'Swissness Applied,' an exhibition by Architecture Office, opens at Yale Architecture Gallery

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'Swissness Applied,' an exhibition by Architecture Office, opens at Yale Architecture Gallery
Installation view.

NEW HAVEN, CONN.- Swissness Applied ​ is a traveling exhibition by Swiss​-born architect Nicole McIntosh, co​founder of ​Architecture Office​. The third iteration of the exhibition is on view at ​Yale Architecture Gallery​ ​in New Haven, Connecticut until February 15, 2020. The design for ​Swissness Applied was recently lauded as an honoree by Interior Design Magazine in the exhibition design category for the 2019 Best of Year Awards. The exhibition was initially presented at SARUP Gallery at the University of Wisconsin, ​Milwaukee School of Architecture & Urban Planning from April 12 - May 3, 2019, and later exhibited at Kunsthaus Glarus Güterschuppen in Switzerland from September 21 - November 10, 2019.

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. The project contributes to the ongoing discussion on the role of imagery and appropriation in architecture, urban design and planning.

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 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.

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 facades, 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. For this reason, New Glarus is a clear example of the generative form of urban mutation that such “theme” towns can produce.

The exhibition ​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 at Yale consists of 42 architectural models in total; 24 of the models in the show document actual buildings evincing Swiss characteristics in New Glarus, and are accompanied by a drawing series. Of these 24, 10 are monochromatic wooden models that represent the buildings and local construction techniques in New Glarus (subtitled ​Tell No Cabbage ​ ), and 14 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 18 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, designed by Architecture Office, remix building elements of Swiss architecture using Swiss​-themed Faller model kits, to exaggerate or re​interpret the same architectural details to produce new associations, and further distill the process of “Swissifying."

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