Im Viadukt, Zürich

Post by Steven Dale

Recently I was in Zurich, Switzerland and stumbled across this:

Viaduktstrasse in Zurich, Switzerland. Image by coyote-agile.

What you’re looking at is Im Viadukt, a new commercial and shopping district built into the stone mason arches of Zurich’s Wipkingen Viadukt.

Originally the Viaduct dates from 1894 and was used to ferry passenger trains into the core of Zurich. Like most elevated infrastructure, the Viaduct divided the area into two distinct zones. In the Wipkingen situation, the area known locally as District 5 was split into a residential area and an industrial area. Over time, shops disappeared and were replaced with the less-reputable sex and entertainment trades.

Tearing down the Viadukt was not, however, an option. Industry and the outlying suburbs relied on that rail link; much of the inner suburbs of Zurich are already covered by rail tracks, with little room to add to the clutter; and given the cost of Swiss labour and permitting, tunneling would have been all but impossible. In other words, the Viadukt wasn’t going anywhere.

(Update: According Matthias, some of the above paragraph is incorrect. Please see comments below.)

The Im Viadukt Plan. Image from www.im-viadukt.ch

It was in this environment that the city commissioned an open design competition in the mid-2000’s. Zurich architectural firm EM2N won the challenge in 2004 with their innovative effort to recreate the Viadukt “from a spatial barrier to a connecting structureal element.” The results are only now being appreciated as shops and the central Markthalle opened just this fall.

These two quick news reports (in German) should give you some idea of the importance of what’s going on here:

Whether planners and urban designers like it or not, large-scale infrastructure is here to stay. And as the cost of land and tunneling increases, elevated infrastructure is likely to take a major place at the table. But as I’ve argued before ugly is a choice and ugly is an opportunity to be beautiful.

Planners who rail against the ugliness and disruptive aspect of elevated infrastructure need to see things like Im Viadukt because things like this are going to become more and more common. Indeed, they’re going to become more and more necessary.

But ask yourself: If instead of building Im Viadukt 100 years after the fact, what if it had been designed into the Wipkingen to begin with?

(As Im Viadukt is practically brand new, there is little in the way of press, images and videos from the English-speaking world. I therefore encourage readers – especially those in the German-speaking world – who come across such things to post them in the comments to help inform people about this truly revolutionary urban development.)

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  1. Le Viaduc des Arts, Paris http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viaduc_des_Arts http://www.francebalade.com/paris/viaducarts.jpg
  2. I forgot to mention the top of that thing and the length. Just take a look and follow the whole line. How it is integrated into infrastructure: http://maps.google.de/maps?oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:de:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&q=google+viaduc+de+artes+paris+maps&fb=1&gl=de&hq=google+viaduc+de+artes&hnear=Paris,+France&cid=0,0,5877689964800125727&ei=9_vsTLryEo7rOfDNkVQ&sa=X&oi=local_result&ct=image&resnum=1&ved=0CCQQnwIwAA
  3. @LX: Thanks for that and exactly the point. Right now we have Infrastructure Engineers vs. Architects vs. Planners vs. Urban Designers. When you look at something like these viaducts, you see a stunning blend of all four that make for some of the most efficient and interesting city building around.
  4. @ All, It would actually be really interesting if we could begin to assemble a collection of examples of beautiful, functional and well-integrated pieces of transport (or other infrastructure) with cities around the world.
  5. Thing is: those constructions (viaducts in that particular case) are monumental. They will always look sexy. It's just different with a Roosevelt Island Tower. I mean I like those towers, but they are hiding next to a bridge. As standalones they surely would leave another impression. I think I'm repeating a little, but right now everybody wants to sell the own product: an engineer, an architect, a designer - that will lead to different products. Just an office/ a person who is universal skilled and working for the best interest for a city is able to change that or at least: by lucky accident. There's a huge shopping centre firm called ECE. They are doing terrible things to cities, but Dresden for instance gave them restrictions for adding a shopping mall into an old main strain station. It's a good example of how it should be. Same for Cracow, Poland. They've got a new mall, the Galeria Krakowska and it's another huge mistake. ECE again is responsible for that work. Just about 1 km further in the old city center the authorities allowed to build shops within old buildings, which were ruins. Within that allowance the restriction was made, not to rebuild anything old and keeping as much as possible of the existing. I can tell you: the result is exciting. Like a bridge between two worlds. I guess the key is responsibility (by putting the best interest for the future in front of the individual).
  6. Actually is was planned to expand teh viaduct to quadrupple track. Opposition against the project lead a new solution exactly a tunnel. Called Durchmesserlinie in short DML So " and given the cost of Swiss labour and permitting, tunneling would have been all but impossible" is not true at all. Contrary Switzerland has the most road and road tunnels per person of any nation by far. probably also the highest density of Gondolas,aerial tramways and funiculars. Posting such a comment just degrades the credibility of this blog. BTW the main DML tunnel breakthrough was on Monday 22nd November the new line including a new 4 track 400 + m long underground station in Zürich Main station will be opened 2014. This will increase rail capacity significantly in teh current situation the trains have to change direction but with the tunnel teh can just continue the trip which both shortens the trip times and increases the throughput. The Viaduct will be still be used after the Tunnel is commissioned but only as secondary line.
  7. @ LX I'm thinking more in terms of cable liners/cable cars than gondolas.
  8. Sorry, but I don't understand.
  9. See similar in Hackescher Markt, Berlin. Though, not a viaduct, the train station is the restaurant destination in the neighbourhood.
  10. Thanks, Kate! I actually just discovered that much of Paris' Underground was initially envisioned as being entirely above grade. Some of the architectural images were quite impressive - but probably wouldn't have been appropriate.

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