the modernist legacy.

Contemporary Switzerland offers contrasting visions of idyllic Alpine farmland and nebulous conurbations, of cantonal independence and global economy. These oppositions, however, do not reflect the familiar town-countryside dialectic but rather a collage of urban-suburban-rural fragments. As agricultural fields and patches of forest interrupt the agglo development, urban resorts emerge from Alpine ranges, to form a mosaic of built and open space in which both nature and landscape are manufactured. In the everyday environment, landscape is not viewed as greenery destined to redeem urbanity. Instead, the ubiquitous square, cemetery, and bath form a system that reinforces the social role of landscape design and acknowledges its simultaneity with the urban environment. The cemetery joins city with forest, and the bath links city with lake. Against the specter of generic urbanization, these small interventions take into account the specific and the in-between, and promote the development of a public landscape infrastructure.

—Dorothée Imbert, Associate Professor Of Landscape Architecture