Housing Estate, Max P. Kollbrunner, Zurich 1976-1978

© Images & Text: Karin Bürki / HEARTBRUT

Mini-Manhattan Meets Pragmatic Swiss Brutalism 

The four striking towers added welcome drama and urbanity to the Zurich skyline, which, back in the seventies, was still largely untroubled by large-scale,  high rise developments. Commissioned by the City of Zurich as an innovative way of providing affordable housing to the fast growing demographics of singles and the elderly, the estate was built by local architect Max B. Kollbrunner. Apart from the towers, which  which are all of slightly different heights, the estate also comprises various terraced blocks. In theory, one could spend one’s entire life here, as facilities range from a kindergarten,  community spaces and a dance school to shops, a petrol station and a retirement home. Arguably, Kollbrunner’s  smartest design decision was the use of pigmented concrete in bush-hammered finish. Not only did the splash of colour lend Hardau its signature look, it also signalled a welcome move away from the inevitable shades of ghetto-grey most mid 70s concrete housing estates were still being trapped in. Tones change from deep aubergine on rainy days to a powdery shade of terracotta when the sun is out, adding a hint of Mediterranean serenity. Kollbrunner’s marriage of Manhattan and pragmatic Swiss school is proof municipal brutalist housing estates can weather time and trends with true grit.

The cross-wall complex was originally intended for singles and elderly couples, as at the time local authorites regarded high rises unfit for families and children. During the eighties and nineties, the estate went through a bit of a rough patch. Its fortunes turned for the better this side of the millennium. Since the noughties Hardau has been undergoing major regeneration programmes. A 2007 revamp merged the predominantly 2 1/2-bedroom apartments in the upper areas. Today Hardau is home to a diverse mix of tenants, ranging from families, workers and urban professionals to young creatives and pensioners.

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