Just another brutalist monster? Next time you pass by Brugg by train, take a fresh look
Sitting right next to the Brugg’s main station, this concrete complex is a familiar sight to everyone who travels between eastern and western Switzerland by train. For most, it is just another brutalist monster dotting the midlands. But is not, quite au contraire. The shopping centre and office tower with direct access to the station stood at the heart of a pioneering city plan, drawn up in the 1960s by Brugg’s city council and a progressively-minded group around architect Hans Ulrich Scherer.
Titled ‘Brugg 2000’, the paper set out to transform the old town into a lively, high-density, and, above all, car-free “city zone”, comprising department stores, shops, restaurants and other businesses. The pedestrian-centric plan was radically ahead of its time – bearing in mind this was an era, when the car was king, and out-of-town shopping centres were booming. Embracing a brutalist design expressed the town’s optimistic and forward-looking ambition in robust architectural form. Although the project was controversial, no aesthetic concerns were raised.
The building splits into a horizontal part, comprising the shopping centre and car park, and a vertical part in the shape of an office tower. A cantilevered window ribbon made of pre-cast concrete fins frames the two at terrace level. Construction works began in 1971. The office tower was added one and a half years after the mall’s completion. Stacked on oversized exposed concrete fins, it features two blocks of various heights and follows a curvilinear windmill design – and the then fashion for metal-cladding.
While the sleek tech-tower openly aspires to the financial centres of Geneva and Zurich, the shopping centre, with its more robust design and coarse, bush-hammered concrete is firmly rooted in Middle Switzerland. Neumarkt, in other words, represents a typical Swiss federal compromise in architectural form, bridging the hedonist consumerism and emerging environmental of the early 1970s. But with compromise comes conflict. Neumarkt’s sculptural elements manage to ease it considerably, adding dynamic and complexity to a design that could have easily ended up in the very massiveness and bulkiness it still stands accused of. In any case, the centre has been spared redevelopment, unlike its younger brother Neumarkt II from vis-à-vis the square. The pioneer has turned a pensioner, waiting sullenly for the next train.