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Palais des Congrès, Conference Centre, Swimming Pool, Max Schlup, Biel/Bienne, 1961-1965, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut, Swiss Brutalism. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

Palais des Congrès

Picture of Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

Texte et photographie : Karin Bürki

Brasilià à Biel/Bienne

The utterly striking exclamation mark of a building brought International Style modernism to the bilingual watchmaking town in the southern Jura foothills. A nod to Mies van der Rohe’s corporate glass and steel temples and Oscar Niemeyer’s sinuous civic buildings for the new Brazilian capital, the structure comprises a 14-storey administrative tower and two separate wings. One houses an 825m2 concert hall and an Olympic-size indoor swimming pool, offering the rare opportunity to experience high culture and water sports in the same space. It also boasts a suspended roof, one of the largest in Europe at the time. The third building comprises various smaller halls and workshops.

The conference centre perfectly captures the bold, forward-looking spirit and unwavering belief in technological progress in Switzerland during the economic boom of the 1960s. Grand in gesture and scale, the Palais remains peerless in this country.
The Palais des Congrès reflects the post-war technocratic and industrial approach of a group of young architects from the southern Jura foothills. Known as the Solothurn School, the group included Max Schlup, Fritz Haller, Hans Zaugg, Franz Füegg and Alfons Barth. Although they worked independently, they were all big fans of Mies van der Rohe, prefabrication and modular systems. Their materials of choice were glass, steel and concrete. The group’s signature steel-framed buildings came to define post-war Swiss architecture. Ultimately, however, it was Fritz Haller’s modular furniture system that had the most lasting impact. Better known as USM Haller, it remains the gold standard in Swiss offices.
Palais des Congrès, Conference Centre, Swimming Pool, Max Schlup, Biel/Bienne, 1961-1965, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut, Swiss Brutalism. Explore more on Heartbrut.com

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

Roccolo, Seminar Centre, Retreat, Miller & Maranta, Castasegna, Val Bregaglia, 2004, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut, Swiss Brutalism. Explore more on Heartbrut.com
Masonry Hall, Maurerhalle, Hermann Baur, Basel, Swiss brutalism, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on Heartbrut.com
Flamatt II, Atelier 5, Wünnewil-Flamatt, Canton of Fribourg 1961. A Swiss pioneer of brutalist architecture © Karin Bürki. Explore more on Heartbrut.com
Hochhaus zur Palme High-Rise, Haefeli Moser Steiger, Zurich, 1955-1964, Swiss Brutalism, © Karin Bürki/Heartbrut. Explore more on Heartbrut.com