Select Works Paradeplatz – Zurich

Paradeplatz – Zurich

Art played a key role in the repositioning of Credit Suisse Group's prestigious headquarters at Paradeplatz – Zurich. Thus, at the center of the colonnaded atrium, and hence at the heart of the new architectural concept is a Fontaine du désir. This wishing well by photographer and installation artist Silvie Defraoui dating from 2002 is a hexagonal basin made of etched glass placed at the center of the patterned marble floor, the latter being what lends the atrium its Italianate look.

Whether the news from the money markets is good or bad, the image underpinning it on Swiss television will almost always be a helicopter view of Credit Suisse Group’s headquarters on Paradeplatz in Zurich. This sandstone edifice designed by Jakob Friedrich Wanner and built between 1873 and 1876 symbolizes "Switzerland as a financial center" as does no other: Firmly anchored on a rusticated ground-floor base, the elevation and proportions of the four upper stories are classical in style and adorned with well-executed ornamental sculptures. Uppermost in the mind of Alfred Escher, the man who commissioned the building, was the need for premises grand enough to house the Schweizerische Kreditanstalt he had founded twenty years earlier. This proved to be a complex undertaking, there having been no such thing as typical bank architecture in Switzerland before Wanner set the benchmark. The headquarters of Credit Suisse Group, as Escher’s bank has been called since 1997, is thus steeped in history. Upon its completion in 1876, it consisted of only two parts: the main tract with its splendid colonnaded facade facing onto Paradeplatz, and a plainer side wing facing onto Talacker. Not that there was any shortage of space; when the bank moved into its new premises in 1877, it claimed only the corner third of the building for itself. That alone provided space in abundance for the fifty or so employees, while the remaining parts of the building could be rented out as office space or private apartments. Over the years, however, the bank slowly spread throughout the building. Nor did its voracious appetite for space stop there: The addition of two adjacent buildings on Bahnhofstrasse before the century was out, together with the block on Bärengasse, which was converted for use by the bank in 1913/14, meant that the Kreditanstalt was now in possession of all four sides of the central atrium.

The Kreditanstalt’s banking hall was installed inside this atrium as early as 1899 and was to remain there for a hundred years. Not until 2002 did the atrium once again become a public space – an exclusive shopping arcade where everyone can now linger. The reopening of the atrium was central to the spatial reorganization of Credit Suisse Group’s Paradeplatz premises. In the course of this work, not only were various functional areas adapted to dealing with clients in the internet age, but the bank itself was repositioned: "The ground floor of the main building should be no less splendid, no less impressive than the façade facing onto Paradeplatz. ‘Paradeplatz’ must become an integral part of the bank’s image even beyond Switzerland’s borders. It is not enough to have seen it from the outside; you have to have experienced it on the inside, too. The interior should be stimulating, communicative, spacious, and barrier-free." This, at least, is how the task was described in a request for preliminary studies sent out to eight different firms of architects in 1993. Four years later, the competition for the best design was won by Atelier 5 of Berne, not least on account of its innovative concept of an atrium open to the public, just as it stands today. Proceeding cautiously and with respect for Wanner’s work, Atelier 5 spent the next twelve years creating new functional spaces both on the now public ground floor and on the four floors above it, which as before are accessible to bank staff only.

Art played a key role in this repositioning of Credit Suisse Group’s prestigious headquarters. Thus, at the center of the colonnaded atrium, and hence at the heart of the new architectural concept is a Fontaine du désir. This wishing well by photographer and installation artist Silvie Defraoui dating from 2002 is a hexagonal basin made of etched glass placed at the center of the patterned marble floor, the latter being what lends the atrium its Italianate look. At the bottom of the basin is an LED banner whose endless stream of wishes in five different languages includes “to have more time,” “to understand the language of birds,” “to breathe under water,” or simply “to be invisible.” The wishes are not always legible, however, as there is a mechanical impulse built into the fountain that ripples the surface of the water covering them; the letters of the words Wünsche, désirs, desires, desideri set into the floor around the fountain, moreover, have likewise been obscured by being cut horizontally through the middle. Yet perhaps such deliberate blurring actually encourages visitors to try even harder to decipher the writing and find out what it says? “The journey is the end,” says the artist – at a stroke recasting the atrium with her fountain at its center as a place for creative meditation, fueled not by the fulfillment of desires, but by the timeless act of wishing itself.

Located throughout the foyers, corridors, and offices, and above all in the grand, high-ceilinged reception rooms of the Credit Suisse Group headquarters are some 400 other works of art, all of which have similar potential for reflection. The reorganization of the building that began in 1997 made art an increasingly important focus of interest, especially during the phased remodeling of the second-floor senior executives’ offices that were now to become a client zone. It was the 60 or so reception rooms of this historical piano nobile that provided the contiguous exhibition space needed to accommodate the nucleus of the Credit Suisse Collection. Most of the works are individually hung – taking into account the possible consequences for the way in which they are perceived, as described here in the Introduction. The great advantage of this, however, is that they can react to their immediate surroundings: to the stucco ceilings and wood-paneled salons of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Art Déco intérieurs of 1931, and the rational language of forms that characterized the postwar years.

The preceding series of works affords us an insight into how this embedding of art in historical architecture actually works. Markus Gadient’s Serendipity No. 22 (2007), for example, occupies a wall in a spacious salon of the twelve-room apartment which was part of Wanner’s core structure of 1876 and which the Kreditanstalt initially rented out. Inspired by the play of sunshine and shade in the landscaped garden of the Pfaueninsel Palace in Berlin, the artist executed the work in two distinct phases: After first painting a naturalistic landscape based on a photograph, he proceeded to overpaint the work in a gesture of great power and immediacy. The effect of this painterly superimposition, placed in a corner of a very grand reception room where there is no direct daylight, is very impressive: Shimmering like satin, the expanse of black appears to gobble up almost the whole landscape – including even the sturdy tree and lush green grass.

In his A Flower and a Leaf (2008) meanwhile, Joseph Egan sets two pieces of wood aglow with smoldering orange-green hues. This delicate wall-mounted sculpture provides an upbeat, painterly counterpoint to the immediately adjacent doorframe. With shimmering intensity, the layers of oil glaze that coat flower and leaf interact with the expressively grained walnut veneer of the elaborately molded casing around the doorway. A suitable frame was likewise found for Giacomo Santiago Rogado’s Serpentine (2009) in the form of stuccoed wall embellishments, whose classical-figurative style is reminiscent of 1920s American Art Deco. The painting – an austere, but instantly eye-catching woven grid in which colored lines snake up silvery verticals – anchors itself as the dynamic focal point of the foyer on this upper floor, which was created by the Pfister brothers as part of their last reworking of the building in 1931.

A stylistically apposite position was also found for the five Costume Photos (1992/2002) by Gilles Porret. These self-portraits of the artist as dandy in which the color of his suits matches the color of the room now hang below the rosette frieze of a ground-floor “conference room,” which is how this extravagantly top-lit oval space was described in the architects’ original plans of 1916. In the same manner, Hugo Suter’s Malerei (Wald )[Painting(Forest)] (2007/08) has found a worthy home in the context in which it is presented. This sculpture, which is essentially a small glass box containing assorted pieces of wood and bits of colored wire and plastic arranged so that the image apparent behind the matte front of the casket resembles a forest, has been removed from the gray plinth on which it originally stood and has now been installed on a side table instead.

Finally Wanja [Vanja] (2008), a large-scale photograph by EberliMantel, is situated in one of the client rooms facing onto Bärengasse, which were stripped of all their historical trappings in the 1950s. Yet it is here, in this very work, and in the setting for the scene it depicts, that the critical engagement with the original fabric of the Paradeplatz building is at its most intense. During an on-site visit in the summer of 2008, the duo of female artists was unexpectedly enthused by the rose-like emblem – recently restored to its original glory – that adorns the parquet floor of the historical “nonagon,” at the entrance to what is now the banking hall. This imposing wooden inlay, fashioned from native walnut and cherry, and whose rosette of expansively spiraling lines is reminiscent of no less a work than the marble floor that Michelangelo designed for the Capitol in Rome, was transferred to the rotunda (formerly a securities trading area) in 1916. Instead of recommending a photograph from their existing oeuvre – which had been the actual purpose of their visit to Paradeplatz – EberliMantel therefore decided to embark on a new work based on the parquet floor of the nonagon. The fourth part of the duo’s Puzzle series, Wanja (2008) is a symbolic composition based on Pieter Brueghel’s panel painting The Tower of Babel (1563). The Bible tells us that the building of the legendary tower was an architectural disaster, and the modern-day engineer in EberliMantel’s Wanja appears to be similarly critical of his work. And no wonder, either, since the intensely rhythmic layout of the parquet flooring makes for an optically disconcerting and unstable substratum. Setting up such associative ambiguity may smack of artistic license, yet it enables the viewer to be more aware – and perhaps more inspired  – when passing through the current reception area in the nonagon before entering the banking hall of the historic Credit Suisse head office building on Paradeplatz.

André Rogger

About the project
Located throughout the foyers, corridors, and offices, and above all in the grand, high-ceilinged reception rooms of the Credit Suisse Group headquarters are some 400 other works of art, all of which have similar potential for reflection. The reorganization of the building that began in 1997 made art an increasingly important focus of interest, especially during the phased remodeling of the second-floor senior executives’ offices that were now to become a client zone. It was the 60 or so reception rooms of this historical piano nobile that provided the contiguous exhibition space needed to accommodate the nucleus of the Credit Suisse Collection. Most of the works are individually hung. The great advantage of this, however, is that they can react to their immediate surroundings: to the stucco ceilings and wood-paneled salons of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Art Déco intérieurs of 1931, and the rational language of forms that characterized the postwar years.