Max Dudler revives an icon of the “Neues Bauen” architectural style in Zurich.
Built in 1929 by the Bräm brothers, the Sihlpost is an historic landmark and considered a Swiss icon of “Neues Bauen” architecture that marked Zurich’s path towards Modernity. Novel at the time, the modern reinforced concrete structure with its mushroom slab ceilings was designed by the engineering office of Robert Maillart. Prominently located on the banks of the Sihl River, the historical building is characterised by its 123-metre long façade, 800 windows, and its distinctive tower, resulting in a striking presence in the urban landscape. During its restoration, carried out in accordance with heritage preservation regulations by Max Dudler, the interior spaces were renovated and new access routes created. The ground floor now accommodates gastronomy and commercial facilities. With its fresh face, the Sihlpost constitutes a fitting prelude to the new urban development, Stadtquartier Europaallee.
Since the 1930s, the Sihlpost has served as Zurich’s main post office building, also housing the offices of the Swiss Bundesbahn. With its Neues Bauen style, it served as a striking contrast to the palatial buildings of the Fraumünster Post. Urban planning developments around the Europaallee have shifted the historic building into a central position in an area of inner-city densification. Thanks to its distinctive tower, it now serves as an architectural landmark for the new quarter, while also connecting the rich traditional style of the Bahnhofstrasse quarter with the new Europaallee.
In cooperation with Zurich’s historical preservation association, a set of guidelines was created to guide the historic building’s renovation process. The original use of the ground floor’s central area as Zurich’s main post office could be preserved. Restaurants and cafes (by Bindella and Rolf Hiltl) on the gable ends of the building and new commercial spaces were added. The characteristic longer façade along Kasernenstrasse has kept its original appearance, defined by the projecting wrought iron grilles and the large wood-framed windows behind. On the gable ends the grilles have been replaced by open fenestration to accommodate new restaurant usage. Behind the restored storefront windows, an interior façade with metal window frames was also added to improve the building’s thermal and acoustic insulation. Subtle colour adjustments result in a façade that successfully links tradition and modernity. The same is demonstrated by the characteristic clock tower, whose new darker hue offsets the original yellow lettering to its best advantage.
The interior spaces have been completely renovated. To cope with increased visitor numbers, interior access has been provided via two new elevators behind the stairwells. Thanks to the removal of the existing elevators in the centre of these spaces, the stairwells attain a striking spatial focus. The present state now affords a vertical view that extends through all floors.
The main entrance from Kasernenstrasse has been expanded through additional entrances on the ground floor; those leading from the rear elevated Sihlpostgasse also provide students at the KV Zürich Business School a separate entrance directly into the 1st floor. The new entrances were constructed as exposed concrete structures. The projecting roof references the pre-existing main entrances in its volume while subordinating to the building’s existing structural hierarchy. Constructed in exposed concrete, it echoes the pre-existing materiality of the ground floor, while remaining distinct (thanks to its dark colour scheme and smooth surfaces) and acts as a link between the old and new.
The renovation of the Sihlpost constitutes the completion of Max Dudler’s work for the new urban quarter Europaallee. On the site, directly adjacent to the Sihlpost, Max Dudler designed the building complex for the Pädagogische Hochschule Zürich (2012), and in cooperation with David Chipperfield Architects and Gigon/Guyer four buildings for the UBS bank AG (2013).