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

Three Loops

Picture of 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.

Head architect Walter Moser, had no idea what to do with the schoolyard, so he asked Ralph Bänziger, a junior architect on the team, to give the school kids something to play with. Bänziger came up with three concrete loops that could be entered and walked around. Varying in colour from ‘brut’ to washed-out terracotta, the playsculpture blends elegantly into the schoolyard and the wall separating the school from the residential area. The original also included a shallow water basin, but this soon proved too expensive to maintain. Bänziger’s congenial loops were an instant hit. Although not quite in the way he had intended.

Max Bill’s ‘Infinity Loop’ (1947) may have been the inspiration, but to the kids the loops simply looked like the perfect skating ramps – both the playsculpture and the new craze hit Zurich in 1977. Unfortunately, Bänziger and the school authorities were not game for it. Metal skirting boards were added, spoiling much of the fun. But the hard surfaces still spell danger, and the Brutalist housing estate aesthetic is great for hip-hop videos, which 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

Stettbach School, Secondary School, Esther + Rudolf Guyer, Zurich, 1964-1967,© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut, Swiss Brutalism. Explore more on
Hardau, Zurich, 1978, Brutalism, © Karin Bürki. Explore more on
St Anthony's Church, Antoniuskirche, Karl Moser, Basel, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on
Goetheanum, Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, 1924-1928, Swiss Brutalism, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on