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An investigation of the role of vernacular and innovative technologies in comptemporary Swiss timber architecture

Part 1 Dissertation 2007
Graeme Ferguson
University of Strathclyde, UK
Switzerland is also home to one of the world’s richest traditions of timber craftsmanship and construction. Given the twin strengths of traditional expertise and innovation that resonate throughout the current Helvetian architectural scene, it is perhaps unsurprising that Switzerland has positioned itself at the forefront of these developments. This dissertation seeks to investigate the (often thought of as opposing) roles of tradition and innovation in informing the vibrant and thought-provoking world of contemporary Swiss timber architecture.
In order to carry this out, the nature of Switzerland as both a country with the historical natural resource of timber to utilise and a nation capable of developing the woodworking traditions we see today will be explored in the context of how it has helped to shape the work of present day architects.
Traditional skills, techniques and expertise in the field of timber building will be investigated, again in order to help understand the influence, if any, of the vernacular on projects currently being carried out.
Technical innovations in the field of timber processing and the developments of new timber products both within Switzerland and the wider world will be documented. Such recent technological advances have widened both the “palette” of materials available to architects working in the current environment and increased the versatility of their “toolbox”.
A number of exemplary projects by contemporary Swiss architects will be examined to establish the range of approaches to timber architecture. Particular attention will be paid to how the varying projects address formal issues such as tectonics and materiality alongside technical considerations including structure, craft and detailing, and how these are influenced by vernacular as well as innovative technologies.
The documented works will then be analysed to ascertain whether certain similarities, differences and trends may be found, and what, if any, significance may be concluded from their presence or absence.
Ultimately, the dissertation seeks to ascertain what lessons, if any, there are to be gained from understanding the current Swiss approach to timber in architecture. What is the significance of the Swiss example to architecture outside Switzerland’s borders?

Graeme Ferguson

This dissertation presents an investigation of the role of tradtion and innovation in informing Swiss timber Architecture. This is a very well conceived, designed and written piece of work. It pulls out the broader lessons to show what makes Swiss case such an important one internationally: the links between practice, teaching and research. The student manages a clear and well-chosen, well-understood history of relevant developments. The case studies are well-chosen, well-used given the number investigated, and are explored to the appropriate level of detail. Overall, an eloquent piece and lucid piece of work which hits the right level of detail.

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