Architects at Corum Headquarter interview - "We work like watchmakers"

Architects at Corum Headquarter interview - "We work like watchmakers"

Architects at Corum Headquarter interview
"We work like watchmakers"

Architects at Corum’s headquarter in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Zurich architects Margrit Althammer and René Hochuli retrace the genesis of this incredible project.

Margrit Althammer and René Hochulise met at the beginning of their architecture training. Today, their daughter is creating her first models in their small Zurich office. It is a matter of perpetuating the artisanal know-how that is dear to them. They have agreed to talk about one of their flagship projects: the construction of the Corum headquarters in La Chaux-de-Fonds in the mid-90s.


How was the Corum headquarters project born?

M.Althammer: The idea came in the era of Mr Bannwart, founder of the brand. A number of reasons led to the decision to extend Corum’s headquarters in the early 1990s. On the one hand, the watch industry was experiencing the beginnings of a recovery. On the other, Mr Bannwart wished to mark 40 years of the brand’s existence with a new extension that was representative of his watchmakers’ work. A competition was organized for young architects and we were lucky enough to be nominated.


What year did the project start and how long did the building take?

R. Hochuli: The tender took place in spring 1992 with a jury consisting of architect Max Bill along with professors Vincent Mangeat and Ueli Zbinden. The construction began in

autumn 1993 and the inauguration ceremony took place in summer 1995 to celebrate the brand’s 40th anniversary.

What were the main problems encountered during the building phase?

M. A.: There weren’t any major problems. In the initial phase, the project was defined and clarified in the minutest detail in order to obtain general agreement. The construction was thus completed exactly on schedule.

What were your aims in architectural terms?

R. H.: We designed the Manufacture according to the same structure as an old watch: like a grid in which one inserts little wheels. This is why one can see glazed areas within the overall steel structure. The different sections show that the building is divided into several layers, like a watch. Onemight make an analogy with the Golden Bridge model. The building reflects the same principle of hand-crafted tradition.

How has your way of working developed since this project?

M. A.: We still work the same way as 20 years ago! We have the same small office and develop our concepts as a small team, in the minutest detail, just like watchmakers … The Corum project represented

the beginning of a rich activity for us as architects. Over the past few years, we have achieved several projects both in the domains of urban development – such as the renovation of the former Hürlimann brewery in Zurich – as well as smaller-scale building transformations. Our most recent project to date is the design of a hotel and spa on the Hürlimann site. In parallel to this, we have always worked as lecturers in various schools ofarchitecture.