While front and rear side of the SIA building had a distinct hierarchy before the renovation work, Romero and Schaefle’s design now creates a floating body that dissolves the front and back, allowing the cityscape to pervade and highlighting the surrounding context. The elevation of the building creates a public space for movement and recreation that allows a part of the history of the Zurich city and landscape to be perceived, by incorporating views of the Schanzengraben and the old botanical garden.
Central design themes for the exterior space are entrance and movement in space. A purposeful, brisk pace through the network of the city slows to become a brief pause when entering the courtyard: a stroll through an urban garden landscape, where the openness of the city meets the intimacy of the garden. The courtyard design provides a visual change from more familiar impressions, as its elements reinterpret and combine elements from the street and the original garden.
The continuous flooring is not only an independent design element; it also gives an overall sense of space to the area. As an allusion to the manhole covers that can be seen on the streets, the homogenous tarmac has been broken up with lighter sandblasted circles. An urban carpet with a regular pattern has thus been created.
Five freely positioned amorphous concrete elements add structure to the space without interfering with visual relationships. Reminiscent of gigantic pebbles taken from a riverbed, their indentations offer a space for water, soil and plants. The first element, a fountain, functions as a kind of entrée between the passage underneath the building and the courtyard. Four more elements structure the space in its depth. The planting of various seldom-used species of maple aims to preserve something of the original restaurant garden. Simultaneously, it is a reference to the collection of the nearby botanical garden.
Through the course of the seasons, the spectrum of the various species can be recognised: in winter, the image is defined by barks that are scaled or marked with lines and the range of tree forms. Blossoms and the shapes of the leaves provide visual variety in the beginning of the year and summer. The lucid autumn colours of the various maple species lend the courtyard an accent of colour, before the leaves fall.