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Neumarkt Brugg, Shopping Centre, Office Tower, Gabriel Droz, Brugg, 1971-1976, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut, Swiss Brutalism. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

Neumarkt Brugg

Picture of Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

Texte et photographie : Karin Bürki

Just another concrete monster? Next time you take the train past Brugg, take a fresh look at the ‘bunker on stilts’

It stands right next to the station and is a familiar sight to anyone who regularly takes the train from Aarau to Basel. For most people, Neumarkt Brugg is just another concrete slab, like the hundreds of others that whiz by on the journey through the Mittelland. But the shopping centre with direct rail access was once the centrepiece of a pioneering traffic-free design plan dating back to the 1960s. The city council and a progressive group led by architect Hans Ulrich Scherer wanted to transform the old town into a car-free “city centre area” with department stores, shops, restaurants and businesses. Remember, this was at the height of the car age, when greenfield shopping centres were booming.

But the project was also highly controversial, and its realisation was not quite so visionary. When the new Migros shopping temple in the base building was finally inaugurated on 13 March 1975, after years of bitter disputes over land and investors, the economic crisis was in full swing. The boundless enthusiasm for progress was dead. The terms ‘pollution’, ‘throwaway landscapes’ and ‘building cancer’ entered the vocabulary. The concrete-crusted dinosaur in Brugg came to symbolise this kind of eyesore architecture. It wasn’t long before it earned the nickname ‘bunker on stilts’.

Despite all the scapegoating, mockery and ridicule, no one has yet dared to use the wrecking ball. And so the former pioneer and current pensioner keeps waiting defiantly for the next train.

Neumarkt, designed by local architect Gabriel Droz, is divided into a long, flat rectangle with a shopping centre and multi-storey car park, and two windmill-shaped office towers of different heights. A cantilevered window strip made of prefabricated concrete louvres connects the two parts of the building in the terrace area. The smooth, streamlined high-tech skin of the towers, with its rounded corners, nods to the financial and business centres of Zurich and Geneva, while the more robust shopping section, with its rough, bush-hammered concrete structure, remains firmly rooted in the Swiss midlands. Apart from a new aluminium cladding and general repairs, Neumarkt has so far escaped any rejuvenation plans. Two other shopping centres were added in the 1980s.
Neumarkt Brugg, Shopping Centre, Office Tower, Gabriel Droz, Brugg, 1971-1976, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut, Swiss Brutalism. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

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