Mühlehalde Terrace Housing
Metron, (Hans Scherer, Strickler & Weber) | Umiken, Switzerland | 1963-71
Image of Mühlehalde...
Typical cluster of 3 houses, marking the location of the elevator stops and stairs.

ProjectMühlehalde Terrace Housing
ArchitectMetron, (Hans Scherer, Strickler & Weber)
AddressNorth of Baslerstrasse/Riniker Strasse along the river
Building TypeTerrace
Number of Dwellings30-50
Date Built1963-71
Dwelling Typesflats & maisonettes
No. Floors15
Section Typeflats and some maisonettes
Exterior Finish
concrete, wood, wood windows
Construction TypeR-C, walls, slab
Ancillary Servicesparking, elevators

This is one of the most elaborate and beautiful of the Swiss terrace housing designs of the 1950's and 60's. Built in several phases as an almost continuous building project between 1959 and 1971, this remarkable hillside of houses faces south looking across the Aare River. Begun by Team 2000, the early dwellings are principally the results of the genius of Hans Scherer. These 30 houses are perhaps the best example of the kind of hillside housing for which the Swiss have developed a reputation for design excellence in the past half century following a national strategy of building housing on steep hillsides not suitable for agriculture. The houses at Umiken evolved during the course of several stages of design, however, the same idea of ell-shaped houses opening to wide, south-facing terraces is common to each stage of construction.

The parallel rows of 3 bedroom, ell-shaped patio houses are organized on each side of a central stair and funicular connecting a public entrance and parking at the bottom of the hill with the dwellings at the top of the hill. Derived from an earlier prototype of a similar hillside housing project by Stucky and Meuli at Zug in 1960, these dwellings have evolved to a generous and spatially more interesting model. A taller living room element has been added to the basic Zug "ell" type, a concept made possible where the cubic volume of the living room clears the terrace of the dwelling above. This allows a high window on the otherwise blank south wall, a corner fireplace and chimney, while still allowing the room to open to the shared terrace. Thus, the cubic living room volumes define the space of the public stairway and create entrance terraces and porches along the stair. The inclined elevator stops at every 3rd level where there is a lobby in a two level structure that has a maisonette tucked under the terraced house above that has high windows for privacy along the horizontal walkway and a small terrace above.

The houses include several versions of a three-bedroom type, organized with baths, storage and services and an interior corridor located in a zone along the rear retaining wall while the bedrooms have doors to the terrace. The kitchen, dining, and living areas occupy the corner of the "ell" near the entrance from the public walk. The kitchen has windows on the walk side of the suite while the living and dining rooms have windows onto the terrace. A covered trellis in the corner provides a protected outdoor dining area connected by glass doors to the inside room. The cantilevered terraces have radiused planters along the edges that provide visual privacy and an element of natural landscape defining the outside edge of the terrace.

As the pattern system of terraces was continued in stages along the hillside at Mühlehalde, the concept of the ell-shaped terraced house continued, however, the detail excellence that characterized Scherer's work is lacking. More stringent economic sanctions were obviously having an effect on the later buildings. Clearly, Umiken as a housing prototype, falls outside existing models for public or social housing; this is expensive in situ concrete construction suitable for middle income residents. It is, however, important as an alternative to either the freestanding apartment block or the single-family house as a higher density residential model

Florian Adler, Architektur führer Schweiz, Hans Girsberger & Olinde Riege, Artemis, Zurich, 1969, p. 114.

David Mackay, Multiple Family Housing, Architectural Book Pub. Co., New York, 1977, pp. 62-5.

Ot Hoffmann/Christopher Repenthin, Neue Urbane Wohnformen, Bertlesmann, Berlin, 1965, pp. 114-115.

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