A stay in Werkbundsiedlung Neubühl guest apartment
Earlier this year I spent a month Interailling across mainland Europe visiting a number of places I that will feature in my forthcoming book ‘Modernist Escapes’ (it’s going to be published next year (2020) by Prestel). The plan was to list the places I visited onto this site as I went along. That didn’t seem to happen, between packing and unpacking, catching a train, finding a hotel, visiting a house museum, catching a train etc etc. there wasn’t much spare time. You’ll just have to wait for the book, however, I’ve just stayed a few days at the Siedlung Neubühl guest apartment, which I thought I would write about.
As I’ve said before, if you’re in Europe then you might as well get the train. You get a nice view out of the window and you are doing your bit for the planet. I arrived at Zurich Main Station and from there I took a tram (the number 7) all the way to the end of the line to Wollishofen. Neubühl is at the edge of Zurich, which sounds a lot further than it is, it only took about 15 minutes. From there you can either walk (10 minutes) or catch the number 66 bus which stops right outside the apartment. Both the tram and bus run very frequently. Despite being a little bit further out from the centre, the benefit is your are within spitting distance of the lake. It’s a really beautiful location, so you get the best of both worlds.
History of the estate
I first visited Neubühl about three years ago for my book ‘Modernist Estates: Europe’, but I only saw inside one of the houses and only briefly, so I was looking forward to spending some proper time there. The estate was part of the Werkbund housing schemes of the late 1920s/early 1930s of which there are several across Europe, the first being in Stuttgart — the Weissenhof Estate — with buildings by Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe to name but a few. The set up in Zurich was a little different, it was designed by a number of architects: Paul Artaria, Max Ernst Haefeli, Carl Hubacher, Werner Max Moser, Emil Roth, Hans Schmidt, Rudolf Steiger, but here they designed the whole scheme together as a whole, as opposed to each designing different houses/blocks. The city of Zurich agreed to give them the land on the proviso that the homes would be rented out as a ‘Genossenschaft’ (a bit like co-op housing). Worth noting that the others in Europe were generally built as speculative housing, and many proved to be too modern to attract enough buyers. Today the Neubühl area has quite a lot of houses, but when it was built the estate would have been surrounded by fields (see archive image below).
There are a number of dwelling types from one room studio flats for single people, apartments for couples, to larger family houses. The houses in particular are very well planned — essentially designed as row-houses with paths on one side and generous back gardens on the other, with strict regulation about what you can plant, how high etc… only in Switzerland eh?! The architecture is very of the period — white facades, flat roofs and large windows.
The guest apartment is run by SWB (Schweizerischer Werkbund). When it became vacant the SWB agreed with the Genossenschaf to take it over in order to promote the Werkbund, as well as offering people a chance to learn about Neubühl and experience it first hand. The apartment is in a small two-storey block at the foot of the estate, there are a row of shops on the ground floor, flats above and a kindergarten around the other side.
I was amazed last time I came how well looked after the estate was, and it was no different this time. Despite being almost 100 years old the flats and houses function perfectly well today. They were modernised in the late 1980s to incorporate modern kitchens and bathrooms, but this was done sensitively and with care.
The apartment is approximately 40 square metres (I’m guessing, but it felt similar to a large style Barbican flat to me), and perfectly equipped. There is a bathroom one side of the hall and kitchen on the other divided by a neat little three-quarter high partition that doubles up as somewhere to hang your coats on one side and kitchen storage on the reverse. There are many original features remaining such as original door handles, radiators and built-in cupboards. Anything that is new — such as the linoleum flooring — blends in seamlessly.
What’s lovely about the flat is that it’s furnished with pieces of the time that are still in production today—many donated to the SWB—such as lounge chairs by Werner Max Moser, daybeds by Alfred Roth (I have decided I am going to get one of these for my living room), Max Bill stools, and the famous Swiss Landi chair on the balcony. Everything is carefully chosen, but doesn’t feel overly precious and museumy. It really felt like a home from home.
I was also able to see the ‘Experiment house’ which is also managed by SWB. Apparently an original tenant had lived in the three-bedroom house all her life and not altered a thing. Literally nothing. The whole house in its current state was listed and so no modernisation is possible. Unable to find a family who were willing to take on the house, the SWB decided to offer what is in all intents and purposes a residency programme, offering practitioners (artists, architects etc.) an opportunity to ‘respond’ to the house and the subject of housing in its wider context by a way of three salons. You can read more about the house and the current programme here.
SWB suggest a 3 night minimum stay, but less is also possible. Bookings are made directly through their booking page, the website and all communication is in German but fairly straightforward to work out with a little help from Google Translate.. Prices are very reasonable and charged per night at CHF80 (which works out at about £65) plus an additional CHF50 cleaning fee.
The address is Nidelbadstrasse 79, 8038 Zürich, Switzerland