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Giesshubel warehouse
Giesshubelstrasse 62, Zurich, Switzerland
Giesshubel warehouse
associated engineer
Robert Maillart
Maillart & Cie
Basler & Hofmann AG
date  1910, 1930, 2008
UK era  Modern  |  category  Building  |  reference  Tf938715
photo  copyright ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv
Zurich’s Giesshübel warehouse was the first of Robert Maillart’s buildings to be constructed with his patented beamless slab floors supported on ‘mushroom’ columns. The original warehouse has been much extended and refurbished and now has a mix of commercial and residential uses.
In 1909, Swiss reinforced concrete pioneer Robert Maillart (1872-1940) patented his system of flat slabs supported on columns with enlarged capitals (and sometimes enlarged bases). The following year his company, Maillart & Cie, structurally designed and built a three-unit warehouse on Giesshübel Street in west Zurich.
The five-storey rectangular building has arched windows set in a yellow brick façade with red brick pilasters and window lintels. Its flat roof was originally of timber, supported on a grid of timber columns in the attic.
Inside, the octagonal section columns are formed with hyperbolically curved capitals. The reinforced concrete floors and columns were cast in situ — the impressions of the straight timber planks used as formwork are still clearly visible and highlight the building’s intended functionality. The ground floor columns are much wider than those in the storeys above and the capitals of all columns have a top width more than four times the stem diameter.
The success of the design, which was much more economical to build than conventional floor, beam and column arrangements, led to the construction of another 51 buildings using the same techniques. This included, in 1930, extending the Giesshübel warehouse north west by another two units of similar, but not identical, appearance. Maillart & Cie constructed buildings in Switzerland up to around 1919 (and Spain until 1925). After that, Maillart worked on the engineering design through his later practice, Ingenieurbureau Maillart.
In 1958, a production studio was built adjoining the northern end of the warehouse and, in 1968, offices were constructed at its southern end. Both buildings were designed by Swiss architect Werner Stücheli (1916-83).
In 2008, the 150m long warehouse was refurbished completely, providing 14,000 sq m of 75 percent residential and 25 percent commercial development. All new work had to comply with earthquake regulations. The building’s façade was strengthened by a structural steel frame and the five units separated by concrete firewalls. New interior spaces occupy the full width of the structure. Elevators were installed, though the original stairwells and windows were retained.
A new basement with car parking was constructed below the adjacent studio building, to avoid disturbing the warehouse’s foundations. Shops, studios and entrance lobbies are located on the ground floor. Offices occupy the fourth floor of the three 1910 units, and here Maillart's mushroom columns were replaced by new cylindrical reinforced concrete ones. Two storeys of apartments with roof terraces were constructed atop the original roofline. To minimise additional loading on the original structure, the new floors are of lightweight concrete containing embedded plastic balls.
Architect: Oscar Sohm
Architect (1930): Hermann Weideli
Architect (2008): Anne-Marie Fischer & Reto Visini
Contractor (1910): Maillart & Cie
Contractor (2008): Unirenova
Acoustics and building physics (2008): Kopitsis Bauphysik AG
Research: ECPK
"StrucTuricum: 51 bemerkenswerte Bauwerke in Zürich" by Thomas Vogel, Patrick Fehlmann, Thomas Wolf and Emil Honegger, vdf Hochschulverlag AG, Zurich, 2012 [in German]
"Robert Maillart, Beton-Virtuose" ed. Gesellschaft für Ingenieurbaukunst, VDF Hochschulverlag AG an der ETH Zürich, 1996, reprinted 2007 [in German]
"Robert Maillart: Builder, Designer, and Artist" by David P. Billington, Cambridge University Press, 1997
"Robert Maillart and the art of reinforced concrete" by David P. Billington, Architectural History Foundation, MIT Press, 1990
"Robert Maillart's bridges: the art of engineering" by David P. Billington, University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1979

Giesshubel warehouse