Swissmill Tower © Karin Bürki / Heartbrut.com

Swissmill Tower

The World's Tallest Grain Silo, Harder Haas Partner, Zurich 2013-2016

118 metres of concrete poetry

118 metres of raw concrete, 21 storeys and a world record: the brash neo-brutalist tower in the heart of the Kreis 5 nightlife district is the tallest grain silo in the world. The striking exclamation mark of 2016 has catapulted the industrial architecture in Zurich West and emotions to new heights. Yet behind the rough exterior hides a sustainable core.

If you are wondering what a gigantic silo tower is doing in the middle of Zurich, the answer may come as a little bit of a surprise: it was not megalomania that tipped the scales, but sustainability and logistics. But first things first: the silo tower serves as an extension to the historic city mill. It covers 30% of the national grain supply. Since the old mill already came equipped with its own railway siding, the idea was to continue using it 100% to minimise the carbon footprint. A fully loaded grain train leaves the silo four times a day in direction of Hardbrücke station.

Talking of energy footprints – the supposed concrete villain turns out to be a renewables poster boy: the south face of the tower serves as a vertical solar plant. Now watch the next record tumbling: the six panels form the highest solar facade in Europe. Even the much-maligned shadow the tower casts over parts of the neighbourhood proves to be a blessing in the age of heat waves. Like it or not, Swissmill Tower has more than earned its status as the new landmark of Zurich West.

Although the city council gave the all-clear for the radical silo tower in 2010, resistance swiftly formed. The prospect of 21 floors of bare-faced concrete inevitably led to heated debates. For the residents of neighbouring Wipkingen, the main point of contention was not the neo-brutalist architecture as such, but the hour-long shadow the tower threatened to cast on popular Unterer Letten river lido in summer afternoons.

For the residents of neighbouring Wipkingen, the main point of contention was not the neo-brutalist architecture as such, but the hour-long shadow the tower threatened to cast on popular Unterer Letten river lido in summer afternoons. 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%). When the tower was finally realised in 2016 an unconvinced NZZ am Sonntag (a highbrow Sunday paper) declared, in unsual brutality: “118 Meter Hässlichkeit” (“118 Meters of Ugliness”).  

So far, Swissmill has resolutely resisted various attempts by local politicians and start-ups to decorate its facade. Over the years, Zurich residents have slowly embraced their new concrete landmark. Especially the shadow it casts during heat waves.

Swissmill Tower © Karin Bürki / Heartbrut.com
Zurich, Lake Zurich & Uetliberg, seen from Swissmill Tower, spring 2018 © Karin Bürki / HEARTBRUT
Zurich West & Hardbrücke, seen from Swissmill Tower, spring 2018 © Karin Bürki / HEARTBRUT

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

SWISSMILL TOWER, ZURICH I HARDER HAAS PARTNER, 2016 I © HEARTBRUT / KARIN HUNTER BÜRKI

© Karin Bürki/Heartbrut

Karin Bürki

Karin Bürki

Words & Photography: Karin Bürki

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