Building and buying

The nine most extraordinary houses in Switzerland

Sira Huwiler-Flamm

Whether a mine silo hotel or an earth house settlement – just like in other countries, there are plenty of houses in Switzerland that amaze and amuse – here are nine examples.

In the midst of large buildings on Neustadtgasse in Winterthur stands the smallest house in the city – with just 33 square meters of living space.
© House of Winterthur

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1. The O House on Lake Lucerne

The Zurich-based architect Philippe Stuebi completed the “O House” on the shores of Lake Lucerne in spring 2007. “Both on the front and on the lakeside, this sculptural villa has very expressive and decorative facades,” is how he describes his project. White concrete elements with circular openings give the house an extravagant look.

Inside there is a large fitness area, an underground garage with twelve parking spaces for car lovers, as well as a 25-meter pool that is half inside and half out. And the breathtaking icing on the cake: the views of the lake and of the Rigi and Bürgenstock mountains from the huge panoramic windows hidden behind the circular openings.

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2. The Flexhouse in Zurich

With its curved shapes and scale-like facade, the Flexhouse in Meilen is reminiscent of a snake. According to the Zurich architects from Camenzind Evolution, it is the contrasts of the single-family house, which was completed in 2016, that make it so captivating: “A stranded ship bursting with dynamism. A sense of space incorporated into nature. A harmonizing naturalness made up of futuristic shapes.”

The spacious glass facade makes the building appear modern and flooded with light. The view extends all the way to Lake Zurich. The interior is dominated by white and light wood tones, as well as round shapes, which, as on the exterior, can be found in elements including windows, a spiral staircase and two curved roof decks.

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3. The smallest house in Winterthur

“Wow!” passers-by may exclaim as they stroll through Neustadtgasse in Winterthur. For here stands the smallest house in the city – and perhaps even in all of Switzerland. It has 33 square meters of living space, 11 square meters of garden and simply looks very cute surrounded by all the neighboring normal-sized buildings.

The former workshop was inaugurated in 1863 before being converted into a two-story residential building in 1903. The late Biedermeier half-timbered building with green shutters is one of the few free-standing houses in the old town. A small kitchen/dining room can be found on the first floor, a small bedroom with a shower and toilet is located on the second floor. After being put up for sale by the city in 2014, the house is now said to belong to an artist.

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4. The floating freeway service station near Würenlos

“Fressbalken” (the feed beam) is what the Swiss popularly call the freeway service station in Würenlos. This is because the service station, which includes restaurants and a complete shopping center, looks as if it is floating like a beam at a height of up to 17 meters above the A1/A3 freeways between Zurich and Basel. The Würenlos shopping center and service station is 140 meters long and 18.6 to 36 meters wide. It was planned by the Zurich architectural office Marti + Kast prior to its opening in 1972.

What hardly anyone knows is that there is also an apartment on the top floor – with an arguably unique view of the six lanes of the freeway, which are used by around 50 million cars every year. Apparently, the unique apartment consists of four and a half rooms and a patio.

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5. The Casa Forest in Basel

The architects from Daluz Gonzalez in Zurich have created a modern building that blends in perfectly with nature in a deciduous forest near Basel: the Casa Forest. An art- and nature-loving family wished for a home like this in 2013. The heptagonal artificial building was completed in 2016.

There are hardly any right angles in the angular construction. The exterior facade blends in with nature thanks to its earth tones. Inside, bare but waxed and polished plaster walls add industrial charm, light oak floors and stairs create a cozy feel, while large windows let in plenty of light and offer unobstructed views of the forest. Path boundaries and steps made of stainless steel in the outdoor area are also reminiscent of the industrial style.

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6. The earth house settlement in Dietikon

Earth houses were popular even before the hobbits from the Hollywood series “The Lord of the Rings”. An entire earth house settlement was constructed in Dietikon back in 1978. The houses were designed by Dietikon architect Peter Vetsch, who has now built over 90 earth houses – from small single-family houses to terraced villas – all over the world.

In Dietikon, the houses stand on earth and have greened roofs, which is very energy efficient and helps balance out the temperature. The roof and walls are themselves also made of earth. Inside, soft shapes for the walls, windows and passages create a cozy atmosphere. There are no hard edges or corners.

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7. A hotel in a mine silo in Herznach

From 1937 to 1967, iron ore was mined in Herznach, Aargau, and stored in the mine silo. Today, guests can sleep in this 17.5-meter-high silo, which is still in its original condition on the outside. The hotel can provide four guest rooms and a circular mining parlor for organizing events with up to 30 people.

The owners Brigitte Deiss and Ueli Hohl live on the top floor – where they can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. Between 2002 and 2004, they expanded and restored the disused silo with great attention to detail.

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8. The Smurfs Buildings in Geneva

There is a housing estate in the middle of Geneva that is as colorful and original as the creations of Barcelona’s star architect Antoni Gaudi. “Les Immeubles des Schtroumpfs” (English: the Smurfs Buildings) stand in the lively neighborhood of Les Grottes, just behind Cornavin station. They were created at the suggestion of three architects between 1982 and 1984.

It’s impossible to find any straight lines. Instead, there are balconies with reliefs, wrought iron balustrades and lots of color! The houses got their names because they are so reminiscent of the colorful dwellings of the Smurfs – and they have attracted the curious glances of tourists eager to take pictures ever since.

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9. The round hillside house of Villa Vals

The “Villa Vals” stands on a mountain slope in the canton of Graubünden. The modern building is cut into the slope in a circular shape. This means it has only one facade, which is made of natural stone and glass. The architects Bjarne Mastenbroek and Christian Müller planned the house in such a way that it is completely integrated into the mountain landscape.

Since 2009 it has been located directly next to the Vals thermal baths and offers space for up to ten people as a vacation home. The interior is full of impressive, eye-catching solid wood furniture, as well as partly black furniture and black walls, which set a harsh contrasting tone. The other walls, passages and staircases largely retain the industrial concrete look.

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