The Theater Winterthur, completed in 1979 and designed by architect Frank Krayenbühl, is an extremely idiosyncratic building. Its distinctiveness derives from a mixture of very different architectural principles. The exterior is notable for its stepped massing, which appears monolithic due to its mostly windowless lead sheet cladding. It is reminiscent of the abstract, sometimes mimetic compositions of Alvar Aalto in his later years.
The large roof conceals an open interior, which in turn is defined by sculptural spatial boundaries, such as the “overhanging” concrete volumes of the auditorium, as well as lightweight structures, namely the steel trusses of the roof structure. Both in the auditorium and in the lobbies, the space is characterized by informal qualities, which are recognizable, for example, in the lack of symmetries. This also pertains to the landscape character of the lobbies, which are joined diagonally as a series of terraces. The space is superimposed by the building services, which run exposed to view, as well as differentiated, color-coded elements that show the influence of trends associated with Norman Foster and Renzo Piano that were prevalent at the time.
In view of its architectural qualities and its significance as a historic monument, refurbishing a building like the Theater Winterthur is an eminently architectural task. However, the role of the architect in such cases is not that of an author designing something new. Rather, the architect’s role is that of an advocate who responsibly and meticulously protects the existing qualities.
The textile ceiling of the installation Anthropomorphic Form was conceived for the Swiss Art Awards 2021 exhibition and took up the entire exhibition hall, the room-filling work transformed into a new architectural space. It called to mind the temporary structures of festival tents, although this impression was instantly subverted by the continuously varying shape taken on by the fabric.
The translucent fabric was suspended from thin cables aligned along five axes, with each cable raised and lowered by one of forty-two motors. The motors were controlled by an algorithm that responded to different parameters of human and atmospheric activity: the noise level, the number of visitors and their distribution, the speed of their movements, etc.
The textile roof thus became an actual organ of the visitors in attendance and, operating almost unnoticed, continually formed other spaces as a backdrop for the exhibition – sometimes taking on a monumental guise, sometimes seeming intimate, sometimes appearing architectonic and at other times organic. The fabric formed an archaic tent roof or wrapped those present in a mimetic cloud.
The work thereby addresses the impact that humans have on the environment in which we move about and also questions traditionally static architecture in a subtle commentary on our age of the Anthropocene.