Critical Notes regarding Franz Oswald's "Visions" of Switzerland as
'New Las Vegas Wellnessland'

By Nold Egenter


It is true, the human cosmos is unlimited. Lying on his back in a forest meadow any crazy artist watching two beetles fighting on a grass blade above his face can imagine them as two gigantic world-elephants or white galaxy deer in his imaginative dream, in this way spending a beautiful day. Wonderful!
    But if this artist is an architect, all this illimited imagination has its limits, because the toys of the imagination are not arbitrary. Humans are involved. And their environments, their personal and cultural histories. Architecture actually and concretely has to do with their dwellings their settlements, villages, towns and cities and the landscapes in which they unfold their own daily life world.
    Even today, after the breakdown of modernism, the postmodern architect still thinks to get along without knowing about what in fact he scornfully calls 'layman', that is the one he creates a house for, the one who gets urbanised by him.
    Of course, there is 'the client', who has him design his villa or a building complex. Without doubt, he will care for his special wishes, for his life-philosophy. But, the architect's interest for the human being stops there. Though an important representant of human cultural history, the architect is not interested in the cultural impacts of his activities. Man and architecture in general? No interest at all!
    In fact, the breakdown of modernism should have shown just that very clearly. The visions of the pioneers may have had their value as artistic manifestations, but as cultural environment for humans, they were a complete failure. It is still an extremely vague, arbitrary and subjective expression, in fact to a large extent egocentric projections what we get set into our environments as architecture. Some call the matter with its name: misbuilt environment, rampant growth of architecture, pseudo-urban ulcer, urban sprawl etc.
No idea about architecture as cultural phenomenon generally. No idea of architecture and space in the human sense. No idea about the relationship of architecture and human being.
    Paradoxically many still think to cure the desastrous failure of the 'reality experiment' of modernism by increasing the irreality factor drastically: imagination is made the basic tool for design and planning. It ends up in total confusion.
    Architecture and planning as kind of 'Art Brut'? Hopeless nonsense? Or consciously calculated creation of confusion? Cover-up for the purpose of gaining new land control, new 'lightness of being'?
    In the following Franz Oswald's contribution to his book 'new urbanity' is dealt with critically. It is the paper which provides the leading concepts in this book, but also celebrates its greatest excesses of 'visions'. The chaotic reduction of culture to the functional and technical level is exceeded by a further and much more negative level: total imagination.
    Disruptive: the book was not written in some remote downtown office, but was conceived at the ETH-Z, the world famous Swiss school of technology. Evidently the architectural department profits from the good reputation of the institution as a whole. This is one of the reasons to carefully read and comment Oswalds contribution critically.


(Let us go to town)

Oswald begins with an experience of his childhood, the walk to the city with his Italian mother (Andiamo in Citta). From this he gains his initial scenario. Four elements were characteristic for the old structure of the city of Berne around 1950.

The top of the city implies urban centricity, the farmers on the city market represented the surrounding agrarian countryside, the station implied connections into a wider area and the "way back home" led through narrow alleys, on foot.

How simple this is!

In the course of the 'new urbanity all this changed completely. That "stiff picture of the monocentric city crown" has yielded itself to the "polycentrically changing order of city protagonists. The market became omnipresent. "The farmers have disappeared almost completely." The distinction between city and country side became obsolete. Stations as centres of changing connections and mass aggregations became multiplied. Also shopping centers, airports, playing fields, etc. are now forming similar points. Ultimately this development culminates in the all-embracing diffusion of television. "Cosmopolitan atmosphere" is diffused. Finally the way back home gets lost in the jungle of the traffic currents. The car replaces the foot.

Accordingly the city is seen in negative ways. As a product of urban forms of life "it has not only tremendously increased centrifugally consuming a lot of land", but, like a cancer it has "expanded over the landscape in metastatic ways."

Everybody today is familiar with this fact, it is definitely not new . But it appears blurred in the framework of the question regarding the criteria of urban forms of life. Oswald gives three feature groups, which evidently should indicate anthropological depth. They are extremely general to such an extent, that they are absolutely meaningless: "Exchange" and "activities" of humans, their dependent and formative relationship to the landscape, as well as the existence of "artefacts and technologies" as "inventions of individuals or groups in the exchange of humans and environment. "

Finaly, in the triangular "power field" defined by "humans - territory - resources"
urbane forms of life are generated or changed. " This sentence too states nothing. The term "power field" is so general, that it can be used for all possible forms of humane existence. It is valid also for mesolithic hunters' and collectors' cultures at a time when nothing was known about "urban forms of life" because it did not yet exist at all. If one omits the term 'human', the two other notions become valid for the whole animal empire. Evidently Oswald presents us hot air. City as change of territory and resources? It shows that the author has not the least idea of the problem of the formation of the city . Oswalds conclusion: a "new urbanity" has replaced "old forms of urbanity...".

We are speechless! Important statements are justified in incredibly superficial manners. In addition the concept "new urbanity" is unclear in a twofold regard. In the first place it deals with a process, which began in the 50ies of the last century, thus there is nothing new about it. And, secondly it is used by Oswald for his planning suggestions. Evidently architecture and planning are a scientifically backward area. It is incredible that such highly vague and neither temporally nor spatially accurate expressions and consequently meaningless conclusions are accepted.

The related requirements are discussed in the following chapter with the corresponding title.


After the digression into the vague depths of city formation we return to the contemporary history. "New urbanity". It deals essentially with "modern infrastructures as they have developed in "developed countries...since approximately 1950". "New urbanity is a universal phenomenon." Oswald says, it can be observed "everywhere on the planet. It can be recognized at "special buildings for these infrastructures", but above all there are "four characteristic phenomena."

It is typical that under these infrastructures technical installations and plants are exclusively listed. Cultural institutions like theaters, museums etc. or political institutions, also cathedrals and churches, which conventionally formed the traditional historic and political identity of urban centrality, are simply omitted. An inadmissibly simplified picture emerges. It is disposing in arbitrary ways and in grand scale of the social environment. It appears dominated by merely marginal technical functions like "sport-and free time plants" etc. and "bridges, streets, canals, railways and highways, power plants, airports and TV and radiostations."

1. New topological patterns

"New topological patterns." Here too the reader is given a snub in regard to the term. The radial and linear patterns of settlement are exactly those large scale patterns which are critically mentioned in any form of planning report or project since the German 'Wiederaufbau', which has given the basic impulses to this type of large scale planning. Non-coordinated growth, chaotic netting character, shortening of distances through speed traffic etc.. Evidently everybody has heard these terms. Maybe surprising are new ideas like 'topological patterns'. The city is reduced on extremely abstract descriptions. Evidently the "city protagonists" are at work.

2. New everyday rythm of life

With the second "phenomenon" too, with the "new urbanity" everybody is familiar, the "continuous streams of protagonists, goods and data...". Oswald makes them to become something new by poetically interpreting them as "urban rivers" like in Venice. The dynamic of the current is considered to be the primary element. "The buildings of the connecting networks like rails, streets, shipping or flight systems, have the task to canalise and to measure out the urban rivers."

The gigantic expenses needed to support these 'infrastructures' are in fact trivialized. It is evident that expressions like "characteristics relevant for the whole area" and "increasing density" are used without any further explanations. "Exchange can be pursued from each arbitrary place, at an arbitrarily selectable time and in regard to any arbitrarily selectable distance.... " Evidently this is a concept derived from the American world parcel surface mail.

On the human side there are the daily commuter movements of the working population
Oswald sets his sights on. In addition there is the weekly commuting into the areas of recreation and back. The benefit is shown in the "diversity of the formation of daily activities." Here too, the "additional demand for installations" is neglected. In regard of the installations for leisure activities departing point and destination should show the same standard of equipment - even if the destination is used during short times only.

The fact that such weekend activities resp. the intensity of use of these "urban currents" are in fact an expression of economic conditions, which can change quickly, is not discussed. A planning project which presents such casual observations as reliable guarantees potentially cheats its future in serious ways.

3. Melting together city and country

The melting together of city and country is one of the important paradigms of the new urbanity. On page 35 Oswald has attached a picture, which should support this conception. On the page 34 he gives his commentary to this picture. This is representative for the method, which supports the large-scale project 'Switzerland in the 21st Century'.

"The melting together of city and country is an old theme..." we are taught. Not actually, in fact, only in art. Oswald consults the pictorial arts here, because, "in regard to design work," he maintains, "the pictorial artist with his particular perception of reality provides metaphorical expressions of the architectural language and thus invents a considerable part of the architectonic vocabulary before it is incorporated symbolically in buildings."

We are talking about a picture of Turner, ' Rain, Steam and Speed - the Great Western Railway'. "The visual imagination" present in this picture puts Oswald into "admiring amazement." City and landscape are hardly visible in the picture, he says. The horizon between water and the skies are blurred. "Only as signs...railroad bridges constructed with stones are marked, ...other buildings, outlines of hills and water edges are melting in the reddish-yellowish light of the skies and of the surface of the water."

Whoever reads this enthusiastic commentary on Turners light-mystic anthem on the railroad, will be amazed considerably. Evidently, Oswald is deeply serious. He somehow presents Turner's picture as a convincing basis for his concrete planning project, somehow like a surgeon uses an X-ray picture as a basis for an unavoidable operation. But Turner's matter of concern is not at all "to credibly depict the melting [of city and countryside]." As in most paintings of Turner it is devoted to a romantic relation towards light and its atmospheric effect on the viewer of the picture evidently in this particular case with a close relationship towards the new type of movement: the railroad.

In contrast to this, Oswald is evidently conjuring up a far fetched imagination to convince us in regard to his highly questionable matter: a completely obscured view on the true fact of the things would be quite useful for him. The reasoning ends rather grotesquely! 150 years ago already Turner has developed the view of the reality, "which we acknowledge today and to which we refer to."

The example is important as an illustration. It shows, that architecture still thinks today, that projects, which concern millions of peoples in the formation of their daily life, can be produced just like that, using any type of superficial and arbitrary metaphorical imaginations.

4. Urban fallows

Not less questionable is the concept of the urban fallows paradoxically borrowed from the farmers world that had "disappeared" in Oswalds concept.

Incredible! In medieval farming fallows were part of the area of cultivable land. They were a cyclic means for the purpose of regeneration of the soil. The main intention was not the increase of reproductive power, but the exhausted fields were let to rest for certain periods in lack of fertilizers. Very likely the model for the new concept of the urban fallows were the industrial areas recently dissolved at the outskirts of modern cities and which were reinterpreted more or less successfully to become new cultural centers of marginal city districts.

In a society with highly differenciated developments and with a concept of global urbanity it is not very likely that the concept of redefining the use of urban surfaces lieing fallow will produce satisfying solutions. But maybe the concept is just used in a populistic sense to cover up something much more important?

5. New dimensions of urban settledness

The fourth characteristic phenomenon records "new dimensions of urban settledness." This might considerably frighten those readers who have not yet completely denied the cultural dimension to Switzerland. "New urbanity is to a considerable part a product of total climate technology." Literally! Switzerland should become a huge Las Vegas! Today we can produce "any type of climate at any moment." Oswald considers Las Vegas as "the urban form of 'hors-sol-culture' par excellence, as a guiding concept of city design." It is based on total climate technology, he continues. It is not only used locally in greenhouses, zoos and botanical gardens, or department stores, passages, hospitals, or underground working places, it is rather an indispensable requirement for the construction and organization of the urban "total art product" (Gesamtkunstwerk) that is to say for the small and the large for inside and outside.

Not every Swiss will hear his accelerating heart beat while reading these suggestions. But, Oswald goes on with his LasVegas"total art product". The fusion of art and nature would gain "almost magic dimensions". As "product of total climate technology"? No, "because living nature emerges on the basis of all embracing architecture and because art is embodied in forms of living nature."

For somebody, who had been in Bali about 6 years ago walking along the back facades of European and American hotel chains with their endless climate machines rattling day and night and thus searching for his wonderfully enriching experiences in Balinese traditional villages 30 years ago and, further, listening to the sad complaints of the older Bali inhabitants about their destroyed life, Oswald's sentences must sound like pure scorn.

Evidently the planification of the Swiss central lowlands are at stake and their transformation into a kind of wellness-zone. Does Oswald suggest completely extravagant dimensions here? It seems so! "The characteristic features of the new urbanity - in the view of an architect - are: the increasing insignificance of naturally given conditions locally." With such sentences Oswald expresses his gigantomania to a frightening extent. We hear of "potentials for the transport of colossal masses and weights", he speaks of "differentiated distribution patterns for persons, goods and data,..." No problem are further "the availability of energy, performances, products; they are quickly and almost everywhere available." Supporting the new economy he evidently admires also "the complementarity or competition in the network of different connecting systems." Is it the director of a globally operating corporate group for electric energy who is speaking here?

I am sorry, but Oswald's confidence makes me think about a report recently shown in Swiss TV by a consumer organization (Kassensturz) about baby carrots which were considered in the framework of considerable profits for a certain wholsale business. Harvested in fairly large size many tons of the natural carrots were transported to the Netherlands. Reason for the transportation: the carrots were cut into small parts. With high technical equipment they were cut to produce three or four naturally looking baby carrots. Then they were transported to Genova in Italy for polishing and modelling. No doubt, they were now naturally looking baby carrots. Then they were transported to Poland for packing. The multi-ton-dimension of the affair and the publicity hammered into the heads of Swiss housewives regarding the small and sweet baby carrots made this absurd production higly profitable. New urbanity? Evidently!

There are "multifarious systems of connection" spread practically "all over the whole planet. We find them in regionally different density. And they form the basis for the globally emerging network society." At a closer look sentences of this type show an absolute belief into an unconditioned feasibility which - measured at the reality today - is rather anachronistic.

6. The picture showing condensed living in Nanterre

The most peculiar part of Oswalds contribution is his commentary regarding the picture 'Les HLM à Nanterre' painted by Jürg Kreienbühl. Though he himself concedes that it is "stirring feelings" he thinks that it invites the spectator to different "qualifications" according to his own convictions. Oswald then describes it in a completely distorted diction, inhibited in fact, like to prevent himself from uttering the truth.

Kreienbühls picture itself expresses quite clearly, where it stands. Not the slightest ambivalence. It shows a gigantic hulk of absolutely de-individualised modern mass architecture, a monstruous prefabricated building. With thousands of apartments it towers like a fortress over a refuse dump.
Glaring light falls on the inhumane facade under dismal-dark skies. Underneath the garbage dump stinking refuse swims, recognizably also empty gas cans, partially in a pond, which fills the lower half of the picture. The pylon in front of the perverse facade produces a satire on the last tree of this world. In short, a vehement manifesto against modernism, painted in the years of protesting youth, that is in the 1968.

Oswald distanciates himself by choosing philosophical rhetorics: "Light (energy), water, earth, raw materials, which originate from the surface of the earth" are presented visibly. "Not directly visible are air, soil- and floorspaces, labor for the establishment, organization and maintenance of the product in the framework of a specifically contemporary building culture."

One shakes one's head in disbelief and asks with much confusion: Have we gotten into a new Babylon, a place where no one understands the other? Or are there visually handicapped at work? Oswald: "Simultaneity and the juxtaposition of the different conditional forms of these resources" produced a "shocking effect" in the picture because one is used to perceive them spatially or temporally separated according to categories of cleanliness. The outstanding artistic qualities of the picture managed to show "the simultaneity of in fact unsupportable conditions ...in tolerable form." On this "backstage of the everyday routine of the new urbanity" Oswald seems to see also hopes for his 'New Switzerland', presumably above all with regard to the gigantic architectural dimensions of his project.


Those who after this mysterious picture turn the page, are immediately hitting on a new riddle. We are confronted with Oswald's credo. Title: "The vision of a long lasting reconstruction. Like in the confessional, the I-form! "I live the new urbanity and I stick to it. It makes it possible for me to enjoy the 'lightness of being' and it gives me the freedom of choice." A political chocolate candy as it can be found in recent books. He is also "proud" of "the vital manifold of urban forms of life" (where however the species of animals are disappearing, one would like to add ironically) and "on the high hygiene culture" (all these marvellous tooth brushes available today!). Also "on countless more things" he is proud. Beautiful! But, seen in the whole a rather narrow philosophy, which sets itself world-creatively in scene.

Unfortunately, also for Oswald himself the proud pleasure is not fully serene. There are also "echos" which can be heard and which likewise have their origins in the new urbanity (do they really?). Meant is the new article related to sustainability, since 1999 anchored in the Swiss federal constitution. The echo itself now calls for an answer regarding the question, whether the new urbanity altogether is laid out effectively. What follows now is a threat-scenario, which is put up paradoxically to justify Oswald's own interpretation of his 'new urbanity', respectively to support his "long lasting reconstruction". We want to examine this more exactly.

7. The urbanisation goes off logically

The urbanisation "goes off logically", Oswald says, prognoses can be indicated fairly precisely in the period of 1950-2050, both for Switzerland as well as for the world. Regarding "precisely": the United Nations population prognosis has quite different numbers! (s. <http://esa.un.org/unpp>)

Oswald continues: in 1950 about 2 million Swiss lived still rurally, besides 4 millions who lived in cities. For the year 2050 8,5 millions will live in cities it is calculated. Genuine rural farmers will be quasi non existent. Here too the United Nations has different numbers.

Globally, in the year 1950 of a world population of three billion 80% lived in rural conditions [ 2.4 billion], and 20% in urban environments [ 0.6 billion]. For the year 2050 it is estimated that 8-10 billion will live in cities, that is to say "persons...who will have taken European and American urban habits as their models of life." According to the United Nations ca. 8'919 billions are assumed for the world population of the year 2050. It is highly likely that not all these populations will enjoy a life style of the 'lightness of being' resp. according to Oswald's concept of 'new urbanity'.

Oswald evidently uses a picture, which takes the aggressive patterns of the New Economy and the American life style as its model. This concept takes the opening of Asia towards the world market as granted, above all including China, but also India. Particularly the latter is to a great extent based on rural traditions, the prognosis is thus highly problematic. Similarly, strong fluctuations as they were seen in Japan or Malaysia are not considered in this type of global prognosis.

8. Problems with globalisation

Considering this prognosis for world-developments, Oswald continues, there might be sturdy problems also for a small country like Switzerland. There are no clear concepts like zones, which lost their functions (fallows) and could therefore be organized in new ways. Nor are there ideas how following generations who maneouvred themselves into total urbanity "could satisfy their elementary claims for work, education, health, old-age problems, mobility."

In addition globalisation operating exclusively with economic principles endangers urban cultures which have grown over long periods of time. This is also valid for Switzerland. Globalisation produced new needs, created new polarizations of the poor and rich and thus undermines democratic structures.

However, Oswald touches such decisive problematic fields only marginally. They are part of a scenario, which mainly threatens his own "lightness of being", that is to say his American way of life in Switzerland.

9. Fossil energy reserves

Also, with regard to the limited fossil energy reserves "the life style of Europeans and North Americans can not be globalised because of the tremendous consumption of energy... ". Our period of the "lightness of being" (1850! -2050) is a time of "passage" [to where?]. The concept of sustainability can be put aside completely.

Here too we find Oswald boastfully trivializing the problems. He considers them completely marginal for his gigantic reconstruction plan.

10. Architecture and planning

Finally also the "design instruments" of architecture and planning were not without problems. They originated in the beginnings of the "new urbanity". Oswald considers them as outdated. Boundless growth and the belief in science and technology etc. are "outdated ideas." (!) That modernism had brought disadvantages, is, according to Oswald, "no broadly acknowledged asset." However, the trend streamers might revolve also.

From this follows one of the most alarming conclusions in Oswalds concept: "If the present urbanity in its present form is not able to survive, then it must be converted into a new form. "

The suggestion is gigantic. After all the shattering confessions of ecologists, economists and biosphere researchers, finally someone, who stands up, rolls up his sleeves and says: let us tackle the derailed developments ("transport possibilities for colossal masses and weights"!), let us collect the remnants and put the whole on a newly built track. Wonderful. We again hear the old positively encourageing words of the pioneer time. LeCorbusiers mighty maker-mentality is present again.

However, after the gigantic breakdown scandal of the whole modernist architecture we have become suspicious, in spite of the attempts of postmodernists to conceal by all means the failed experiments of modernism.

Oswald leaves no doubts that he clearly knows the "objectives" for "such a process and its product". Three "directives" are to be considered:

1) the biosphere should survive. Man drafts strategies "in the context of global developments.... ". This plan counts also as "a confession regarding the competence and responsibility of man focussed on the development of the biosphere."
2) The annihilation of conventional concepts of the protection of nature and landscape will be necessary, because they would be an obstacle for the planned large scale interventions. (!)
3) Sovereign regions should develop, which will have to outline their directives over several generations. Identity will be gained from the acknowledgement of these activities: in the foreground are the limitation of resources and a globally influenced exchange of knowledge.
That is to say, one needs a new basis for "large scale interventive actions". Trivializing it, Oswald calls this gigantic project which has the reconstruction of the whole country of Switzerland as its goal, a "clever experiment". It will be introduced into a democratic society, to keep up the vitality of the newly gained urbanity.

In fact the concept is a salvation program for western living standards facing the threat of scarcity of resources and collapse of the biosphere. The chocolate candy for the general democrat is Oswald's Swissopolis along the waterlines, his fallow politics, and his transformation of nature into art and some other things he proposes.

However: the final stage of the process is not known. Nevertheless new "quality goals" for new urban lives should be set up. They should be "regionally tailored" with "social groups of some million persons". They should clarify "wherefrom, on the long run, they take their water, their means of nutrition, their building- and handicraft materials, and their sources of energy". This should be done with the following condition: "the global capital of resources should not be reduced".

The new city dwellers should also think about how on the long run they want to "renew their experiental knowledge" whatever this may mean. As an architect Oswald then proposes that they should also foster "their creative abilities." They should create "their symbols" without interrupting neither their "relations with their origins" nor, at the same time, their openness "towards global communication."

All this needs no commentary. It is frightening in itself. But, at the same time it also creates pity. Someone plays God - with inadequate means.

11. Do you want the total urbanity?

As it was said, a "long lasting reconstruction process" should be initiated. Switzerland, the whole country is in the visor. "City-country Switzerland" is the core of this great vision.

Surprisingly the vision is not primarily focussed on aesthetic, scientific, technical or economic inventions. Oswald wants to "reinvent"..."the polis". But, why the term polis is used, remains mysterious. Because it sounds better for the laic?

Ultimately, nevertheless, the main point is "design"! "That means to conceive ideas about the qualities of the goal, on which - as a basis - we can reconstruct the city." Well, do we not have just that for about fifty years continuouly behind us? This constant pulling down of houses, the dust clouds after the dynamite, the crashes of the 'excavator tooth', the rationalistic change of the long accustomed daily environment? Being expelled also, being forced to find a new place and to restructure the new environment. More economically, the risk of spending more, of being forced to need an automobile which promises freedom of mobility, but then produces illimited troubles and bother: with calamities of car parking, tailbacks, accidents and penitences. What were the exemplary results, on which one could be proud? The Limattal at the edges of Zurich? The endless 'urban sprawl'? Also elsewhere, the results of the modern drawing-table-designer and mastermind behind the scenes: a gigantic mess! Total symbolic decay! Are there not, as a total contrast, the historic centers, the old cities with their historic edifices providing identity? Are they not the ones that are still keeping us mentally alive?

Modernism, the so called 'new urbanism' , has never reached what was self evident for all premodern cities: spiritual density, culture, aesthetic home, cultural centricity. Modernism was always merely attributive, patch work, marginal addition. There is no really attractive modern city today.

Would not this be the real problem? How we could animate the mechanistisc structures culturally again? Oswald never speaks of this. On the contrary, he promises us far more surfaces covered with his banalisations. Las Vegas gigantic. Florida: the city at the lake. Los Angeles, twenty lanes of flowing "traffic rivers"? After the failure of the German reconstruction do we have to repeat this transatlantic vacuum of history, this cultural desert now for a second time?

A terribly small scaled vision, in fact, really conventional, focussed on consumerism and commodities and bodily wellness. Its ultimate ideal is the fully industrialised "lightness of being" (this or that tooth-brush etc.). The immense wealth of cultures developed by man is blocked out apriori by an absolute blindness for culture. Switzerland as New Florida, New Las Vegas, New Bay Area? Is this the coming Swiss future? Swiss avenir, mir graut vor dir (Swiss future, I am terrified of you).

However let us see what Oswald submits us further.

In "transdisciplinary work" with Peter Baccini, he says, he has developed the model of the "network city ". It is a "methodical instrument" which resulted from discussions about aspects of the new urbanity "in our country".

There are three starting points "which I propose for the discussion regarding the goals of reconstruction in the city country Switzerland". It is interesting to consider Oswald's relation to the terms used. He always leaves us in doubt regarding what is plan only, what is project or result. Though Oswald is only talking about the goals of his reconstruction project, we find ourselves already in the utopian "City country Switzerland"! The reader is implicitly involved, baited. Actually the matter is already half real: Arteplage [the Swiss national exhibition in the year 2002]. It therefore needs only a small planning shove and 'Switzerland is Florida', Switzerland is 'California Bay Area' etc.. The ear of long memories says: Do you want the total urbanity? Yeeeeaaaaahhhh! [this time American style].


12. A pinch of cultural mysticism

The concept got its inspiration basically from the national exhibitions in Switzerland especially the one of 1939 in Zurich (so called 'Landi') and the recent Expo.02 in the lakeland district of western Switzerland (Biel, Neuchatel, Yverdon). The exhibition of 1939, Oswald says, acted as a prototype or model for the colonisation of the so called 'gold-coast', the lower part of the lake of Zurich with dense communities. The reality has followed this model throughout the lake areas of Switzerland.

A second aspect: urbansation is always colonisation, particularly along "watercourses and waterbasins". The Swiss central lands can be taken as a model for such processes. The Expo.02 would have an exemplary meaning in the sense that both "the separating and the relating characteristics of water are used and designed in the planning process."

However, whether one listened to this type of water mysticism along the stretches of water at the southern foots of the Jura in the "centre of the Helvetic lands controlled by the Romans" is rather doubtful. Very likely the water stretches would have had quite another meaning, particularly the lakes of the neolithic and metal ages with their settlements of pile dwellings. Not so much mystic! They were rather the economical basis for subsistence. In many regions, like in numerous other cultures - before there were "car-and railroad rivers" - the stretches of water were used as means of transportation and communication. Besides their function as supplier of drinking water, this was probably the main reason why settlements of prehistorical and early historical times were closely related to river systems.

Downright painful are then sentences like: "The common culture in the city country Switzerland has emerged at the water, has differentiated itself at the water and was renewed at the water repeatedly."

Not less painful is the following mix of water- and rock mysticism. Evidently the author is not conscious, that such symbolisms are basically mental human traditions projected on the environment. Oswald takes them as nature-immanent conditions of mystical character and thus constructs a planning concept which may impress 'New Age' students, maybe, but which is absolutely illegitimate in the scientific sense.

However, attention! Suddenly the mystical water- and rock-philosophy overturns into a gigantic geographical dimension. Switzerland in its totality is described as river-system.

Without doubt the waterways were an important system of prototypical movement, of flow, of transport, of communication when there were neither trains with railroads nor cars and freeways. It can be observed today quite well in Bangkok and its surroundings. It was also practiced for instance in the rice producing zones of Japan (Biwako-region). A quite complex system of rice boats functioned as transport system for rice and other market-relevant products. In naturally differentiated river-systems of South America (Brazil) rivers and tributaries are the only communication system still today among traditionally living populations.

But: in our modern times, to return to this primordial type of paddling is, maybe, not the thing that will make everybody totally happy!

The central lands of Switzerland correspond to the natural draining area of the Aare river. "This area is the primary scene of the Polis in the city country Switzerland." Some implications of water resp. of the hydraulic power on the Swiss settlement-history and on the economic history are mentioned (mills, world-famous textile- and chemistry industry, power plants) . They have degenerated mostly to "non-places." The capacity of water to produce identity and legends has disappeared in these cases. "Against such a loss of memory I fight and therefore plead for the polis bordering the water. "

One must wonder here very earnestly, whether a mystically founded manifesto of this type with its subjective arguments can support a reconstruction plan for the whole country of Switzerland or for a population of 8,5 millions persons.

13. Politics under the table

The critical attitude towards the project becomes even stronger if we become aware, that the 'Swiss water Megalopolis' implies also sturdy changes of the political structure. In the course of the history of Switzerland, Oswald reports, disputes about territories and resources cut up the "city-country Switzerland into an immense number of communal territories...and this is politically effective until today." The country has been deprived of its "original width of its horizons." (!)

Not everybody will agree with this political ulterior motive of Oswald. Is this networked water metropolis, which basically stands here for the reconstruction of the entire country of Switzerland, does it imply also an occasion welcomed by many for new politically centralistic movements? "The connecting systems of the new urbanity make many of these historically established boundaries obsolete." Oswald leaves no doubts. The historically developed, political small scale structure of the communities should disappear. "The present density of the territorial highnesses is much too high. It is not promising a sucessful solution for the imminent tasks."

Succinct sentences like the following should give the matter weight: "This was recognized and the consequences from it were taken. It implyies that, in view of the far open horizon towards the future,
the drafts for this long lasting reconstruction process must include enlarged dimensions, not only timewise but also in regard to territoriality."

In fact, basically the matter runs towards some sort of general Swiss hydraulic power-Inc..
Water and tectonic relief should be renewed and used as "generators of urban form", whatever this may mean. In this way "the territory of the polis could be divided more efficiently and prepared accordingly for the tasks of sustainable development more efficiently. " Evidently Oswald speaks like if he were the unique owner of the Switzer's land!

As it is shown here with the term 'generator', Oswald, throughout his text, uses technical concepts basically suggesting clear physical or otherwise technical relationships. In fact, however, they appear in completely untenable relations as metaphorical projections. One should consider critically also, that his contribution outlining such a huge project, gets along with practically no references.

The "newly arranged, political spheres of influence" could be derived therefore "from the figures, which are drawn by the water. And they could be fashioned "in a way, that they reflect themselves in the landscape as artistically formed tracks of enduring urbanity." It is clear, model of the vision are, as Oswald indicates, the national exhibitions with their - due to densely inhabited Switzerland - quasi inevitable trend towards natural water zones, using to a certain extent the potential to produce artificial embankments and formations in the water itself. This is an experimental relationship, which could be seen positively in architecture, which usually inserts humans as some sort of guineapigs in realiter experiments.

However the Expo 39 as well as Expo.02 were both not related to housing, they were national exhibitions. As experimental prototype for housing experiments they are thus not suitable.

Further, the objectives in Oswalds program are rather frightening. He wants "the small delicate country to return to its originally large scale." Oswald suggests "to give it back its identifiable form and coherence." To make it a huge desert? If I am not mistaken myself Swiss tourism just lives of these small "delicate" chambers, for instance of the Alps and their numerous small side valleys. The "large scale identifiable form" which "we"[ who?] "are increasingly missing today" is pure fiction. Who would like to change landscapes with the Netherlands? It is just the density of spatial diversity, which charms so many regarding the landscapes of Switzerland. Sahara.ch? No thanks!

The second item too, which wants "to strengthen....integration capacity transgressing the borders...", is not convincing. In addition the components are linguistically inaccessible. Who are the minorities characteristic of the city country? Who will be exchanged? Are humans involved?

14. The urban fallow politics - more in the detail

The term fallow is used in very distorting ways. In a cyclical agrarian society it implies the cyclical non-use of exhausted floors for the purpose of regeneration. It makes sense in a society, which has no linear time consciousness. Now, if this old concept is projected on the consideration of refuse of the fast technical developments and its reinterpretation as part of new concepts, then the whole thing is more closely related to 'garbage disposal' (or recycling) than to fallow. One would have to concede, that the fast development of the "lightness of being" increasingly produces refuse. Or, the other way round, there is an interest in this type of 'refuse'. But this is concealed with the word fallow which suggests some value. It seems that one wants to prepare the population for accepting new ways of "monitoring" various types of land use and related economic conditions.

In other words, Oswald presents a new area plan. The key sentence is the following: "Among existing urban fallows a closer view reveals the tremendous quantity and partially the excellent technical and functional quality of the locations of urban fallow areas."

It is clear, if one finds new lucrative functions for them, a considerable new value may emerge with very low land costs. Casino in the horse stable, not at all off limits today. The LasVegas model is running. All potentials must be checked in this new game of 'fun for all'. Even "plants, installations and facilities of the second half of the 20th century and areas of agriculture and forestry" are waiting today for "new tasks."

Remarkable is also the fact, that Oswald occasionally twists the causal connection. The small scale of land utilization in former times had been characteristic for a thrifty resource economy. Which is only very conditionally valid. Essentially causal for its economy were the inheritance laws and social control in the rural village system. The transformation into larger scales is a product of the intrusion of the centralistic agrarian planning program of the ETHZ in the 60ies of the last century. These were definitely not vague "economic transitions of urban culture". That this centralistic planning activity had devastating consequences, is shown clearly by the investigation of an ethnologist (Elisabeth Weingarten 1980). The ETH-planners had no knowledge of the local "culture" in the social or traditional sense. The traditional connections and communications were completely destroyed through the establishment of industrialised working routines. Further, Oswald's remark, which maintains that small scale conditions have survived, dense land utilization has disappeared, and the planned economy of resources was not reached, is again not valid. Close to a kind of 'in vitro experiment' the traditionally managed farms were rigidly mechanized by centralistic planning institutions and had finally - because working intensity decreased - to be supported by tremendous subsidies. The facts make Oswald's assertion a sheer mockery.

In the whole it can be seen quickly, that the principle of the urban fallow borrowed from medieval farming traditions is a very badly and quite questionably adapted concept which should not be misused in propagating it as 'thrifty economy of resources'.


15. Highway bridges and flowerbeds, monuments and miniatures:
large and small works of art in the city landscape

Deprived of their historic meaning, thus reduced on their contrasting sizes, 'monuments' and' miniatures', both concepts are not very happy.

To discover that small things and large objects in the landscape can mutually create tensions, one does not need the Expo of the Switzerland. It is a current motive in European painting. But, what Oswald enumerates in his frames focussed on his worldview, is not very encouraging for most art lovers. The "meliorated valley floors of the Linth plain" or that "area of the Jura water correction", further the "dam walls, power plants, electricity installations, above all the railroad and freeway networks....."

Oswald understands the relationship of "monument and miniature" only as "differences in scale". The size of a work is not to be confused with its importance as work of art (!). Among these large works of art there are "miniatures, which incorporate valid symbols." What they are is not given. It seems that only their dimension is in question. But there is suddenly a strange word, which controls the relationship between the small work of art and the larger work of art and adds something important to the whole arrangement: "surplus value "! Wow! "This justifies, " Oswald says, "in my opinion, that such a work,....., is valued as monument."

This principle has been used since the 80ies of the last century, Oswald goes on, in the context of the protection of monuments of the historic parts of cities, towns and villages. The example ultimately shows us the devastated art relationship architects even on the higher educational level confront the phenomenon, that old cities survived into our time. Maximum and minimum can work together. Thats it!

16. Knowledge factories and free time landscapes

Oswald asks the following. "Which symbols with similarly monumental aura can we use to embody the urbanity in the 21st century? It is a prophetic question and naturally the prophet knows the answer.

There are "knowledge factories" and "leisure time landscapes". First, we must note that Oswald's answers do not exactly produce concepts, which one expects by the term symbol. On the other hand it is also true, that the abuse of this word is a current modern phenomenon.

In any case the answer illustrates the paths in which Oswald thinks, the values he upholds etc.. Knowlege is a product for him, related to assembly lines, brainstorm etc.. Already that is basically interesting, even though not new. For most young people today - accept it or not - this is so. They live in certain milieus, where this type of reasoning becomes mandatory, if they want to stay at the place concerned. They have to prove their abilities to handle these instruments. This explains one line of Oswald's contribution.

"Places for active leisure" belong into this set, almost as antipole. He considers them as "allied parts of a monumentally laid out 'work of art for the whole'..." Frankly, in spite of the fact that the definition is given by an architect, which implies that there must be an empirical component in his dictions, it is tremendously difficult, to construct a clear picture with these nebulous sentences. Is it a way to hide?


17. Work of art for the whole

Formula for the new city-country Switzerland as urban landscape: Knowledge factories + free time landscapes = work of art for the whole. Under the title "Monuments in the 21st century" a washed out graphic presentation gives a chameleonskin-like map of dots, in which round forms indicate "knowledge factories", rhomboid forms show "knowledge propagators" and snowstars stand for "free time landscapes".

What can be understood with this map is fairly modest. The leisuretime-monuments are in regions of frequent sunshine, that is to say, in the area of the river Aare, in regions situated higher than 900 meters above sea level, whereas the "monuments" called "knowledge factories" and "knowledge propagators" are grouped predominantly in and around the cities, reaching from the lake of Geneva to the lake of Constance. In the abundant legend related to this map we also receive new informations about what Oswald means with his terms. Related to the "knowledge factories" are "schools of all kinds, workshops for research and design, university clinics, studios for media, theaters, museums, shopping centers." We feel relieved. With theaters and museums something like urban culture reappears. But on the other hand, the conception of the "leisure time landscapes" creates problems. School- and sport-areas are as a rule immediately near houses, that is to say associated to this or that "knowledge factory ". The allotments too will not be searched for in the area situated 900 meters above sea level among the luminous asterisks. Nevertheless they belong to the sunny "leisure time landscapes". Small airports too and boat harbors are planned mostly in the mist, close to the residential areas. A point to be glad about is the fact that "ruins" are also found in the area of the "leisure time landscapes"!

Emerged since the 50ies of the last century, these "institutions" were conventionally perceived in isolated units. However, they could be conceived in imaginary ways
as miniatures of a larger installation to be realized in the 21st century as the "city country of Switzerland". "The graphic representation shows 1) the large number the "three miniature types" and 2) that the miniature type "knowledge factories " is located "at selected locations" and lies "parallel to the footline of the Jura-mountainridge in almost equal distances ". 3) Free time landscapes exist with and without mist. The aggregates of the free time landscapes can be mutually connected reticularly. This network would supersede others and penetrate "the city country Switzerland analogously to the form of the water." With some evident reasons Oswald talks here only about his structures, not of the benefit, which they should bring.The network of the free time landscapes would also be connected to the "knowledge factories". It should be perceived as" functionally and aesthetically necessary completion of the public networks for the fast currents of persons and goods". The "existing or new miniatures" can in this way be fashioned in artistic and elevated ways "as an artful network". In this way "coherence in the city country Switzerland and regionally differentiated identity" shall be created.

Apart from the awful terminology ("knowledge factory"!), this could be discussed as a clumsy and weird work of a first semester studend. But as a serious planning project for the whole of Switzerland suggested by an institute of university level?

18. The matter is not at all so crazy

However, the matter is not at all as crazy as it seems. Some of the elements of the proposed arrangement exist since quite some time. One must merely complete the miniatures to form that "work of art for the whole", looking forward towards the future etc..

A "picture emerges " Oswald says, "of a vital netting of mosses, petals, metal colossuses, petrifications, water plays, glasses, dust grains, tracks, view breaks, garlands," etc.. It is fairly difficult to get a clear idea from this heterogeneous conglomerate!

Science factories and free time landscapes would in such contexts "radiate their individual character." One of the next sentences mentions "the vital monuments of ancient city." There is only one "singular park and garden complex."

These sentences remember me of a ceremony in a temple in Bangkok. The visitors buy thin foils of real gold which they use in the inner part of the sanctuary to guild the statue of the city deity. However, what is given there by the statue, the form, is missing in the case of Oswald. The gold which implies value, ends up as scraps without any meaningful connection.

Finally the last sentence here:" The goal of the monuments in the 21st century is .. to provide the present aesthetically poor pattern of urban settlement ... with the symbolilcally moving substance and expression, using artfully concise force."

If nothing works anymore it is said with the hammer. Where does the "artfully concise force" come from?

Nota bene, the "frequently faceless life rythms of everyday life" are the product of modern and postmodern architecture, of a mistaken concept of space and a mistaken aesthetics produced by technical rationalism. But architecture does not want to know this. New visions should cover up the mistakes. New efforts, new projects. However, the ignorance remains and enlarges the existing deserts to new, still larger deserts. The process can be overcome only through new horizons and new knowledge. Indeed, we need much more for this than just "knowledge factories"!

It is evident, Oswald's contribution to this book is full of an incredible pretentiousness. Sometimes the sentences are formulated absurdly to such an extent, that one would like to classify them as 'Art Brut'. The matter altogether unquestionably goes in this direction.

19. Reality and imagination in contradiction

Now, characteristically, Oswald wonders himself: "Do the proposed starting points represent a valid utopia here? Of course, implied is: "valid". In quibbling ways he first denies his question (u-topia as 'non-place', as unreal). The points are already a reality, each has 1) "an exactly identifiable context " and 2) each of them refers "to particular backgrounds of the common history of civilization (water etc.), therefore it is not "abstract" and "spoken into the void".

What a boastful declaration! Switzerland a water city! Recycling of land by "surface monitoring"! The cooperation of monuments and miniatures? It is evident, something has run out of order here. Oswald says it himself: "Certainly, one can wonder with some justification, whether drafts of this type as products of mere imagination are contradicting with reality, because they are anachronistic."

It is not a problem of time! It is the topic, which is completely wrong. In addition, the claims expressed are excessive, the form is mistaken.

"Each time has its conditions." It may be a question of duration, "until the knowledge will become standard, that the present urban forms of life are technical products to a great extent, less outcomes of natural reproduction."

Everyone who reflects the contents of this sentence will feel the cold shudders in his back! Oswald puts himself in pose as prophetic visionary and cites the genetic programs, which in his sense will guarantee the near future of his 'lightness of being'.

The "artificial products of the new urbanity" request a new formulation of the elementary themes like ... water, fallows and monuments." The "answers on the urban problems of the present" can hardly be designed with the conventional instruments or forms." This is because they have created the problems.

20. Imagination above all

What we need today is imagination Oswald thinks. Only imagination can show us "what, - on the basis of the present urban reality - can be created for the future "and how this reality can be changed." Such imagination can only grow in contradiction with reality. Key term: "Design".

By the way: Oswald has - as a teacher on the university level - a rather naive idea about reality. It is evidently limited on his own. That - in the human side by side a complex history may create many and very different realities seems to be out of his reach.

Ultimately we now learn also of Oswalds design theory. "Drafting can be described as subdividing. "It is an attempt, to distinguish "imaginarily perceived pictures." From the pictures representing a remembered or invented reality those should be distilled or filtered, which can produce a "real possibility." One remains "entangeled in the process of subdividing between reality and imagination....."

Draft and imagination. With this, two key terms are stated, which may explain the fictional character of Oswald's watercity-Switzerland-plan. Among architects there still exists a prevailing post-medieval myth of the profanised creator genius. This myth fools them, indicating that problems can be solved with imagination today. Man and his basic needs are presupposed. Culture? Everybody knows what culture is. The Greeks? Delivered some ideas. Polis for example. The Romans? Known quite well. Space? No problem. We work with it.

In short, the suspicion is confirmed: architecture and planning have not made any progress in the last 30 or 40 years. One still blindly trusts the long gone pioneer-aura when modern architects in closed circles surrounded themselves with admirers and students and thus managed to misdesign considerable parts of the world of today into a desastrous mixture of total mobility and increasing placelessness. At the same time the victims themselves were condemned to come up for the processes autocratically imposed to them by the pseudotheology of a rationally misconceived architectural aestheticism.

Assumed Oswald's imaginations would have a chance, the largest part of the millions of humans affected in the city-country Switzerland could fall into troubles over decades, to bring up the billions, which will be needed for such a project (despite the fallows inserted in the "clever experiment").


We have cited Oswalds work in all details, discussed it, criticized it. Our papeer grew into a considerable length. But this is the result of a line to line surprise, that such a text is possible today. A text filled with incredibly thin and twisted arguments, a text which wants to convince us of the need to rearrange the spatial conditions of a whole country of the size and tectonic conditions of Switzerland.

In a highly problematic postmodern architecture-and planning situation Oswald defends his weird visions. He operates with very vague ideas and a very unclear spatial disposition, which is functionally problematic, exaggerated in regard to planned dimensions. Neither structurally nor in regard to its costs it is sufficiently founded. Very likely future planning in Switzerland will proceed in completely different ways.

However, the real problem is space. Modern architecture and planning have brought an ill-fated tension into our cities and landscapes. This tension builds up itself essentially and fundamentally between the homogeneous space concept borrowed from physics and astronomy and the culturally inherited humane organisation of space as it is described by O. F. Bollnow in his anthropology of space (Bollnow 1963). With the drastic adherence to modern technology and industrial production, architecture and planning have also acquired the new type of space conception, as it was developed by astronomy and research into universal space between Copernic and Newton.

The total disregard for the anthropological concept of space has imposed enormous performances to modern humans in regard to adjustment. Like in physics humans are considered as particles in homogneous space. Using conveyor bands, humans can be arbitrarily transported in space from one place to any other place. According to expenses and yield and other planning conditions they will be placed somewhere into a housing system, either one- or multilevelled.

Oswald projects this homogeneous space concept arbitrarily on basically traditional forms like house, settlement, city etc., ultimately on a higher level on his vision of the city-countryside-polis.

The rural space, once source of rural culture, is reduced - as Oswald himself says - to "topological patterns". Rural space is annihilated as cultural space. It is reduced to an a-cultural leisure-field of the city: sport, recreation, fun! What was rural 'homeland' before, becomes an accumulation of 'sub-urban' sport fields. Do you want the totally industrialized urbanity? Through the effects of modernism the world widely developed culturally into a desert, into a kind of moonscape. Symbol decay. Homogeneity. There are no places anymore, where quiet growing is possible.

Impressive in the negative sense is Oswald's relationship to water. It is representative in the sense of a model. That one starts to search for identity in the human relation to water, is characteristic for the present situation. Architecture, which was over long times responsible for this function, has been 'liquified', semantically degenerated and cognitively destructured to such an extent, that the idea comes up now to consider water for its power to create identity! Oswalds Imagination! "Rolling on the floor laughing", writes one of my best friends in the Internet in such cases.

Everyone knows: modern and post modern architecture have run into strong problems. But nobody wants to concede that. The divine architecture blocks any doubts. Along with their highpriests, the art historians, it forms a kind of ideocratic state within a state, as Oswald's writings clearly show. Architecture disposes of a powerful army, the construction industry, to which it procures work, and which collaborates jointly also in regard to the pressure on public institutions regarding the development of public undertakings. However, Switzerland as air-conditioned Las Vegas-wellness-swimmingpool? It would be dificult to imagine a more embarrassing 'vision'. It is a vision of an absolute mental void.

Perhaps we also have taken too much trouble. Oswald in fact has a quite different goal. Within the narrow meshes of the fixed system of the communities and their planning commissions - with some imagination - he wants to create a new forum, from which a new institution can reevaluate development areas on a national level. New edifices would become necessary. New profits would be possible, etc.. Products are involved. Is Oswald a man of the New Economy?

However, beyond such staged 'visions': what we need in a humanely oriented democracy, is the following: A research institution operating over years and decades, which explores with anthropological methods the tremendous problems of architecture, the modern way of living, the cultural needs of the modern population, the regional planning with most modern methods and thereby also the human condition in the framework of the history of civilization in the deepest and most inclusive sense.

Human beings are not blank laboratory animals, which can be locked in any type of design-cage. Man today has a long history of civilization behind himself. The meaning of this history is not merely to fill books with knowledge. It is a deep-rooted history of the physically lived, of spatial, formal and social orders, which have left their insoluble structures in the human brain as well as their clear traces on the human body. Let us have a look at the following plate which shows the 12 most important hypotheses of architectural anthropology:

The 12 anthropological orders of architecture

I - That the human being with eyes and hands is able to make precise works, has to do with architecture.
II - That the human being is walking upright, has to do with architecture.
III - That the human being is capable to orient himself in complex conditions of space, has to do with architecture.
IV - That the human being perceives objects, thinks, communicates in metaphors, has to do with architecture.
V - That the human being is a domesticated being, has to do with architecture.
VI - That the human being lives sociably in settlements, has to do with architecture.
VII - That the human being uses signs and symbols and that he writes and reads, has to do with architecture.
VIII - That the human being produces art, and communicates through art and thus feels happy, has to do with architecture.
IX - That the human being has developed political forms of a peaceful side by side, has to do with architecture.
X - That the human being wants to understand his origins and the meaning of his life, has to do with architecture.
XI - That the human being has developed cities, has to do with architecture.
XII - That the human being lives in empires or nations and accepts their central power, has to do with architecture.

Human beings need these orders to be able to cope with the world. Unfortunately, the architect knows very little about all this. Under the pretext of architecture as art and based on the pseudotheological myth of the "post-medieval profaned world-creator-genius" still valid in architecture today, he puts us his high-handed subjective imaginations into our daily used vital environment. Often these "creations" soon reveal as problematic non-sense-orders and make us - often imperceptibly - prisoners of alien environments. Compared with the deep-rooted human traditions humans might become inhumane.

At the beginning we said that - similarly like medecine - architecture urgently needs institutions exclusively devoted to scientific research.That is to say, research which operates beyond the practical needs of the domain, and which researches the relation of architecture and the human condition in its deepest and widest sense with scientific methods presenting its results to the general public to gain generally accepted standards. It is the only meaningful means to free architecture from its pseudo-theological post-medieval myth still valid in our modern and post modern architectural production.



1) The theoretical arguments supporting these 12 anthropological orders of architecture can be found on the CD named "IMPLOSION" under 'Research Series Online' or in the Internet under the following URL: <http://home.worldcom.ch/~negenter>