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Three Loops, Betonschleife, Ralph Bänziger, Zurich 1977, Brutalism, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

Three Loops

Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

Brutalist housing estates introduced a radical new type of playground design: concrete polygons, ramps or holes in walls encouraged children to take risks and explore the harsh world out there. One of the most striking Brutalist playscapes in Switzerland can be found at Grünau social housing estate in Zurich Altstetten.

Ralph Bänziger, a young man working for the architect Walter Moser, was tasked with designing the estate’s schoolyard. Bänziger came up with three concrete loops that could be entered and walked around. Varying in tone from ‘brut’ to washed-out terracotta, the playsculpture blends elegantly into the schoolyard as well as the pre-existing wall separating the school from the residential area. The original setting also included a shallow pool, but this soon proved too expensive to maintain. Bänziger’s congenial loops were an instant hit. Though not quite in the way he had intended.

Max Bill’s ‘Infinity Loop’ (1947) may have been the inspiration, but to schoolchildren the loops looked like perfect skating ramps (the craze hit Switzerland shortly after the playsculpture was completed in 1977). A clear no-go for both the architect and the school authorities. Metal skirting boards were added, which killed much of the fun. But the hard surfaces are still spell danger. This may explain the Loops’ enduring appeal.
In the joyless, lockdown winter of 2021, Tages-Anzeiger newspaper declared Three Loops to be one of Zurich few feelgood sculptures: “It looks as if someone had thrown down soft, elastic waves with oversized strips of chewing gum”

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

Brunnmatt Schulhaus, Basel © Karin Bürki/HEARTBRUT. Explore more on Heartbrut.com
Brunnadern, Residential Buildings, Atelier 5, Bern 1970, Brutalism © HEARTBRUT / Karin Bürki
Église Saint Nicolas, Walter Maria Förderer, Hérémence, 1967-1971, Swiss Brutalism, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on Heartbrut.com
Sentier des Toblerones, Toblerone Trail, Canton Vaud, Swiss WWII anti-tank fortification line, built 1939-1944 © Karin Bürki. Explore more on Heartbrut.com