LILA 2019 Office of the Year Winner

Studio Vulkan

Office Profile All / Switzerland /

Studio Vulkan is a Zürich based landscape architecture practice. They are not bound to finding a formula for their projects, but rather seem to be more interested in re-questioning everything a project might bring: context, ambience and all available tools for solving problems and making an experience. They are not committed to finding a style, although there is a notion of ‘relaxed aesthetics’ present in most of their projects that is well-anchored in the project narrative.

Toni Areal, for example, is a roof garden, an urban oasis that uses only time to make itself more defined by natural forces, and one in particular – decay. Exposing the beauty of decay, or decay itself, is still a taboo across our profession; oddly enough, in an age when nature is in focus. Similarly, Park Naturmuseum St. Gallen is dealing with ‘artificial naturalness’. It aims to question the occurrence of nature in an entirely artificial/urban context. Studio Vulkan seem to enjoy introducing intentional imperfections, knowing that in this way, their works are far more interesting. For Park Naturmuseum they wrote in the project narrative: “In addition to the predominantly native plants, exotic hydrangeas stand for the paradox of the place.”

In times, when our profession still produces a monoculture of ideas resulting in sameness, Studio Vulkan is showing the way to keep landscape architecture interesting. Their work provokes an endless curiosity while also featuring a catalogue of solutions to a range of relevant issues.

- from the award statements

Open spaces are under increasing pressure from many sides. Studio Vulkan seeks to gain a deeper understanding of these diverse demands as well as the contradictions that arise from countervailing expectations. Designing landscapes for us means to accept and moderate these contradictions, using the productive tension they bring about as a driver for developing new solutions. We devise strategic and experimental design languages that interpret the conditions of the site and its users in innovative and lucid terms. Our goal is to sound out designs that are at once conceptually convincing and eminently pragmatic, this approach allowing us to explore the potential of a given landscape in a direct, dynamic, and playful manner. We question the landscape, at large and small scale, in its physical as well as social context, and as atmospheric and experiential space. Apart from the confrontation with the everyday professional tasks, through our wide palette of projects, we simultaneously explore possible questions and responses that we believe are central to further developing the contemporary discourse and creating a landscape architecture able to increase human sensitivity, meaning and responsibility towards our natural and built environment.

Our approach reflects the international and interdisciplinary expertise of our four partners, whose backgrounds trace a line from landscape architecture to urban design, city planning and art, merging traditions from Switzerland, Germany and the USA. The team of Studio Vulkan Landscape Architecture, with headquarters in Zurich and Munich, comprises around 40 professionals. Founded in 2014, Studio Vulkan was formed through the merger of Schweingruber Zulauf Landscape Architects and Robin Winogrond Landscape Architects. The firm’s principals are Dominik Bueckers, Lukas Schweingruber, Jochen Soukup, Florian Strauss and Robin Winogrond.

Roof terrace Campus Toni Areal, Zurich, Switzerland

Density, urbanity and exciting intensity – 30 metres above ground in Zurich West. On the roof garden of the new University of the Arts on the site of the former Toni factory, the outdoor space creates a green oasis for students in an area where there has been a surge of new high-rises, technical buildings, atriums and concert halls. Here, plants grow in wooden crates stacked to create a pixel-like rugged landscape. It is a paradoxical garden: built in no time and ready for use on the final day of construction. Unlike most parks, it hasn’t gone through a long development phase. Yet the lush garden is far from finished – its primary principle is not growth, but decay.

The stacked boxes were precultivated over two years with a colourful mix of plants suitable for the environment, including perennials, herbs and small shrubs such as willow. Eventually, the boxes will decay, the plant species will mix and the pixelated landscape will grow into soft mounds, forming the roof’s base soil layer that will enable plant growth. This specific system and strong identity is the result of a careful study of the location and the envisaged intense level of use from the beginning, combined with the availability of water on the roof, short construction period and architectural limits on structural height. Here, the much-cited process-oriented nature of Landscape Architecture has been reversed: the process begins at the apparent end – with decay.

Park Naturmuseum St. Gallen

The park’s location exemplifies the paradox of the Swiss landscape: infrastructures, suburban areas and rural idylls, all closely interwoven. This is how the task begins: How can the design of a park with the theme of natural history over a motorway tunnel between sports facilities, housing estates and arterial roads look today? In a time in which concepts such as nature or landscape no longer have a clear meaning, the park deals with the theme of artificial naturalness / natural artificiality. The park is surrounded by a hornbeam grove with ferns and shrubs. It filters the heterogeneous context and enables visitors to spiritually immerse themselves in the park. In addition to the predominantly native plants, exotic hydrangeas stand for the paradox of the place.

Embedded in this atmospheric backdrop, enormous stepping stones create an exhibition path. They carry poetic and scientific messages and are acting as catalysts of our curiosity and imagination. 30 cm high quotations carved in concrete and scientific names of the local geology stand next to local fossils and huge boulders of the glacier bedload. The aim here is to give visitors personal access to the seemingly infinite periods and transformation processes of natural history. The parish of St. Maria Neudorf wanted the park, spanned between the church and the museum building, to focus on a dialogue on the two theories of the origins of the world; one from the point of view of religion and the other from the point of view of science. Three quotations from the Bible, from Max Plank and from Darwin play on this theme.

The Other Park, Heidelberg, Germany

The Campell Barracks in Heidelberg were built by the German National Socialists, then became US territory before developing into NATO’s European headquarters. Now the area is being transformed anew and integrated into civil society. As part of the IBA Heidelberg 2020, on the theme of the “knowledge society”, the historic barracks are to become a park of encounters. The competition program called for a concept that would enable the layers of history to be experienced: the potent history of the site will remain part of its future identity. We will create a new, site-specific open space with historic buildings (parade ground, riding arena, street space, park and interspaces), which will act as a new, identity-forming address for Heidelberg.

In Studio Vulkan’s contribution, the historical, contextual and social significance of encounters is staged on three levels: the net, the places, the fabric. The net brings people together. The street space is the most public place of a settlement. The net creates potential for conscious or accidental exchange and the various artefacts can be experienced along the network in the sense of a memory lane. The places are woven into and framed by the net. A variety of places with different atmospheres, meanings and uses emerge: the places, the forum, the Bürgerpark and the cultural market. The fabric connects the buildings to the net and stimulates a lively exchange. Between net and places, the fabric describe the open spaces in the park.

The Park, recreational area Butzenbüel at Zurich Airport

In 2017 Studio Vulkan won the competition for The Park. A small hill called Butzenbüel in front of Zurich Airport’s door will be reopened as The Park in 2020, at the same time as the new Circle Bau – a 180,000m² multi complex designed by Japanese architect Riken Yamamoto. The Butzenbüel is intended to establish itself as a place of reflection and relaxation in the area of conflict between highways and motorways, airport buildings and the Circle complex.

The highly artificial location of the park is a pseudo-natural haven of peace surrounded by the dynamic infrastructure of the airport and the motorway. The modest hill consists of historical layers of natural and artificial landscapes. On the original glacier moraine in the 1960s, the excavation of the motorway was poured onto it in an unshapely manner. In the 1970s, forests, meadows and wetlands were artificially created and placed under nature conservation. The challenge and agreement is to transform the bizarre place into a park that can be used intensively, observing strict nature and forest laws. The aim must be to make a win-win story out of what at first glance appear to be contradictory requirements (nature conservation, recreation, forest).

Wildwood Plaza Uster

Today the urban dweller searches for increasingly powerful experiences of ‘landscape’ and ‘nature’ in shrinking territories on the edge of town. It has become the charge of the landscape architect to look for new languages which at once immerse us in the sensations of landscape while providing functional space for recreational uses. The City of Uster is surrounded by three distinct landscape typologies, each with a strong atmosphere and materiality: woodlands, glacial drumlins and lake marshes. For a new path encircling the city our design proposes a circular void, ‘a looking glass’ or cyclorama from which to immerse oneself and observe these various landscapes. The first phase, three woodland plazas, has been completed.
On our small site, three vividly contrasting woodland images lie just a few hundred meters apart. The first circle lies beneath grand silver trunks and high crowns of the climax beech trees, Baudelaire‘s ‘temple of living pillars’, having survived hurricanes on the protected slope of the hill. The second circle, ‘emptiness in progress’, is enclosed by dense pioneer growth where hurricanes rased the exposed eastern slope. The third circle expresses the bizarre beauty of nature‘s deformation and adaption. Our projects explore place as catalyst of imagination, a dialogue between place and people. There is a long tradition in Landscape Architecture of creating spaces for us to lose ourselves in. This project explores this tradition.


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