Structure & Expression: Technical Innovations in Skeleton Construction 1950–1980

Doctoral Student: Tiago Matthes

In Switzerland, increasing prosperity after 1945 and the accompanying population and economic growth led to an increased demand for educational and research buildings. With the onset of the building boom, there was an expansion of universities in many European countries, especially in the late 1960s. In Switzerland, there was a particularly high increase in student numbers between the 1950s and early 1970s. This can be exemplified by the buildings of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH) and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). The ETH Zentrum site was redensified several times after the Second World War, and construction of the new campuses in Lausanne and Zurich began in the 1960s. In the newly designed outstations of both Federal Institutes of Technology, mixed uses and the requirement of neutrality of use increasingly determined the planning. The large space programs were kept flexible for future, not yet anticipated, uses. Following the example of industrial buildings, skeleton construction became the preferred method of construction for the majority of planned and newly constructed buildings. With the establishment of this construction method in office and university buildings, the appearance of the buildings also changed, which can be clearly seen in standardized components such as the facade or the extensions. 

The doctoral project focuses on the development of skeleton construction at the interface between industrial and university construction and traces the genesis of technical innovations and their influence on the appearance of buildings. The aim of the project is to tell the story of the buildings from the perspective of the information contained in the patents to gain a comprehensive understanding of the developments in the construction processes, the built artefacts, and the various protagonists.

This project is part of the SNSF project “Architecture & Patents. The Buildings of the ETH Domain”.