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Hardau, Zurich, 1978, Brutalism, © Karin Bürki. Explore more on


Picture of Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

Mini-Manhattan meets pragmatic Swiss brutalism

The four striking Hardau towers added welcome drama and urbanity to Zurich’s skyline, which in the 1970s was still largely untroubled by large-scale high-rise developments. Commissioned by the City of Zurich as an innovative way to provide affordable housing for the rapidly growing population of singles and the elderly, the development was designed by local architect Max B. Kollbrunner. In addition to the towers, which are all of slightly different heights, the complex also consists of several terraced blocks. In theory, you could spend your whole life here, with facilities ranging from a kindergarten, community rooms and a dance school to shops, a petrol station and a retirement home. Kollbrunner’s marriage of Manhattan and Swiss pragmatism is proof that urban brutalist estates can defy time and trends with true grit.

Arguably Kollbrunner’s smartest design decision was to use pigmented concrete in a bush-hammered finish. Not only did the splash of colour give Hardau its distinctive look, but it also signalled a welcome move away from the inevitable ghetto greys in which most mid-70s concrete estates were still trapped. The hues shift from deep aubergine on rainy days to a powdery terracotta when the sun shines, adding a touch of Mediterranean serenity.
The cross-wall complex was originally intended for singles and elderly couples, as the local authorities at the time considered high-rise buildings unsuitable for families and children. In the 80s and 90s, the housing estate fell on hard times. Its fortunes took a turn for the better this side of the millennium. Since the noughties, Hardau has undergone a major regeneration programme. A 2007 redevelopment brought together the predominantly 2 1/2-bedroom apartments in the upper areas. Today, Hardau is hip again. The complex is home to a diverse mix of tenants, ranging from families, workers and urban professionals to young creatives and pensioners.

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

Ferro Haus, Pyramide am See, Justus Dahinden, © Karin Buerki/Heartbrut. Explore more on
Palais des Congrès, Conference Centre, Swimming Pool, Max Schlup, Biel/Bienne, 1961-1965, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut, Swiss Brutalism. Explore more on
Brunnadern, Residential Buildings, Atelier 5, Bern 1970, Brutalism © HEARTBRUT / Karin Bürki
St John's Church, St.Johanneskirche, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on