Neufrankengasse 22 by Vera Gloor

The user should define the layout,
not the layout the user.

Initially, Vera Gloor (*1963) studied theater production. After a few years working in the field, she enrolled at Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology to study architecture. She has managed her own firm of architects that today is a team of 16 since 1994. Vera Gloor's portfolio consists mainly of older houses, many of them properties in Zurich's 4th and 5th districts, alongside a few new buildings. Her most well-known works include a new multifamily residence next to the station in Winterthur, the redevelopment of a number of houses on Josefstrasse in Zurich, and the new development on Neufrankengasse, also in Zurich.

Nearly 3,000 trains roll past Neufrankengasse 22 in Zurich every day. You nonetheless explicitly aligned some of the apartments to face the track field. What were your reasons?
Luigi Snozzi, an architect from Ticino, once compared the effect of expansive railway tracks on the urban fabric to that of rivers. Railway tracks and rivers create free spaces in the city that cannot be built on. I think the comparison goes further still: I have always found the continuous movement of incoming and outgoing trains fascinating; it has a meditative effect on me. It was therefore obvious that I would align some of the apartments with the track field. The apartments themselves are absolutely quiet despite the noise of the trains thanks to highly insulating windows and a controlled ventilation system.

The inside of the apartments are as astonishing as the views. There are no room partitioning walls; only the core element with the wetrooms creates a specific zone. How did the idea with the layout solution come to mind?
It was defined by the heterogeneity of the structures lining the track field, where small shacks stand next to tall buildings. We were also dealing with a building owner who likes to ride his motorcycle. These basic conditions forged the idea of building a solitary structure at right-angles to the street with a view of the track field and an internal design reminiscent of an industrial building. The result is a block with apartments that are very flexible in use as they don't have any dividing walls and – analog to an industrial building - with a goods lift for transporting a motorbike into the apartment.

Despite the lack of dividing walls, tenants don't have to do without privacy thanks to sliding elements. Do you consider sliding elements an important key to innovative layout plans?
Yes. Sliding walls give the tenants the privacy they need. Our experience from earlier projects with free layout plans is that many tenants nonetheless want to have a bit of personal space. That is why we positioned the core element with the wetrooms in the building in Neufrankengasse to enable the inhabitants to create divisions easily using the sliding doors.

What feedback have you had with regard to this new form of flexible apartment layouts?
The tenants like it, and when you look at the apartments, you can see that they make very creative use of the options this form of layout has to offer.

Conventional layouts are hard to find in your projects. What incites you to think about rooms so differently?
Firstly, conventional apartment layouts leave the tenants without any freedom; secondly, they make it impossible to react to changes in the future. The fewer fixed elements in an apartment, the more sustainable the layout as it is easier to adapt it to new wants and needs. Tenants can divide this sort of apartment the way they want to, for instance to create separate areas for working and living. We have noticed over the years, however, that not every tenant finds it easy to deal with so much freedom. That is why we have continued to develop the model. Individual sliding walls and doors for creating divisions are elements that are very responsive to the tenant's wants and needs.

You are current planning a new building next door to the house in Neufrankengasse 22 – what do the floor plans for the new block look like?
The conversion we recently completed in Langstrasse 134 has a so-called cluster apartment on the top two stories, the first we have ever designed. Each of the four tenants has a private area of 387 square feet with its own bathroom. There is also a large room stretching in part over both stories with a kitchen, dining area and lounge that is shared by all of the tenants. To me, it represents a solution to the lack of space in the city and the large number of single person households. We will use the concept of the cluster apartment for our new building that will stand next door to the block in Neufrankengasse. The plans are currently under development. Interestingly enough, I have been contacted by many older people who are looking for precisely this form of private and communal living.

Thank you for talking with us, Ms Gloor.

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Flowing room concept for city apartments

Two fixed elements and three sliding walls bridge the gap between openness and privacy, enabling inhabitants to design and change their living space as they see fit.

Neufrankengasse 22

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