This is pure, stark, reinforced concrete prose. Ruthlessly exposing its industrial function, Swissmill is every inch a contemporary brute. The 2016 extension to the existing silo holds the title of the world’s tallest operating grain elevator. It also stands smack-bang in Zurich’s hip culture district.
21 floors of bare-faced concrete were inevitably prone to divide opinion: «118 Meter Hässlichkeit» (118 Meters of Ugliness) highbrow Sunday paper NZZ am Sonntag declared, while for the residents of neighbouring Wipkingen, the main point of contention was not the architecture as such, but the hour-long shadow the high-rise was to cast on popular Unterer Letten river lido in the afternoon. Though Zurich parliament overwhelmingly gave the project the all-clear in 2011, opposition formed swiftly. Within a month 4000 locals signed a referendum paper. On 13 February 2011 a clear majority of 58,3% voted in favour of Swismill (55’822 voted yes, 39’913 voted no, participation reached 45,7%).
Love it or hate it, Swissmill supplies 30% of the national grain requirements. If you live in Switzerland, chances are high your flour, cereals and semolina have been processed here. The boardroom on the top floor affords unparalleled, panoramic views across the city, the lake and, on a clear day, even the alps. 20’000 tonnes of grain and great views also proved very convincing arguments for a peregrine falcon to take up residence on the top floor.
So far, Swissmill has resolutely resisted various attempts by local politicians and start-ups to decorate its facade. It seems, people are slowly embracing the concrete landmark. Especially the shadow it casts during heatwaves.