Franziskus House, abandoned former retreat house, conference centre and student campus, Otto Glaus, 1969, Swiss brutalism. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

Franziskus House

Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

Austere, abandoned, forgotten – is Franziskus House the perfect socially-distanced retreat destination?

Originally designed as a retreat house for the Capuchin order, Franziskus House sits on a forest slope just outside Dulliken, a village near Olten in the Swiss midlands. Based on Le Corbusier’s design for La Tourette monastery in France, the interlocking structure comprises over 80 bedrooms, various meeting rooms, a large kitchen, an auditorium and a chapel. The retreat exudes the charm of a brutalist Prussian reformatory. After several ill-fated reincarnations as a conference centre or international student campus, Franziskus House has been self-isolating from the outside world since 2013.

Le Corbusier once defined the basic needs of modern monastic design needs as: “Space and light and order. These are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep”. With Franziskus House, Otto Glaus, a former student, followed his master to the letter. The French original’s characteristic interlocking tracts, vertical fins, brusque window grids and protruding concrete elements are all present. While La Tourette also had plenty of playfulness and eccentricity, Glaus took no such interest. He was a firm believer in rigid, unadorned geometric compositions. Rough stucco and clinker floors continue the robust sparseness inside. Colour accents, such as the red metal frames, and the blue carpets and doors in the bedrooms were added later.
Franziskus House has had a colourful history this side of the century: an interfaith retreat and conference centre since 2001, the complex was carefully restored in 2012. In the same year it acquired a new owner, who repositioned the retreat as an international student campus. This venture failed. In 2016, the property was auctioned for 2.53 million Swiss francs to AKB bank, which in turn sold it in 2019. The current owner, an entrepreneur and property developer, hasn’t yet revealed his plans. Abandoned since 2013, Franziskus House is an absolute rarity in Switzerland. Still fully furnished, the complex looks as if its occupants had left in a hurry in the face of impending disaster. But the absence of humans has its advantages: the combined forces of lichen, moss, ivy and shrubs are quietly reclaiming the concretescape, reviving the weathered walls with verdant abundance and new possibilities. Who knows, the very austerity and isolation of the retreat may prove its greatest asset.
Franziskus House, abandoned former retreat house, conference centre and student campus, Otto Glaus, 1969, Swiss brutalism. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

St Anthony's Church, Antoniuskirche, Karl Moser, Basel, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on Heartbrut.com
Brunnmatt Schulhaus, Basel © Karin Bürki/HEARTBRUT. Explore more on Heartbrut.com
Haus Vogelbacher, Pierre Zoelly, Stampa, Bregaglia, Canton of Grisons. Swiss brutalism, Schweizer Brutalismus, brutalisme suisse. Explore on Heartbrut.com
Brunnadern, Residential Buildings, Atelier 5, Bern 1970, Brutalism © HEARTBRUT / Karin Bürki

Stay up to speed with our latest updates, new arrivals, special events and seasonal treats. We respect your sanity and privacy.

By signing up you take note of our privacy policy

Scroll to Top