Predictable Decline

As built expression of late Neo-Liberalism, the Mall of Switzerland came to the Central Swiss location of Ebikon. On the exterior it resembles the bubble that its use creates on the inside. In this change in typology, Dieter Geissbühler glimpses the aesthetics of the ruin, this however is suffocated by the design irrelevance.

The following text considers five episodes with two small interjections on kitsch and the neo-liberal handshake, relating to a phenomenon that questions the role of architecture in digital transformation, but it is also very current in terms of the relationship to history. The part on kitsch was a bit of a lucky find during the writing of this text. Searching for the Beat Wyss book Die Welt al sein T-Shirt (The World as a T-shirt), which I had planned to use as a foundation for the role of outer appearance, I found, in the pile of books beside my bed, in which the volume had rested, two other works that were subsequently ripped from their deep slumber: Umberto Eco’s From the Tree to the Labyrinth and Jean-Luc Godard’s Sauve qui peut (la vie). (Save yourself (Life)). The photo of Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan at Camp DavidD in 1982, is now practically always in my head, an icon of neo-liberal brutalization.

The Mall of Switzerland in Ebikon near Lucerne is a fading phenomenon in a period of extremely exciting change. Temples of consumption like this receive through the digitalisation of the market their all-important competition. And, while the media spokesperson for the Mall of Switzerland points out that the competition will continue in the coming years and the most recent success stories will be reported in the media in 2024, doubts remain as to whether or not here with huge financial means the attempt is being made to draw out the inevitable end. Constantly changing renters of the spaces are a fact and a recognised part of the business. But the ongoing search for an anchor tenant leaves one somewhat perplexed in an area devoted to constant change. This is just one of several paradoxical aspects and, for this reason, a closer look as part of a classic architectural observation of the various benchmark levels is worthwhile: from the urban being of a construction type to its physical presence. And, where necessary, the attempt at an interpretation of what can be seen, not because it is a piece of outstanding architecture, but because it represents considerable aspects of the disappearance of architecture, at least to me

Mall of Switzerland, Ebisquare 1

The address obviously had to be newly created. Anchoring the shopping centre with a historical local name or placing it into the row of buildings along Zugerstrasse would hardly have been an option for the chosen branding for “Mall of Switzerland” (at least they didn’t opt for “Mall of Europe”).

When travelling by car, you come out of Lucerne along Zugerstrasse in the direction of Zug, or Zurich, a more than 5-kilometre-long straight road. On a bicycle, you would probably choose a parallel route with less traffic; on the train, you take the old route from Lucerne to Zurich at a practically consistent distance. For reasons of simplicity, for an architecture trip is not on the cards here, you can follow the route – Zugerstrasse, Ebikon in a northerly direction, easily on Google Maps.A You are also unlikely to be confronted with visual surprises along the way, as what has been built here offers a seemingly normal image of agglomerated development, primarily in terms of prominent advertising, advertising flags, posters and bleak car parks. Of the somewhat graphically more appealing lettering back in the day all that remains are relics.

In terms of layout, the axis of this mall corresponds to the planning approach for the US-American strip mall; it is largely, however, uncontrolled growth. Alongside the usual jewels to be found along such axes – from streamlined garages to the elegant and impressive windows of various car dealerships in their best 1960s design (all car brands were represented here, as were indeed all oil companies) and from the very homely, in stylistic terms, two-to-three storey living units with gardens to the Unité d’Habitation copies – there always seems to be very specific references to various times gone by. A pronounced accent is set by an old church positioned on a height above the mall, which serves to show that here once a “normal” village existed, almost romantically spread out at the foot of a hill, on a long row of granaries connected to farmhouses. When one looks closer, one finds some architectural highlights. For example, the complex that is the residential and business building Zentralstrasse 13 by Gisbert Meyer (1902-1966), which, with its high quality, set new standards for a car friendly settlement. Lastly comes the architectural highlight of the whole axis, the headquarters of the SchindlerC company, which established itself here in the 1960s. Overall, and almost emblematically, the function-based, car-friendly urban vision can be seen here, even if the planning model “unfortunately” could not be fully implemented.

One recognises the smudged outlines of the planned linear city along the railway track, in accordance with Soria y Mata’sB antithesis to the garden city. Against this background, it is no surprise that directly neighbouring the Schindler complex, the Mall of Switzerland was built as, so to speak, the culmination of a car-centric consumer society. That it happened so late on, not until 2017, fits in well with the disperse economic development in the industrial zones placed in a row along the village centres, and has only partially to do with the slow-moving planning process. Critical voices were heard when the mall opened warning that the time for shopping centres was over. But such considerations were, and today still are, repressed. More on this further in this text.

Type and programme

While the church and, above all, the Schindler company complex with its tower, can be easily seen, one does need a good eye to find the Mall of Switzerland. It is a building complex that could house any other sales or business use and in reality, was not supposed to have a specific exterior image. On its outside, the building reflects the tradition followed by many shopping centres, with the exterior being seen more as a back and whose covered interior axis was regarded as the heart of the whole thing. The use of the term “mall”, apparently inspired by London’s Pall Mall, implies lofty aspirations – even more so when the full name is Mall of Switzerland. In truth, however, this is little more than a perversion of the market hall. Brands selling things in rigid spaces; it is really just a collection of two-dimensional make-believe worlds expressed via logos that are heavy on marketing.

These are protected, which means secure, spaces behind produced displays. Spontaneity is rare, there are no rapid changes, no “new” products – just overdesigned objects with the charm of easy recognisability. That leads to aestheticised death, a shopping frenzy without any contemplative enjoyment. The attempt at the typological derivation from the market hall/market to the shopping centre and to the mall is often made. Of the market hall what has remained is the lightness of the construction, which is well hidden behind immaculately smooth surfaces. That immaculateness becomes the compensation for the non-existing exchange. Interaction, of the kind that takes place in municipal market halls, is missing. It is replaced by the staged dynamics of exploitation.

Intermezzo: The neo-liberal handshake

The handshake between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher at Camp David in the early 1980s has become a symbol of neo-liberal emancipation, which made consumption as the utmost expression of reckless liberalism possible. The Mall of Switzerland is, so to speak, the expression thereof as a building – typical of Switzerland and particularly central Switzerland, though something of a late arrival, but carefully thought through, so one would think. And even if the end was foreseesable, the money was still gladly spent. It could have been that the ultimate Mall of Switzerland, in connection with the entertainment provided by the indoor surfing wave pool installed there – for hope for the success of the associated cinemas was certainly more daring – would bring eternal life closer.

T-Shirt architecture – the exterior

When you approach the complex – which, according to the architects, consists of a shopping centre with a “soft and flowing facade” and an “entertainment building with a cinema complex as a monolithic body” – you are received in a reasonably well proportioned public space, whether you come from Lucerne in a bus or by car. If you come by car from the other side, then you have to directly enter the carpark, so a reception is not really on the cards. If you have dared to travel to suburbia by foot, or on a bike or by bus, you will be left in front of the two imposing built volumes. If you expect to find the playful entertainment world in the building covered by an exterior like a “soft” white T-shirt, you will be disappointed. As underneath this “item of clothing,” the seam of which is coming free from the ground, you are drawn into the consumption machine. In the neighbouring, rectangular and architecturally insignificant box, you are welcomed by the surfing wave pool, with its equally insignificant inner life; it would have been much more appealing if it had been the conversion of a former industrial building, but as a new build fails to create any dialogue with the dynamic of the moving water. But let us return to the soft bubble containing Beat Wyss’s comments in the Die Welt als T-Shirt: “The aesthetics of “user friendliness” has escaped its confines. Each device and the mall is understood as such] tendentially becomes a comfortable item of clothing, no longer a vehicle, but software that satisfies one’s needs at the touch of a button. […] It is not by chance that fashion for the family has opted for colourful, easy-care pyjamas, with an emphasis on ‘being casual’: the T-shirt cannot be large enough, the trouser part (of the pyjamas) not baggy enough. Nothing should cramp the style of the small, nuclear family as it makes its way through the car-free shopping streets; soft ice cream stains come out in the next wash.1

No, Beat Wyss did not write this after the Mall of Switzerland was built, but back in 1997. It nevertheless accurately characterises the aesthetics of a commercial world made all the more banal by the media. The fascination of the soap bubble is based on the constantly changing lights, but it allows for a certain perspective, at most with a few distortions. This bubble remains opaque; the changing colours of the lights in the membrane every night cannot alter that.

The marks of erosion – the interior

And so you enter this inner world, leaving behind the seeming formlessness of the bubble. As an architect you are probably reminded of Piranesi’s Carceri d’invenzioneA, his imagined prison cells, even if with a hint of sentimental regret, given the hardly successful simplification of a labyrinthine imaginary world. The Mall’s imaginary world is limited to the central hall and its two arms, the layout of which allows for the suspicion that here, first and foremost, maximisation of the rentable space was to be provided for, to the detriment of a comprehensible logic in terms of the structure and spatial cohesion. The suggested spatial variety or differentiation subsequently becomes excessive through the endless bending of the shop facades. The only goal remains the promise that other brands are somewhere to be found in the sheer endless succession of shops. From Piranesi please only so much that one does not lose any oversight, that efficiency remains guaranteed, i.e. the costs do not get out of control. Improving the long-term suitability of such a building was probably not foremost amongst the goals of the given marketing logic at the time.

If we look at the plans for the mallB, we see the next major reference, namely Le Corbusier’s plan libre. The chosen use of flat slab structure is only successful to a limited extent at generating an exciting dialogue between the “enclosed” and the “free” space. The support grid system is not understood as a starting position of which the infrastructure becomes an integral part; the infrastructure is given its own structural logic, which, for the most part, kills all tension. What remains is a relatively random placement beside each other, with a priority accentuation of the infrastructure; meshing remains formalistic. It is possible that that was the intention, to satisfy the absolute primacy of the “shop window.” But this becomes an aesthetic problem when relatively extensive surfaces are no longer made use of. Deep wounds are made visible; the screen of this succession of a branding-moulded display becomes broken. The common and constructively, i.e. tectonically, beautiful rolling grille is unable to counteract the spatial disintegration. And the attempt of using perspective-based images of shop displays, onto which shut access doors are stuck, may work at first, but the doors are quickly unmasked as false.

Intermezzo: The aesthetic of decay

It is clear that the ruinous decay that besets the mall cannot be squared with the marketing of the operating company. Indeed, it also clear that from the very beginning creative and spatial strategies would have been needed to bring about change. That this is not fantasy of the mind can be documented through historical precedents. One major example hereof is John Soane’s (1753–1837) design for the Bank of EnglandC, or the image of his design produced by Joseph Michael Gandy (1771–1843) in 1830. Even if somewhat idealised in the later registration, herein is the manifestation of the ruin as a design strategy. This design-based valuation of change would appear to have had no place in the architectural mainstream in the early 2000s. Particularly in seemingly highly flexible works such as the Mall of Switzerland (whereby the expression “highly flexible” relates only to the rental space distribution) is it so that such thinking and sounding out of intentions could be extremely helpful, in order to accept changes not only with respect to the brands represented on site, but also with respect to other uses beyond the pure sales function. What remains is, architecturally speaking too, a mass of arbitrariness that is not very future-oriented, affordably built, but not cheaply, with an aesthetic superficiality, the decay of which can hardly come into effect as a visual quality. The generation of powerful images therefrom would require a Jean-Luc Godard (1930–2022) or, even better, an Andrei Tarkovsky (1932–1986). In this sense, the Mall of Switzerland can be described as a trivial early form of digital two-dimensionality.

From utopia to dystopia

The Ebikon of the strip mall has today an ambience that is shaped by a large number of places that are in a transition from the utopian to the dystopian. This is even true of the village church mentioned at the beginning of this text, which has increasingly smaller visitor numbers. These are the representatives of an era that is no more, and hard to change. Then there is the car-friendly settlement designed by Gisbert Meyer, an ideal that is definitely dystopian in nature but highly adaptable to new ways of living. Then comes an example that had to make way for development – the Höfli Church Centre designed by Walter Rüssli and only completed in 1977. For reasons of less needed space, the quality building was replaced by a smaller but likewise interesting new build by Alp Architektur Lischer Partner in 2017. And just before the construction of the Mall of Switzerland, it was the turn of the Schindler company’s manufacturing site and head offices. The representative, architecturally successful site designed by the architects Roland Rohn (1905-1971) and Carl Mossdorf (1901–1969), completed in 1957, was massively changed in the factory entrance area in the early 2000s, unfortunately with global current aesthetics in mind – all smooth and shiny. It is, of course, gratifying that the internationally active undertaking has kept Ebikon as a location but, with the aesthetic changes, the irrelevance of this mirrored unexceptional architecture has weakened the power of the whole.

Currently, the last case would be that of the Mall of Switzerland itself but, in this case, the outcome will probably not be quite as in the aforementioned examples. For, unlike in other shopping centres in the region, the seemingly logical location could become a problem. The Mall of Switzerland is neither directly on a motorway exit nor on an intersection of industrial and residential areas. So, it does not have any superordinated urbanistic importance as a public meeting space. What’s more: it is surrounded by featureless and characterless industrial buildings and many car dealerships, apparent permanent/temporary solutions for second-hand or new cars, so altogether an ordered disorder. The Mall is marked by irrelevance in terms of its design, so much so that the few crystalline examples of high-quality architecture stand out more. The Mall of Switzerland tried to insert itself as a pearl. The design metaphor of the quickly thrown on T-shirt has, however, lost all effect. In addition to a long-term, viable image, every element of potential individual and temporary appropriation is missing – aspects that have proven to be vital in the history of urbanism.

The realisation that on this overall small surface area of a stretched suburb of the city of Lucerne the utopian is constantly being transformed into the dystopian remains an interesting one. However, at the same time the dystopian seems to give flight to the utopian. To what extent things will be like this in the future, remains to be seen. This reveals the power of resistance of differing use conceptions within functioning building typologies. Precisely at a time when the rapid digital transformation of our society is ongoing; for these are times in which the personal screen will have more effect than the physical consumer refuges.

All photographs by Federico Farinatti

Predictable Decline

2/23/2024

Dieter Geissbühler, Translation: Liam Burke

Branding mall or branding scar

As built expression of late Neo-Liberalism, the Mall of Switzerland came to the Central Swiss location of Ebikon. On the exterior it resembles the bubble that its use creates on the inside. In this change in typology, Dieter Geissbühler glimpses the aesthetics of the ruin, this however is suffocated by the design irrelevance.

1 Beat Wyss, Die Welt als T-Shirt : Zur Ästhetik und Geschichte der Medien; Cologne 1997, p.13.

Ebikon

Ciudad Lineal

Schindler

Camp David 1982

The following text considers five episodes with two small interjections on kitsch and the neo-liberal handshake, relating to a phenomenon that questions the role of architecture in digital transformation, but it is also very current in terms of the relationship to history. The part on kitsch was a bit of a lucky find during the writing of this text. Searching for the Beat Wyss book Die Welt al sein T-Shirt (The World as a T-shirt), which I had planned to use as a foundation for the role of outer appearance, I found, in the pile of books beside my bed, in which the volume had rested, two other works that were subsequently ripped from their deep slumber: Umberto Eco’s From the Tree to the Labyrinth and Jean-Luc Godard’s Sauve qui peut (la vie). (Save yourself (Life)). The photo of Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan at Camp David in 1982, is now practically always in my head, an icon of neo-liberal brutalization.

The Mall of Switzerland in Ebikon near Lucerne is a fading phenomenon in a period of extremely exciting change. Temples of consumption like this receive through the digitalisation of the market their all-important competition. And, while the media spokesperson for the Mall of Switzerland points out that the competition will continue in the coming years and the most recent success stories will be reported in the media in 2024, doubts remain as to whether or not here with huge financial means the attempt is being made to draw out the inevitable end. Constantly changing renters of the spaces are a fact and a recognised part of the business. But the ongoing search for an anchor tenant leaves one somewhat perplexed in an area devoted to constant change. This is just one of several paradoxical aspects and, for this reason, a closer look as part of a classic architectural observation of the various benchmark levels is worthwhile: from the urban being of a construction type to its physical presence. And, where necessary, the attempt at an interpretation of what can be seen, not because it is a piece of outstanding architecture, but because it represents considerable aspects of the disappearance of architecture, at least to me

Mall of Switzerland, Ebisquare 1

The address obviously had to be newly created. Anchoring the shopping centre with a historical local name or placing it into the row of buildings along Zugerstrasse would hardly have been an option for the chosen branding for “Mall of Switzerland” (at least they didn’t opt for “Mall of Europe”).

When travelling by car, you come out of Lucerne along Zugerstrasse in the direction of Zug, or Zurich, a more than 5-kilometre-long straight road. On a bicycle, you would probably choose a parallel route with less traffic; on the train, you take the old route from Lucerne to Zurich at a practically consistent distance. For reasons of simplicity, for an architecture trip is not on the cards here, you can follow the route – Zugerstrasse, Ebikon in a northerly direction, easily on Google Maps. You are also unlikely to be confronted with visual surprises along the way, as what has been built here offers a seemingly normal image of agglomerated development, primarily in terms of prominent advertising, advertising flags, posters and bleak car parks. Of the somewhat graphically more appealing lettering back in the day all that remains are relics.

In terms of layout, the axis of this mall corresponds to the planning approach for the US-American strip mall; it is largely, however, uncontrolled growth. Alongside the usual jewels to be found along such axes – from streamlined garages to the elegant and impressive windows of various car dealerships in their best 1960s design (all car brands were represented here, as were indeed all oil companies) and from the very homely, in stylistic terms, two-to-three storey living units with gardens to the Unité d’Habitation copies – there always seems to be very specific references to various times gone by. A pronounced accent is set by an old church positioned on a height above the mall, which serves to show that here once a “normal” village existed, almost romantically spread out at the foot of a hill, on a long row of granaries connected to farmhouses. When one looks closer, one finds some architectural highlights. For example, the complex that is the residential and business building Zentralstrasse 13 by Gisbert Meyer (1902-1966), which, with its high quality, set new standards for a car friendly settlement. Lastly comes the architectural highlight of the whole axis, the headquarters of the Schindler company, which established itself here in the 1960s. Overall, and almost emblematically, the function-based, car-friendly urban vision can be seen here, even if the planning model “unfortunately” could not be fully implemented.

One recognises the smudged outlines of the planned linear city along the railway track, in accordance with Soria y Mata’s antithesis to the garden city. Against this background, it is no surprise that directly neighbouring the Schindler complex, the Mall of Switzerland was built as, so to speak, the culmination of a car-centric consumer society. That it happened so late on, not until 2017, fits in well with the disperse economic development in the industrial zones placed in a row along the village centres, and has only partially to do with the slow-moving planning process. Critical voices were heard when the mall opened warning that the time for shopping centres was over. But such considerations were, and today still are, repressed. More on this further in this text.

Type and programme

While the church and, above all, the Schindler company complex with its tower, can be easily seen, one does need a good eye to find the Mall of Switzerland. It is a building complex that could house any other sales or business use and in reality, was not supposed to have a specific exterior image. On its outside, the building reflects the tradition followed by many shopping centres, with the exterior being seen more as a back and whose covered interior axis was regarded as the heart of the whole thing. The use of the term “mall”, apparently inspired by London’s Pall Mall, implies lofty aspirations – even more so when the full name is Mall of Switzerland. In truth, however, this is little more than a perversion of the market hall. Brands selling things in rigid spaces; it is really just a collection of two-dimensional make-believe worlds expressed via logos that are heavy on marketing.

These are protected, which means secure, spaces behind produced displays. Spontaneity is rare, there are no rapid changes, no “new” products – just overdesigned objects with the charm of easy recognisability. That leads to aestheticised death, a shopping frenzy without any contemplative enjoyment. The attempt at the typological derivation from the market hall/market to the shopping centre and to the mall is often made. Of the market hall what has remained is the lightness of the construction, which is well hidden behind immaculately smooth surfaces. That immaculateness becomes the compensation for the non-existing exchange. Interaction, of the kind that takes place in municipal market halls, is missing. It is replaced by the staged dynamics of exploitation.

Intermezzo: The neo-liberal handshake

The handshake between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher at Camp David in the early 1980s has become a symbol of neo-liberal emancipation, which made consumption as the utmost expression of reckless liberalism possible. The Mall of Switzerland is, so to speak, the expression thereof as a building – typical of Switzerland and particularly central Switzerland, though something of a late arrival, but carefully thought through, so one would think. And even if the end was foreseesable, the money was still gladly spent. It could have been that the ultimate Mall of Switzerland, in connection with the entertainment provided by the indoor surfing wave pool installed there – for hope for the success of the associated cinemas was certainly more daring – would bring eternal life closer.

T-Shirt architecture – the exterior

When you approach the complex – which, according to the architects, consists of a shopping centre with a “soft and flowing facade” and an “entertainment building with a cinema complex as a monolithic body” – you are received in a reasonably well proportioned public space, whether you come from Lucerne in a bus or by car. If you come by car from the other side, then you have to directly enter the carpark, so a reception is not really on the cards. If you have dared to travel to suburbia by foot, or on a bike or by bus, you will be left in front of the two imposing built volumes. If you expect to find the playful entertainment world in the building covered by an exterior like a “soft” white T-shirt, you will be disappointed. As underneath this “item of clothing,” the seam of which is coming free from the ground, you are drawn into the consumption machine. In the neighbouring, rectangular and architecturally insignificant box, you are welcomed by the surfing wave pool, with its equally insignificant inner life; it would have been much more appealing if it had been the conversion of a former industrial building, but as a new build fails to create any dialogue with the dynamic of the moving water. But let us return to the soft bubble containing Beat Wyss’s comments in the Die Welt als T-Shirt: “The aesthetics of “user friendliness” has escaped its confines. Each device and the mall is understood as such] tendentially becomes a comfortable item of clothing, no longer a vehicle, but software that satisfies one’s needs at the touch of a button. […] It is not by chance that fashion for the family has opted for colourful, easy-care pyjamas, with an emphasis on ‘being casual’: the T-shirt cannot be large enough, the trouser part (of the pyjamas) not baggy enough. Nothing should cramp the style of the small, nuclear family as it makes its way through the car-free shopping streets; soft ice cream stains come out in the next wash.1

Mall of Switzerland, Burckhardt Architektur, 2017 – © Federico Farinatti
Mall of Switzerland, Burckhardt Architektur, 2017 – © Federico Farinatti
Mall of Switzerland, Burckhardt Architektur, 2017 – © Federico Farinatti
Mall of Switzerland, Burckhardt Architektur, 2017 – © Federico Farinatti
Mall of Switzerland, Burckhardt Architektur, 2017 – © Federico Farinatti
Mall of Switzerland, Burckhardt Architektur, 2017 – © Federico Farinatti
Mall of Switzerland, Burckhardt Architektur, 2017 – © Federico Farinatti
Mall of Switzerland, Burckhardt Architektur, 2017 – © Federico Farinatti
Mall of Switzerland, Burckhardt Architektur, 2017 – © Federico Farinatti
Mall of Switzerland, Burckhardt Architektur, 2017 – © Federico Farinatti
Mall of Switzerland, Burckhardt Architektur, 2017 – © Federico Farinatti
Mall of Switzerland, Burckhardt Architektur, 2017 – © Federico Farinatti
Mall of Switzerland, Burckhardt Architektur, 2017 – © Federico Farinatti
01 | 14
Mall of Switzerland, Burckhardt Architektur, 2017 – © Federico Farinatti

No, Beat Wyss did not write this after the Mall of Switzerland was built, but back in 1997. It nevertheless accurately characterises the aesthetics of a commercial world made all the more banal by the media. The fascination of the soap bubble is based on the constantly changing lights, but it allows for a certain perspective, at most with a few distortions. This bubble remains opaque; the changing colours of the lights in the membrane every night cannot alter that.

The marks of erosion – the interior

And so you enter this inner world, leaving behind the seeming formlessness of the bubble. As an architect you are probably reminded of Piranesi’s Carceri d’invenzione, his imagined prison cells, even if with a hint of sentimental regret, given the hardly successful simplification of a labyrinthine imaginary world. The Mall’s imaginary world is limited to the central hall and its two arms, the layout of which allows for the suspicion that here, first and foremost, maximisation of the rentable space was to be provided for, to the detriment of a comprehensible logic in terms of the structure and spatial cohesion. The suggested spatial variety or differentiation subsequently becomes excessive through the endless bending of the shop facades. The only goal remains the promise that other brands are somewhere to be found in the sheer endless succession of shops. From Piranesi please only so much that one does not lose any oversight, that efficiency remains guaranteed, i.e. the costs do not get out of control. Improving the long-term suitability of such a building was probably not foremost amongst the goals of the given marketing logic at the time.

If we look at the plans for the mall, we see the next major reference, namely Le Corbusier’s plan libre. The chosen use of flat slab structure is only successful to a limited extent at generating an exciting dialogue between the “enclosed” and the “free” space. The support grid system is not understood as a starting position of which the infrastructure becomes an integral part; the infrastructure is given its own structural logic, which, for the most part, kills all tension. What remains is a relatively random placement beside each other, with a priority accentuation of the infrastructure; meshing remains formalistic. It is possible that that was the intention, to satisfy the absolute primacy of the “shop window.” But this becomes an aesthetic problem when relatively extensive surfaces are no longer made use of. Deep wounds are made visible; the screen of this succession of a branding-moulded display becomes broken. The common and constructively, i.e. tectonically, beautiful rolling grille is unable to counteract the spatial disintegration. And the attempt of using perspective-based images of shop displays, onto which shut access doors are stuck, may work at first, but the doors are quickly unmasked as false.

Intermezzo: The aesthetic of decay

It is clear that the ruinous decay that besets the mall cannot be squared with the marketing of the operating company. Indeed, it also clear that from the very beginning creative and spatial strategies would have been needed to bring about change. That this is not fantasy of the mind can be documented through historical precedents. One major example hereof is John Soane’s (1753–1837) design for the Bank of England, or the image of his design produced by Joseph Michael Gandy (1771–1843) in 1830. Even if somewhat idealised in the later registration, herein is the manifestation of the ruin as a design strategy. This design-based valuation of change would appear to have had no place in the architectural mainstream in the early 2000s. Particularly in seemingly highly flexible works such as the Mall of Switzerland (whereby the expression “highly flexible” relates only to the rental space distribution) is it so that such thinking and sounding out of intentions could be extremely helpful, in order to accept changes not only with respect to the brands represented on site, but also with respect to other uses beyond the pure sales function. What remains is, architecturally speaking too, a mass of arbitrariness that is not very future-oriented, affordably built, but not cheaply, with an aesthetic superficiality, the decay of which can hardly come into effect as a visual quality. The generation of powerful images therefrom would require a Jean-Luc Godard (1930–2022) or, even better, an Andrei Tarkovsky (1932–1986). In this sense, the Mall of Switzerland can be described as a trivial early form of digital two-dimensionality.

From utopia to dystopia

The Ebikon of the strip mall has today an ambience that is shaped by a large number of places that are in a transition from the utopian to the dystopian. This is even true of the village church mentioned at the beginning of this text, which has increasingly smaller visitor numbers. These are the representatives of an era that is no more, and hard to change. Then there is the car-friendly settlement designed by Gisbert Meyer, an ideal that is definitely dystopian in nature but highly adaptable to new ways of living. Then comes an example that had to make way for development – the Höfli Church Centre designed by Walter Rüssli and only completed in 1977. For reasons of less needed space, the quality building was replaced by a smaller but likewise interesting new build by Alp Architektur Lischer Partner in 2017. And just before the construction of the Mall of Switzerland, it was the turn of the Schindler company’s manufacturing site and head offices. The representative, architecturally successful site designed by the architects Roland Rohn (1905-1971) and Carl Mossdorf (1901–1969), completed in 1957, was massively changed in the factory entrance area in the early 2000s, unfortunately with global current aesthetics in mind – all smooth and shiny. It is, of course, gratifying that the internationally active undertaking has kept Ebikon as a location but, with the aesthetic changes, the irrelevance of this mirrored unexceptional architecture has weakened the power of the whole.

Currently, the last case would be that of the Mall of Switzerland itself but, in this case, the outcome will probably not be quite as in the aforementioned examples. For, unlike in other shopping centres in the region, the seemingly logical location could become a problem. The Mall of Switzerland is neither directly on a motorway exit nor on an intersection of industrial and residential areas. So, it does not have any superordinated urbanistic importance as a public meeting space. What’s more: it is surrounded by featureless and characterless industrial buildings and many car dealerships, apparent permanent/temporary solutions for second-hand or new cars, so altogether an ordered disorder. The Mall is marked by irrelevance in terms of its design, so much so that the few crystalline examples of high-quality architecture stand out more. The Mall of Switzerland tried to insert itself as a pearl. The design metaphor of the quickly thrown on T-shirt has, however, lost all effect. In addition to a long-term, viable image, every element of potential individual and temporary appropriation is missing – aspects that have proven to be vital in the history of urbanism.

The realisation that on this overall small surface area of a stretched suburb of the city of Lucerne the utopian is constantly being transformed into the dystopian remains an interesting one. However, at the same time the dystopian seems to give flight to the utopian. To what extent things will be like this in the future, remains to be seen. This reveals the power of resistance of differing use conceptions within functioning building typologies. Precisely at a time when the rapid digital transformation of our society is ongoing; for these are times in which the personal screen will have more effect than the physical consumer refuges.

All photographs by Federico Farinatti

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