The Circle Is Open

John Hill
1. December 2020
Photo © Flughafen Zürich AG

Ten years in the making, The Circle at Zürich Airport, designed by Japanese architect Riken Yamamoto, is now open to the public — in the midst of a pandemic that has seen passenger traffic at the airport reduced by more than 80%.

Although the timing could not be worse for the opening of The Circle, it can still boast of being the largest building project in Switzerland, with approximately 200,000 m2 (2.15 million sf) of floor area across eleven floors. It is also the most expensive project in the country, costing more than 1 billion Swiss francs. The boomerang-shaped building, as Ulf Meyer describes it in his write-up on Swiss-Architects, contains offices, a clinic, a conference center, two hotels, and many shops, restaurants, and bars. The Circle cradles a new publicly accessible park that includes trails plus a funicular leading to an overlook.

Photo © Flughafen Zürich AG

Riken Yamamoto, who won the competition to design The Circle in 2010, describes the building on his website in three parts: a thorough expression of Swiss precision; a new city for new 21st-century lifestyles; and the recreation of a medieval city with new technology and construction methods. Swissness is expressed through the slender concrete structure, while the urbanism of the project is found in the "alleys" that lie behind the curved glass facade. (This plan of the retail level gives a sense of the meandering pathways through the project.)

Photo © Flughafen Zürich AG

Riken Yamamoto's website also points out that the competition brief asked for the design of The Circle "to be full of surprises and to inspire visitors." The medieval-inspired pedestrian network certainly does its part in creating the potential for surprises at every turn, just as The Park, as it's called, provides inspiration in the form of nature, in the same vein as the one-year-old Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore. Surprises can also be found inside the building, most overtly in the conference center, whose impressive space (photo below), as pointed out by Ulf Meyer, recalls the Kyoto International Conference Center by Sachio Otani.

Photo © Flughafen Zürich AG

Both The Circle at Zürich Airport and The Park opened in early November. Portions of The Circle, including co-working spaces, a gym, and child-care facilities will open in 2021.

Photo © Flughafen Zürich AG

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