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Hochhaus zur Palme High-Rise, Haefeli Moser Steiger, Zurich, 1955-1964, Swiss Brutalism, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on

Hochhaus zur Palme Tower

Picture of Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

Imagine Zurich in the early 60s. In Switzerland’s largest and most important city, business is booming, while things are tranquil, architecturally, socially and otherwise. Enter Hochhaus Zur Palme Tower on 18 April 1964.

It introduced: a 50m high office tower! A drive-in bank counter next to a petrol station! A futuristic car deck and a Silberkugel, the city’s first fast-food restaurant! An open passage and access from all sides! A windmill-shaped plan! Boy, you couldn’t get more disruptively modern than that. And thus, our local Mad Men found an appropriate playground on Bleicherweg 33, two tram stops away from Paradeplatz, the financial heart of the city.

A two-storey base covers most of the site. It contains a shopping arcade and a large mezzanine for offices. Its deck serves as an open car park and is bordered by an ingenious prefabricated Eternit snow shelter. Its shape vaguely resembles a row of palm fronds. While elegantly shielding cars from view and the elements, it also acts as a visual tribute to the titular 19th-century villa, Haus zur Palme, which it replaced. The tower rests on eight mighty exposed concrete columns, only two of which are exposed for their full height. One of them is neatly encircled by a filigree double-helix ramp. It looks a bit like the Guggenheim in New York, or a distant memory of chief architect Werner Max Moser’s internship with Frank Lloyd Wright.

Zur Palme not only catapulted Zurich into the car age, it also marked the beginning of a veritable high-rise boom that was to last for a good decade.

The architects Haefeli Moser Steiger faced immense challenges when they took on the job. In the 1950’s, public and official opinion in Zurich was still very hostile towards high-rise projects. Building regulations were strict and numerous: the forecourt had to be accessible to the public. In the city centre, new buildings had to provide as much parking spaces as possible etc. The architects had to come up with something better than just a box on stilts in the middle of a draughty square. Their distinctive windmill-shaped design integrates the villa’s existing trees, makes the most of the 3900m2 site and reduces the amount of shadow cast on the surrounding buildings. The mezzanine parking deck can accommodate 94 cars and 20 scooters. Thinking outside the box paid off for HMS. Their landmark design attracted a great deal of international attention. In Zurich, however, Zur Palme was denied official recognition until 1998, when it was listed.
Zur Palme is built on sand, clay and silt sediments from the Sihl delta and former lake bed. The load-bearing columns had to be artificially extended by 18 metres with plinths in order to reach rock-solid ground. There’s a giant golden chandelier in the central lobby. “The Fallen Chandelier”, added in 1996 by artist Ilya Kabakov, can be read as a reference to the 1837 classicist villa and its lush garden that had to make way for the high rise. It gently weeps, if you listen closely.
Hochhaus zur Palme High-Rise, Haefeli Moser Steiger, Zurich, 1955-1964, Swiss Brutalism, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

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