Swissness Applied is a traveling exhibition by Swiss-born architect Nicole McIntosh, co-founder of Architecture Office. The inaugural exhibition is currently on view at SARUP Gallery at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture & Urban Planning through May 3, and will then travel to Kunsthaus Glarus, Switzerland from September 20 to November 21, 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 cultural 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 culturally reappropriated 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 façades, eventually resulting in a town comprised largely of traditional Swiss architectural details.
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 consists of 56 architectural models in total; 36 of the models in the show document actual buildings evincing Swiss characteristics in New Glarus, and are accompanied by a photo series. Of these 36, 18 are monochromatic wooden models that represent the buildings and local construction techniques in New Glarus (subtitled Tell No Cabbage), and 18 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 20 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."
Photography: Brian Griffin