Zürcher Zentralwäscherei «back to the future» —  

Zentralwäscherei, Zürich, 1978. (ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv / Fotograf: Bramaz, Hans Ruedi)

        Why reuse?

If something already stands where we are planning something new, we can replace the old with the new - or preserve the existing in order to relate the coming to it. That we should strive for the latter is an imperative of the times - after all, we can no longer afford architecture that is not sustainable. That is why reuse tasks should be adequately represented in architectural studies. However, dealing with the existing building stock is not only worthwhile for reasons of sustainability. It shows us ways to expand architecture as the ‚art of spatial interrelationship‘ (Fritz Neumeyer) by one dimension: the ‚art of temporal interrelationship‘. By integrating what is already there and building on it, our work is not obscured but enriched, in the sense of Robert Venturi: „It is the difficult unity through inclusion rather than the easy unity through exclusion.“

The test object: „Zürcher Zentralwäscherei“

With a lot of character, but no historical significance
The chosen object of study, the Zurich Central Laundry, is ideal for practising strategies in dealing with existing building fabric. The building complex is itself the result of a long process of development, but unencumbered by historical or artistic significance. This facilitates an unsentimental approach. At the same time, the strong, bold structure in the hall area gives the building character, so that one definitely makes friends with the brittle existing structure: this facilitates emotional access. The size and heterogeneity of the ensemble force situational, concrete assessments and actions and prevent abstract, rule-bound thinking; and finally, the presence of past changes facilitates the invention of future changes.

Accessible and full of life
But the property was also ideal because it was accessible to us, so that we could let the rooms work on us, hear them, feel them and smell them, experience them in sun and rain, during the day and at night. The owner - the property management of the city of Zurich - allowed us to move our studio on site for just under a week. This was all the more thankful because the house is not lying idle, but is being used intensively on an interim basis. The activists from the ‚Verein Zentralwäscherei‘ granted us access even though their building site was in full swing, and a number of users of the studios also opened their doors for us.

The ZWZ central laundry was built in 1967 with the purpose of replacing the previously owned laundries of public hospitals and thus achieving greater economic efficiency. The Canton of Zurich, as the leaseholder and operator of the central laundry, built the facility. One of the decisive factors in the choice of location was to use the waste heat from the adjacent waste incineration plant of the city of Zurich in order to be able to secure the energy requirement in the long term. The facility comprises a single-storey shed, a covered delivery and distribution area, a stacking warehouse for incoming laundry in the basement, a 6-storey operations building with administration, recreation rooms, sewing room, warehouse, and more. In 1968, a structural extension was realised for the provision of linen ready for dispatch as a storage reserve, by adding a storey to the supply and delivery wing on Josefsstrasse. The central laundry had been in operation without interruption since the start of operations in 1967, with a steady increase in capacity from an initial 15 tonnes per day to a final 35 tonnes. The steadily growing order volume required the construction of new production areas through an extension for dirty laundry sorting, which was put into operation at the end of 2009. Just under 10 years later, it was clear that due to the medium-term closure of the Josefstrasse waste incineration plant and for the purpose of optimising operations, the ZWZ would move out of the property on the Josef site. Against this background, the Liegenschaftenverwaltung Zürich (Zurich real estate administration) decided to take back the building prematurely on 1 January 2019.

prototypical issues
Industrially used building complexes are mostly ‚forbidden cities‘, standing stubbornly and bulky in the post-industrial, mixed-use city. How can they not only be integrated, but opened up, turned inside out so that they face the urban space?

Semester review (selection)

Swimming bath and home for the elderly
Chiara Maisto & Giulia Romagnoli

Town hall
Manon Arduino & Julien Orozco

Swimming bath and home for the elderly
Joel Brynielsson & Egil Kahlbom

see more projects in our Workbook!