Situated right next to Brugg main station, this concrete complex is a familiar sight to everyone who travels between eastern and western Switzerland. For most, it is just another brutalist monster dotting the midlands. But is not, quite au contraire.
Neumarkt stood at the heart of a groundbreaking city plan, drawn up in the 1960s by Brugg’s city council and a progressively-minded group around architect Hans Ulrich Scherer, called ‘Brugg 2000’. It 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. Remember, this was an era, when the car was still 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 and vertical part. The elongated rectangular base contains shops, businesses, restaurants and a multi storey car park. It can be accessed directly from the station via elevators. It is clad in bush-hammered concrete elements and supported by a series of raw-cast stilts. At terrasse level, pre-cast concrete fins frame a cantilevered window ribbon.
Construction works began in 1971. The office tower structure was added 1.5 years after the mall’s completion. Stacked on oversized exposed concrete fins, it comprises two steel-clad blocks, which are held together by a service tower in raw concrete. All three come in various heights, feature a curvilinear vertical silhouette and follow a ‘windmill’ design. This, the variably textured concrete elements and the meeting of sleek steel and coarse concrete add sculptural dynamic, lightness and welcome subtlety to a design that would have otherwise ended up rather squat and heavy.
So next time you pass by Brugg on the train, take a fresh look.