The right to bathe in glory - Monocolumn | Monocle


A daily bulletin of news & opinion

11 October 2009

You don’t need to spend too much time outdoors to realise that plucky little Switzerland is currently gearing up for one of its more controversial referendums.

Around the streets of Zürich the more radical right have been pasting up menacing looking posters depicting a Swiss flag dotted with black minarets and a burka-clad woman and asking that voters endorse a ban on the construction of minarets in this nation of roughly 7.5 million with a Muslim population of some 300,000.

On 29 November the country will head to the polls to decide whether minarets have a place in the neighbourhoods of Geneva, Basel and Lucerne – or not.

High in the Engadine Valley in the village of St Moritz there are no pro or anti-minaret posters in sight as locals are more focused on another hot topic that’s been plaguing this resort for the past few years. As much as every Swiss man and woman feels they have the right to call a national referendum if they manage to canvass 100,000 signatures, every village also feels entitled to have its very own public hallenbad (community swimming pool) for swimming, massages, sunning (both electric and outdoor) and other leisure pursuits.

Take the train from Chur up to St Moritz and it’s remarkable how villages big and small all have beautiful bathing facilities. On the far side of Canton Graubünden, the little Dorf of Vals (with a resident population of just under 1,000) has turned itself into one of the most important modern architecture destinations in the world, thanks to its severe, almost bunker-like, bathing facility design by Peter Zumthor. On any given day you’ll see young families from Belgium, architecture students from Sapporo and day-trippers from elsewhere in Switzerland making the trek up the winding road to take the waters at Vals and also immerse themselves in one of Europe’s more remarkable municipal recreational facilities. 
 All of this is particularly galling for wealthy St Moritz (with an affluent resident population of over 5,000) because at the moment although it has a hallenbad, the facility’s been shuttered since spring 2006. A punch-up between private-sector owners, who were supposed to renovate it or build something new, and the Gemeinde (local council) has become something of an embarrassment as everything has stalled and residents have to visit neighbouring Pontresina to use the town’s new, and quite impressive, swimming facility there.

The good news is that the town elders have now intervened and an RFP was sent out inviting architecture firms to register their interest by the end of the month.

Fans of brutalism quite like the current grey concrete facility but it looks like the structure will be pulled down and replaced by something new. The question is, what with?

”We could end up with a globally respected masterpiece or it could be a very functional but quite ugly structure of no real appeal,” says one local hotelier. 
 Some think resident local architect Sir Norman Foster might lobby hard to win the bid but there’s likely to be considerable competition from hot young firms from Switzerland and Austria as well. Whoever wins, it’s unlikely minarets will be part of the grand design scheme.


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