e2a Eckert Eckert

EBP Office Building . Zürich

e2a Eckert Eckert

Our contemporary times are – for virtually the first time in history – defined by two antagonistic forces rarely in accord: innovation and comfort. In fact, they can work powerfully against one another, illustrating an often minimized conflict in our times and in our society, particularly in the Swiss context.

Innovation und Comfort
Innovation is heavily reliant on technology, and as a consequence is dependent on the belief that we will always be able to subliminally control it. In contrast, the term comfort is perceived as standard, representing the status quo, and as such can embody a fictitious sense of convenience and achievement.
The prerequisites for and the forms of innovation often erode the perception of the familiar, and its associated norms. As a result, efficiency and effectiveness represent two of the key characteristics of innovation in the Swiss conception of sustainability, along with sufficiency, which is perhaps the least popular criterion. Foregoing all but the most necessary remains infused with ethical, moralizing overtones, if the resources currently at our disposal should be available in the future. However, radical simplification could also mean allowing the possibility of a lasting, participatory impact to arise. Such a process could make accountability visible and liberate us from the tutelage of technology.
Addressing this antagonism directly and openly was the impetus behind planning the Ernst Basler AG headquarters. From the onset old and new formed an ambiguity, continually lurking beneath the surface and not to be trusted. The familiar threatened either to disappear without warning, or to endure with fierce resistance.
Thus the conceptual manipulation of new and old remained tied to the question of a constant negotiation. The result is effectively a hybrid, a composite, that gradually began to dissolve this antagonism. An experience new to us. A relationship was born of resistance and dichotomy; an element of the system was always present, ensuring that everything remained interdependent.
Piet Eckert

Building Across the Ages
The buildings along Mühlebachstrasse in central Zurich are stacked in rows, wall to wall. They form an urban chain of diverse buildings from different eras. Acquiring the frontage building and its respective function was the final step in completing this architectural composite. A volume was placed precisely at the interstice of the extant building, facing the courtyard. It is conceived as a large window, revealing the hidden, inner-city garden of the Mühlebach district. This new volume extends the existing floor area, a broad gesture opening the established structure towards the outside. This new and subtle freedom towards the courtyard counterbalances the “regulatory” structure of the building’s façade towards the street.
The vagueness intrinsic to the existing composition placed significant demands on the planning process as well as the ability to react to unforeseen conditions during the building process; it required a multiplicity of site-specific solutions during all phases and areas of implementation.
As a consequence, we developed an architectural language that was articulated by sequential adaption. The rhythm is composed of finely calibrated increments that adapt the general principle to specific situations already existing on the site. Core, story, corridor, plinth, parapet, attic, and a window to the garden form a catalog of the transformation, conversion, and rediscovery. They represent strategic intersections of decisions that were necessary to join the old with the new.
In placing the core directly adjacent to the extant buildings, the wide variety of different floor heights in the old and new constructions were spanned. The stair is the Gordian knot that connects all of the elements; it forms the intersection between our intervention and the existing architecture. All of the ancillary rooms and ducts are also integrated into the structure, which allows the rest of the available space to be used efficiently for offices. We attempted to design the core as spatially prominent element, breaking out from its narrow surroundings and serving as a meeting place. The various floor plates are easily accessible from the half and quarter stories connected to the stair. As such, the existing rooms are linked to the new rooms. The handrail acts as a light reflector, unfolding over seven stories in height.
The floors of the new construction supplement the functions distributed along the row of existing buildings. The basement further complements the program with a generously proportioned conference room; the ground and upper stories are all office spaces. The extant cafeteria was extended with a small café on the first floor above ground, facing the courtyard, and the top floor contains an open floor plan for use as a meeting or events space.
A typical office story is comprised of cubicles with two or three working spaces. The eccentrically positioned core forms a collective zone in the center of the plan. This space facilitates internal coordination and can also function as a place to hold short meetings. The office spaces extending from this middle area are designed with transparent materials, lending the entire shared central zone a “filtered,” directed view to the outside.
Hallways are not just passages; rather, they create transitions, pauses, and linkages between new and old, between regularity and specificity of use. To put it in cinematic terms, these spaces allow the introduction of “off scenes.” One can utilize them to briefly immerge into an unfamiliar context. The concept of the tunnel effect was deliberately employed in order to announce the onset of a new function. These spaces translate the role of the core into a horizontal dimension, making it possible for a multiplicity of functions to coexist indirectly with one another.
Plinth and Parapet
The foot of building contained a small commercial business, which has been converted to a meeting room and offices. What was once a display window was retrofitted with a sash to provide operable fenestration. A canvas awning was added to the large-scale glazing to create depth between the inside and outside. It pays homage to the shop windows of the past. The parapets were the most complex element of customization; they act as sills containing the building’s technical installations for heating and cooling. When located near existing windows, they follow the shape of the peripheral geometry; in proximity to the new façade, they appear as autonomous elements; and on the attic level they are integrated into the roof spires. Their craftsmanship ties into the old tradition of outfitting radiators with casings.
The top floor is the crown of the building and the space beneath the old roof trusses has become a meeting place. The geometry of the roof gable unfolds in two directions and introduces a pronounced depth and flexibility into the space. The building reflects a complex undertaking of carpentry. Facing the courtyard, the room has a small terrace, allowing one to emerge from the tent-like space and experience the court as a whole.
Garden Window
In extending the building towards the interior court, a large window to the garden is formed. Its surface changes with the sun as its awnings are adjusted. Like unfurling sails, the fabric of these expressive shading devices permeates the depth of the courtyard. From the inside of the structure, one can experience the garden located in between Kreuzplatz and Mühlebachstrasse, spatially related yet too often forgotten by the outside world. The large window is subdivided into smaller panels. The awnings are integrated into the horizontal seams of these elements. The vertical seams fold the operable windows, which open from the inside, into their shadows. An oversized horizontal beam acts as the crown of the garden-facing side of the building; as such, the glazing following the slant of the roof can be shaded from two sides.
Worte: 1’174

Mühlebachstrasse 17, 8008 Zürich, Switzerland
Ernst Basler + Partner AG, Zürich
2009 – 2013
Piet Eckert, Wim Eckert with Mirko Akermann, Samuel Benz and Sina Arzt, Antonia Herten, Ludovic Toffel; Competition Team: Piet Eckert, Wim Eckert with Mirko Akermann and Chelsea Morrissey

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