Thesis Elective FS16 and FS17
The Travellers course deals with ways of seeing, perceiving and portraying urban territories. Taking different perspectives, from architecture and visual art to urban theory, history and politics, the course enables student-travellers to create an urban portrait of a territory.

Every student is a traveller who embarks on a journey in a territory, both literal and metaphorical, and creates a work about the experience. Travellers produce a travelogue, in free-form that is to be discussed with the teaching team. This can be a written or visual essay, presented as a booklet, an exhibition of drawings, a performative lecture or a guided public walk for example. In doing so, students create an insightful and critical work on urban space and urbanisation.

Please apply with a short exposé, explaining your idea for a topic and suggest a possible travel route. Applications are accepted only in printed form. The number of students in the course is limited to 8.

Please contact the Architecture of Territory professorship.
Ferdinand Pappenheim:
Hans Hortig:
High autonomy, traditions of collective management of resources and of common property, but also high inertia to urban transformation and changes of all kinds make the Swiss commune a unique and fascinating case in the European frame. Setting the fine structures of the communes and the commons in the centre of our interest, during the seminar week we will explore a range of cases in Switzerland and in France. In these concrete and paradigmatic landscapes, we will learn about their histories and traditions (from winemaking to watchmaking); we will observe their present urban transformations (through migration or heritage protection for example); and, we will map their attributes and potentials which will form basis of our territorial and architectonic projects.

This investigative journey constitutes the core of the project. Travelling through the territory, we will experience its complexity and beauty.

20.03 – Day 1
Lavaux UNESCO vineyards. Alpine Val d’Abondance.21.03 – Day 2
Evian, water region. Campagne Genevoise. Le Lignon.

22.03 – Day 3
L’autre Geneve. CERN!. Arc lemanique, the gold coast.

23.03 – Day 4
Watchmaking valley of Le Chenit, Jura. Start of individual expeditions.

24.03 – Day 5
Individual expeditions.

25.03 – Day 6
Individual expeditions.
Le Village Suisse Revisited
European Countryside (3)
For centuries the commune has been the archetype of Swiss existence*—the basic cell, the atom of its territory.

Still today, the commune (and the village) represent the basic spatial scale and order at which most traditional Swiss values are anchored (autonomy, neutrality, direct democracy, pragmatism, flair for order, etc). This miniature territorial universe is still readable in the map of Switzerland with remarkable, if gradually eroding clarity. But in the age globalisation, many small structures, including the commune and its village, seem to loose their importance, or change beyond recognition. Urbanisation and globalisation produce structures in the territory at much larger scales than the commune: in fact, often too large to be comprehended. This is a vague space of flows of resources, people and capital, whose dimensions span the entire planet. Precisely for this reason, in this semester we will consider the meaning of locality.

Of course, even in the time of globalisation, the power to bring about change in the territory lies not only in the hands of states, corporations and other big players; the “local” should have a role to play too. But, on the other hand, what does “local community” still mean, and what can it still produce? Can the ideas of communal life in general, and of the Swiss commune in particular, still have currency in the present time? Can projects of making things common, and of sharing resources and labor, still be articulated in meaningful ways? Could communal visions still have consequences, for social relations, for the built space, and for the organisation of territory?

In this semester, we will embrace the power of smallness—the scale of a place and of a community of people. Travelling to Lac Léman, from the lakeshores to the Jura and the Alps, we will find Swiss (and French) countryside in all of its typical forms—from the communal cell of the Mittelland, to the regular fabric of the river valleys, and to wooded alpine villages. We will study the histories and the present of these communes. We want to propose territorial and architectonic projects that take the crucial experiences of the traditional commune—social solidarity and common property—and harness them for the present and the future.

We want to design communes and villages as our “universes in miniature”—our miniature cities and urban neighborhoods. Not anymore generic and placeless urbanisation of the periphery, but vital places still based on a relation to the land.

The crisis of the commune and the village—their ongoing urban transformations—has been traceable in Switzerland and Europe for well over a century. Already in 1900, at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, an idealised replica of Le Village Suisse was built at the base of a Ferris wheel to entertain the modern visitor, placing the clichés of rural identity (chalets, mountains and waterfalls) at the leisure of the urban dweller. Today the process of urbanisation of the European countryside nears completion: “Agriculture does not necessarily need peasants“, observed John Berger in one of his books (Pig Earth, 1979). Industrialised agriculture is not dependent on villages to supply workforce and organise trade. One can look anywhere in Western Europe and find a remarkably low proportion of village inhabitants still working the land (around 10 percent or less). Most are oriented to cities for jobs, social services, and even food. While some villages are emptying out, others are swallowed in the periphery of metropolitan areas, or hollowed out by population change and modern spatial requirements for living, infrastructure and technology. Any traditional meaning of village and of countryside is obsolescent—countryside in general should be understood as another kind of “city.“

The Swiss commune and its urban transformation are certainly not entirely unique in Europe, and not too different from the French commune or the German Gemeinde. But its high autonomy and still high inertia to changes of all kinds make the Swiss commune a unique and fascinating case in the European frame. The form of the commune in Switzerland—the village surrounded by its land—crystalized around the XVIII century following a long historical process. This is the “universe in miniature” where all social relationships have been laid out in their basic forms—the form of land and the settlement, the organisation of production and trade, political habits, everyday life, the sense of belonging. In a uniquely Swiss experience, the power in society does not rest at the top in the hands of state, but is anchored at the lowest level of the commune. From there, it is delegated upward: the cantons and Swiss confederation are much looser structures—merely “meta-communes”. Here the locality, and the “local community” are, at least theoretically, the primary forms of society and of the physical territory.

The pressures of urbanisation and globalisation on these fine structures, and the fear they have raised in its many forms (of ongoing urban growth, of migrants, of European technocracy, and so on), have clarified an urgency to rethink once again the possible meaning of locality in the European territory.

These observations, and the exiting findings we made working on Lac Léman so far, made it clear for us, that centuries long experiences of social and territorial organising in the form of communes are once again compelling. According to Elinor Ostrom (who studied alpine communes among others), these experiences are far from anachronistic: more than 45 percent of the alpine territory is still owned by some kind of common property: by local villages, corporations or cooperatives. The commune embodies these traditions of collective or common property, and of a common pool resource management. The recovery of these experiences in our time is crucial for both the city and the countryside. We will pursue this goal by means of territorial and architectonic projects, in the concrete and paradigmatic landscapes of Switzerland.

* For inspiring work on the history of Swiss commune and territory see  Marcel Meili, Switzerland: An Urban Portrait, book 2.

The semester consists of an investigative journey into the territory and intensive studio sessions with fellow students, the teaching team and guests. We value team spirit, intellectual and design curiosity and high commitment for the issues at hand. Architecture of Territory is looking for avid travellers and team workers with high motivation and independent position. Architecture of Territory’s approach enables students to work with a wide range of methods and sources pertaining to territory, including one-to-one ethnographic exploration of the territory, discussions of key texts and writing exercises, study of precedent projects, guest lectures, group debates, model building, large scale drawing techniques, book making, sessions on photography and visual art. We will start the semester by learning from history and from selected projects, while practicing a few important skills: drawing, model-making, photographing. We will then travel into the territory to find our motives and the ways of looking. Each student group will create their own project brief, and will receive our unreserved support in developing their project. We hope to have an intensive time and to be surprised by our discoveries.

Travel — Integrated Seminar Week from 18-26 March (Cost frame B)
Integrated Discipline — Planning (3 ECTS)

Assistant Prof — Milica Topalovic
Team — Hans Hortig, Karoline Kostka, Metaxia Markaki, Ferdinand Pappenheim, Thais de Roquemaurel
Program — Design Research Studio (13 ECTS), Integrated Seminar Week (2 ECTS) and Integrated Discipline Planning (3 ECTS)
Places — 18 Students
Start — 21.02.17, 10 am, ONA Fokushalle
Contact —
Nusaibah Khan and Moritz Köhler
The stone terraces of the Lavaux vineyards stretch about 30 km along the northern shores of Lac Léman, from the Château de Chillon to the eastern outskirts of Lausanne. They are an outstanding example of a centuries-long interaction between people and their environment, shaping a landscape of viticulture on some of the steepest slopes towards the lake. The protection of these exceptional vineyards dates back to 1977, and has since evolved into a world heritage site governed by a complicated layering of international and local protective laws. Amidst this „frozen“ landscape lies the commune of Bourg-en-Lavaux with its villages Cully, Epesses and Grandvaux. As an amalgamation of the formerly individual villages, this commune is caught in a struggle of rising urban pressure from the agglomerations of Lausanne and Vevey/Montreux and the imperative to protect the image and constitution of their land.

The production of wine here depends on intricate relations between the farmer (vigneron), winemaker (vinificateur) and the seller (négociant, often the commune itself), all sharing certain resources, collective infrastructure and a seasonally imported workforce from Portugal and other European countries. Apart from optimal growing conditions, the attractive view on the lake and the proximity to urban centers also create very desirable living quarters. Behind the historical core villages in the vineyards, new developments settled in the slope like balconies overlooking the lake and the Alpine scenery and providing exclusive housing for city commuters. Being also the main tourist attraction in the area, the protected landscape itself has become the base of all regional economy and a common resource to the inhabitants.

In some parts, these contradicting interests have led to an eroding of traditional social structures and a hollowing out of pre-existing village structures. We want to investigate the various pressures acting on the land, the changing demographics and how to define a common ground for both, commuters and farmers.

Bettina Baggestos and Lara Motschi
Tucked away behind the first row of mountains touching the lake, the valley of Abondance reveals a landscape of high Alpine pastures and forested mountain tops. The beauty and indeed abundance of grazing meadows not only gave the commune its name, it also describes a special breed of cattle and even the cheese produced here. The seasonality of the alpage has shaped the understanding of land as common resources (Allmende). The right to use the highlands according to ancient laws is still held by the farming cooperatives down in the valley. In this particular case, these practices created an architectural typology: The double farm is a shared winter building housing two families, their animals and winter supplies in a large, compact volume. In summer, the families move back up to their mountain huts to raise cattle and produce cheese.

Abondance is also the first entry point to the winter resort Portes du Soleil, which connects several surrounding valleys to one of Europe’s largest skiing destinations. The plateau of the Lac de Plagnes is especially well suited for nordic skiing and summer hikes, so it is no surprise that the tourist industry is the second most important source of income in the region. But the privileged location within a Unesco protected area, the Geopark Chablais, also comes with a lot of natural threats: town planning is determined by the risk of snow and rock avalanches and floods of the river Dranse.

Surrounding the 14th century Abbey, the historic village houses tourist facilities, an ice driving circuit a catholic, international boarding school, Sainte Croix des Neiges. In Abondance constellation of traditional farming, alpine tourism and cultural institutions we would like to investigate the productive commons and the alpage.

Oliver Burch and Sarah Stieger
In the very south of the Canton of Geneva, the agricultural commune of Bardonnex and its three hamlets form the gate to the French commuter towns around St Julien. It is located within Geneva’s agricultural belt of Surface d’Assolement, 8400ha of protected crop-rotation area consisting of open land, intercalary artificial grassland, and arable grassland. The conception of this zone was given by a federal law in 1992 requiring each canton to reserve a certain percentage of land for self-sufficiency during times of crisis. More than just safeguarding Geneva’s food supplies, this belt of land has become crucial for the cities exceptional exclusivity and high quality of life: Very few other cities today have a small, compact footprint and a pristine cultural landscape in its surrounding.

In spite of preserving the landscape and resisting urban sprawl, this zone of Surface d’Assolement has become more of a burden for the commune of Bardonnex, which has a substantial reserve of communally owned land, but most of it within the protected zone. While the population is growing, further building development is gridlocked and the municipality struggles to provide enough services to its inhabitants for the simple lack of space. The current extension of the primary school, for example, has been set up without formal permission on a communal orchard only to be given temporary permit post factum, without plans for a permanent relocation.

The lack of space has caused the people to share their land inventively: The fields are cultivated following individual agreements among the farmers and not necessarily along property lines. The commune designates the use of its land seasonally according to special needs and local festivities. Civic services like the fire department and police are also shared with the neighboring commune of Plan Les Ouates.

Being one of the poorer villages without industries to generate high tax incomes, Bardonnex does not reach the critical limit to receive re-zoning permits from the Canton and to develop according to its needs. This raises the question of the power of the commune, which has lost all competence in planning and has no means to facilitate growth.

Sarah Weber and Rebekka Neff
Bordering the Swiss frontier, the commune of Saint-Genis-Pouilly has become one of the most important towns on the outskirts of Geneva, absorbing the pressure of its expansion. Since real estate prices and rents here are still considerably more affordable than in Switzerland, the commune attracts a lot of international clientele commuting to Geneva. The resulting high growth rate has driven a scattered settlement, dissolving the historic market villages and giving way to copy-paste housing projects and other developments spread across the landscape. These are dormitory clusters and industrial quarters (techno parks), whose connection to Geneva still relies heavily upon individual transport, with a tram connection arriving only in 2020.

Saint-Genis-Pouilly is located within the area used by CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research. The main entrance to the primary CERN campus (Meyrin) and the ATLAS experiment are located only 3 km from the center of Saint-Genis-Pouilly. The presence of this research laboratory has largely been responsible for the development of the community since the middle of the 1960s. As a pan-European project and international institution, CERN’s foundation was a collaborative effort to form a common base of knowledge at the cutting edge of particle physics. It embodies a wish for peace after two world wars and fittingly, it’s laboratories even span across two nation states.

The development of this cosmopolitan suburb in the orbit of a Geneva, raises the question of the meaning of the commons. What are the possible meanings and articulations of the communal and the common in this context? How can a recent development of common knowledge production such as CERN be reflected back in the territory?
Daniel Rea Kragskov, Bess Laaring and Tulsi Vadalia
On the high planes of the Jura, the ribbon development of Le Chenit spreads between the shores of Lac de Joux and the forest, framing a shallow valley. Deriving from a logging town in medieval times, this commune today boasts one Switzerland’s largest communal land reserves, with one-third of the total surface area being owned by the municipality. These 3340 ha are comprised of forest, open pastures and extensive shrublands. The rights to the land are regularly redistributed and shared among the local dairy farming and timber cooperatives. Le Chenit maintains this strong tradition of commoning in agriculture up until this day.

Due to the harsh climate the relative scarcity of arable land in the valley, farmers had to sustain themselves with multiple occupations. Originally a way of generating additional income, the craft of metalworking came to replace forestry and agriculture as the main economy in the valley. Constantly reinventing itself in times of recession, this craft developed from the manufacturing of simple metalwork and cutlery to an ever-refined expertise in clock and watchmaking. The Valle de Joux today is famous for the most established brands in luxury timepieces and has built a reputation reaching far beyond Swiss borders (such as Jaeger-LeCoultre, Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe etc.). Today the industry of fine mechanics attracts most of its workforce from the French parts of the Jura valleys across the border and from the Swiss cities of Yverdon and Lausanne, which lie within a 30min train ride.

Philipp Bosshardt and Anna Moroni
On the edge of the Jura foothill plateau, about 130 m above the surface of Lake Geneva, the commune of Aubonne is situated on the route from Lausanne to Geneva and enjoys an excellent overview of its surroundings and the Alps. This strategic position between the two major cities on the Lake and the construction of the Château d’Aubonne in the 11th century are responsible for the historical significance of this town, which held the right to yearly market fairs and was the capital of the district until the 15th century. Viticulture on the slopes of the Jura and intensive agriculture on the lower parts have shaped a landscape that today is considered one of the most desirable places to live in the Leman region. Its good public transport connections and low taxes have attracted a high proportion of wealthy residents and international corporations to settle among the vineyards.

Today regarded as the Gold Coast on the lake, the village of farmers and winegrowers has absorbed a lot of growth on its agricultural land since the 1960s. Row after row of large, one-family residences have been constructed on former vineyards, and large patches of wheat fields have been rezoned for industry and company headquarters. Several leisure facilities, a public bath and an arboretum along the river Aubonne further add to the appeal of living in the countryside. The commune also houses a regional college and an international School, the La Côte International School.

In this climate of an increasingly international society of commuters amidst an agricultural landscape, we would like to investigate the meaning of the commons. How do ground speculation and investment interest transform a space of a traditional practice like viticulture?