“Brumble Patch” from the “John what Henri” series.
With the traveling architecture exhibition Swissness Applied, the masterminds behind Architecture Office are questioning the role of imagery and cultural appropriation in architecture, urban design and planning. After a successful opening at the Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning, the collection will make the move to Kunsthaus Glarus, Switzerland this September.
“Abion Swords” and “sportsman’s Bar and Grill” from the “Tell No Cabbage” Series.
Consisting of both documentation and original architectural explorations, Swissness Applied is part of a larger research project that focuses on the transformation of European immigrant towns in the United States, all of whom share the common aspiration of preserving and perpetuating the architecture of their cultural heritage.
Spread across the American landscape are enclaves that exude characteristics of their European antecedents. Towns such as Frankenmuth, Michigan; Solvang, California; or New Glarus, Wisconsin have been culturally re-appropriated within the American landscape by the immigrants they were founded by (from Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland, respectively). Highly curated, and containing imported historic forms of traditional architectural styles, they exude what we can identify as German, Danish, or Swiss design motifs.
“Albion Swords” from the “John what Henri” series.
New Glarus is a special example of such a town, and the focus of Swissness Applied. Founded by Swiss settlers in 1845, it evolved from a dairy farming and cheese production village into a popular tourist destination. After suffering through an economic downturn in the 1950s, the town discovered that embracing the image of its cultural heritage to appeal to tourists could help it survive. Local businessmen, some native to Switzerland, started “Swissifying” their commercial building façades, eventually resulting in a town comprised largely of traditional Swiss architectural details.
These architectural features have since been codified, both to preserve the old buildings and regulate the aesthetic of new ones. Since 1999, Chapter 118: Building Construction, Article II: Swiss Architectural Theme in New Glarus building code offers guidelines that enforce the use of typical elements of the Swiss Chalet style. Using illustrations in seven picture books, and a collection of 41 photographs and postcards as examples, the code references a variety of traditional chalet styles in the cantons of Switzerland. However, in its entirety, the code and collection of images works to simplify many very distinct versions of “Swissness” in architecture into one composed style that is recognizable as, simply, Swiss. With this exhibition, Architecture Office aims to shed light on what they call the “urban mutation” that ultimately result from such “theme” towns.
“It Has As Long As It Has” Series.
Swissness Applied explores New Glarus through architectural drawings, models and photographs, questioning the translation of the cultural image in architecture, and illustrating the consequences of themed building codes through representational means. The exhibition consists of 56 architectural models in total; 36 of the models in the show document actual buildings evincing Swiss characteristics in New Glarus, and are accompanied by a photo series. Of these 36, 18 are monochromatic wooden models that represent the buildings and local construction techniques in New Glarus (subtitled ‘Tell No Cabbage’), and 18 are paper models built from unfolded front elevations that represent existing buildings’ overall form and shape in New Glarus (subtitled ‘John what Henri’). The remaining 20 models are fictional building forms that use the building codes as a way to explore alternative interpretations of Swiss architecture (subtitled ‘It has as long as it has’). The fictional models remix building elements of Swiss architecture using Swissthemed Faller model kits, to exaggerate or reinterpret the same architectural details to produce new associations, and further distill the process of “Swissifying.”
Photography by Alaina Marra and David Broda.
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