Swissness Applied

John Hill
17. January 2020
Photo: Michael Vahrenwald/Esto

Swissness Applied is a traveling exhibition by Swiss­-born architect Nicole McIntosh, co­-founder of the US- and Switzerland-based Architecture Office. As the name implies, the exhibition focuses on Swiss architectural motifs applied to immigrant towns in the United States, specifically New Glarus, Wisconsin.

Photo: Michael Vahrenwald/Esto

On display at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, until February 15th, Swissness Applied was first exhibited at the University of Wisconsin, ­Milwaukee School of Architecture & Urban Planning last year. After that it traveled to Kunsthaus Glarus Güterschuppen in Switzerland, before making its latest trans-Atlantic voyage.

Photo: Michael Vahrenwald/Esto

Press literature for the exhibition situates its "documentation and original architectural explorations" as "part of a larger research project that focuses on the transformation of European immigrant towns in the United States, all of whom share the common aspiration of preserving and perpetuating the architecture of their cultural heritage." New Glarus is the focus, but other enclaves include Frankenmuth, Michigan, and Solvang, California.

Photo: Michael Vahrenwald/Esto

The website for the chamber of commerce of New Glarus is swisstown.com, a clear indication of how the small town (population 2,172) uses its "Swissness" to create a recognizable identity and lure tourists. Far from accidental, the town's "Swissness" is codified: "Since 1999, Chapter 118: Building Construction, Article II: Swiss Architectural Theme in New Glarus building code offers guidelines that enforce the use of typical elements of the Swiss Chalet style."

Photo: Michael Vahrenwald/Esto

Photographs of the small exhibition reveal a preference for models — 42 of them, accompanied by drawings on the wall and photographs in toy Viewfinders. Two-dozen models depict actual buildings in New Glarus, ten in wood and fourteen in paper with color-printed elevations. 

Photo: Michael Vahrenwald/Esto

The balance of the models — 18 white, monochrome models — are "fictional building forms that use the building codes as a way to explore alternative interpretations of Swiss architecture." The designs by Architecture Office are based on Swiss­-themed Faller model kits, whose building elements are "remixed" to create unexpected designs that still embody "Swissness."

Photo: Michael Vahrenwald/Esto
Photo: Michael Vahrenwald/Esto

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