Pyramide am See Justus Dahinden, Zurich 1970, Brutalism © HEARTBRUT / Karin Hunter Bürki

Pyramide am See (Ferro-Haus)

Commercial Building / Private Clinic, Justus Dahinden, Zürich 1965-1967
Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

What if the Mayans built a space station on Mars and precision-dropped a pyramid-shaped monolith within walking distance to Pavillon Le Corbusier and Lake Zurich in leafy Seefeld neighbourhood?

It may well be mistaken for a futurist temple dedicated to an ancient deity, but this pyramid’s extraterrestrial looks are really all down to the art of making a virtue out of necessity. The commercial building commissioned by the Swedish metal company “Ferrolegeringar AG” had to adhere to strict building regulations, which stipulated that the upper floors had to be built set back. Thus Architect Justus Dahinden came up with the now iconic pyramid shape. The Cor-Ten steel cladding is a nod to his client’s line of business. And what has Pyramide am See got to do with brutalism? Technically speaking, not very much. But picture it in concrete – it would tick all the boxes. So we declare it a brute in spirit. 

The Pyramid’s signature patina of rich, brownish red is the result of Cor-Ten steel’s quick oxidising. During the seventies, Cor-Ten was a common sight in corporate architecture. One of the material’s biggest fans was artist Richard Serra, who widely used the rust effect for his large-scale land art, making it a household name across the world. For his Zurich landmark Dahinden went the extra mile by adding copper-tinted protective glass windows to achieve a striking tone-on-tone effect. Originally, Pyramide am See served as a business building, with two luxury maisonettes comprising the top tier. The monthly rent for one of the five bedroom flats with sweeping lake views was 3000 Swiss francs (roughly 9000 CHF in today’s money). Reincarnating as a private clinic in 1993, the pyramid has maintained its status as one of Zurich’s most iconic building to this very day. On 6 October 2021 the building was awarded listed status by the City of Zurich.

Never the go-to choice for designing a functional building, Justus Dahinden was an “urbanotopian” architect who floated above the restrictive dogmas of postwar modernism. Both a man of faith and an avid believer in ’function follows form’, Dahinden was on a mission to reconnect architecture with the spiritual and social essence of humans. His designs seek to strike an ideal balance between radical design and sound method. The Federal Institute of Technology Zurich graduate’s early output was informed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Antonio Gaudi and sacral architecture. In the 60s, he was one of the first to embrace and promote the theories and works of his avant-garde contemporaries Archigram and the Japanese metabolists. Notable works include “Schwabylon” leisure-city in Munich, Rigi Haus in Weggis and Trigon village in Zurich Hottingen. Justus Dahinden passed away in spring 2020.

Pyramide am See (Ferro-Haus), Justus Dahinden, Zurich, Brutalism, © Karin Bürki / HEARTBRUT
Pyramide am See (Ferro-Haus), Justus Dahinden, Brutalism © Karin Bürki / HEARTBRUT
Pyramide am See (Ferro-Haus) Justus Dahinden, Zurich, Brutalism © Karin Bürki / HEARTBRUT
Pyramide am See (Ferro-Haus), Justus Dahinden, Brutalism © Karin Bürki / HEARTBRUT

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

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