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Saurer Tower, Saurerhochhaus, Georges-Pierre Dubois, Arbon, 1958-1960, Swiss Brutalism, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

Saurer Tower

Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

Arbon’s answer to the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier’s L’Unité d’habitation in Marseille (1952) was the happy meeting of two brothers, social capitalism and an era of optimism, reinvention and upward mobility.

In postwar Switzerland, architecture was expected to provide answers to questions of radical social change and unprecedented economic growth. Saurer Tower in Arbon, completed in 1960, added an early exclamation mark to the conversation. The 13-storey concrete complex on stilts brought high-rise housing to the canton of Thurgau and modular maisonettes to working-class families.

A postwar palace for working class families: throughout the 20th century, Arbon, a historic town on the southern shore of Lake Constance between Constance and Bregenz, was synonymous with Saurer, a world-leading manufacturer of trucks, buses, military vehicles and textile machinery. In the post-war period, the company was at its peak, employing over 5000 people. With a rapid influx of workers, Arbon was in desperate need of new and affordable housing.

Saurer’s managing director at the time, Albert Dubois, was the driving force behind the change. He commissioned his architect brother to design a striking structure to house 200 ‘Saurer families’. The building was to be a bold architectural statement of the company’s status as a socially responsible employer and forward-looking global player. Georges-Pierre was the perfect man for the job: he had worked in Le Corbusier’s studio between 1937 and 1940 and jumped at the chance.

Dubois downsized and optimised the Unité-concept to meet local needs and regulations as well as Saurer’s higher quality standards. His original plans for a twin-tower complex were shelved for budgetary reasons. The 95 flats are divided into two units: single-storey flats on the south side and stacked maisonettes on the north side. These are accessed via open walkways. All the living rooms and some of the bedrooms face west and are located either on the lower or the upper floor of each flat. The maisonettes afford sweeping views of Lake Constance and the bucolic Thurgovian hinterland. The rooftop lacks the swimming pool of the Marseille original, but instead offers a very Swiss institution – a communal laundry room. It vaguely resembles the command bridge of an ocean liner, perhaps a nod to Le Corbusier’s nautical obsession. It overlooks a row of nine Stewi rotary clothes dryers, neatly lined up.
Having turned 60 in 2020, Saurer Tower doesn’t show its age. Carefully manicured topiary flanks the driveway. Surrounded by a generous green space and a commmunal park the estate exudes the kind of pristine picture-postcard perfection only Switzerland manages to produce. Over the years, the mix of tenants has become more diverse. Today, singles and couples far outnumber Saurer employees and families with children. Individual floors no longer compete in soccer games, but the strong community spirit remains intact. A thorough refurbishment in 2009 brought the concrete, infrastructure and kitchens up to date. The number of rooms per maisonette flats is being gradually reduced to allow for more spacious living. This young-at-heart concrete beauty is obviously enjoying its Whiskey-years. Here’s to you.
Saurer Tower, Saurerhochhaus, Georges-Pierre Dubois, Arbon, 1958-1960, Swiss Brutalism, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

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