118 Metres of Concrete Poetry
Not the kind to take prisoners, the 118m-exclamation mark in exposed concrete holds the joint title of the world’s tallest operating grain silo and Zurich’s most polarising high-rise. Ruthlessly exposing its industrial function, Swissmill tower is every inch a contemporary brute, fighting its corner in the heart of Zurich’s art and nightlife district. 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. Oh, there’s another record: the boardroom on the top floor affords unparalleled, panoramic views across the city, the lake and, on a clear day, even the alps.
When the original 1848 Kornhaus mill needed extending, a radical industrial silo solution was proposed. Though Zurich parliament gave the project the all-clear in 2010, opposition formed swiftly. The prospect of 21 floors of stark, bare-faced concrete inevitably led to considerable controversy. For the residents of neighbouring Wipkingen, the main point of contention was not the neo-brute architecture as such, but the hour-long shadow the tower threatened to cast on popular Unterer Letten river lido in the afternoon during summer. Within a month 4000 locals had 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%). “118 Meter Hässlichkeit” (“118 meters of ugliness”) an unconvinced NZZ am Sonntag (a highbrow Sunday paper) declared in unusal brutality when the tower was finally realised in 2016.
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 heatwaves.