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Swissmill Tower, Haarder Haas Partner, Zurich, 2013-2016, Swiss Brutalism, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on

Swissmill Tower

Picture of Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

118 metres of raw concrete, 21 storeys and a world record

The neo-brutalist tower in the heart of Kreis 5 nightlife district is the world’s tallest grain silo. The striking exclamation mark from 2016 has catapulted industrial architecture in Zurich West to new lofty heights and polarised opinion with its architectural brusqueness. But behind the rough facade lies a sustainable core. Meanwhile, the locals are slowly warming to their new concrete landmark – especially the shadow it casts during heat waves.

Surprise: it was not megalomania but sustainability and logistics that tipped the scales. But first things first: Swissmill Tower complements the historic city mill and meets 30% of the national demand for grain. It uses the city mill’s existing rail connection. Four times a day, a fully loaded grain train leaves the silo for Hardbrücke station. The south side of the tower serves as a vertical solar installation. Now watch the next record tumble: at the time of completion, the six panels formed the highest solar facade in Europe.
After the city council gave the go-ahead for the radical silo tower in 2010, opposition quickly formed: the prospect of 21 storeys of exposed concrete inevitably led to a heated debate. For the residents of the neighbouring Wipkingen quarter, the main point of contention was not the neo-brutalist architecture per se, but the hours of shadow the tower threatened to cast on the popular Unterer Letten lido on summer afternoons. Within a month, 4000 residents had signed a petition. On 13 February 2011, a clear majority of 58.3 per cent voted in favour of the silo tower (55,822 put a ‘yes’ in the ballot box, 39,913 a ‘no’). The turnout was 45.7%). When the tower finally stood in 2016, the unimpressed “NZZ am Sonntag” (a highbrow Sunday paper) declared with unusual brutality: “118 metres of ugliness”.

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

PMS Kreuzlingen, Esther + Rudolf Guyer © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on
Unteraffoltern II, Georges-Pierre Dubois, Zurich, 1967-1970, Swiss Brutalism, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on
Sentier des Toblerones, Toblerone Trail, Canton Vaud, Swiss WWII anti-tank fortification line, built 1939-1944 © Karin Bürki. Explore more on
Hochhaus zur Palme High-Rise, Haefeli Moser Steiger, Zurich, 1955-1964, Swiss Brutalism, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on