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Hotel & Arrival, Morphosis, Vals, 2014-2017, © Morphosis
Frank Gehry, The Competition, 2013, © Angel Borrego Cubero

Architectural projects have their own dynamics. They rarely run in a straight line: they are initiated, progress, branch off, turn back, stop or freeze at a certain stage. The fact is that much more architecture is designed than is ultimately built. Even in a country like Switzerland with its intensive construction activity, what is built is only the tip of a creative iceberg. A further obstacle to realisation is that few countries grant their population such a far-reaching democratic right of co-determination in the implementation of architecture and urban planning as Switzerland. And finally, it should not be forgotten: Works that are longed for but not realised are by no means individual fates, but are part of the everyday life of every architectural practice.

Now the S AM Swiss Architecture Museum in Basel is drawing attention to “the sleeping giant beneath the surface”, which, it is assumed, embodies the essence of architecture even more than that which has taken material form. In dialogue with almost two dozen architectural institutions from all parts of the country, a representative selection from the almost infinite pool of unbuilt architecture is being presented under the title “What if. Unbuilt Architecture in Switzerland”, a representative selection from the almost infinite pool of the unbuilt will be presented until 7 April 2024. According to the museum, the sum of the projects “paints a picture of an alternative Switzerland in which the courage to be utopian is greater than the fear of making mistakes”, especially as many of the projects, whether “lost, negated, sunk or changed”, are still making a name for themselves in the country today.

In a prologue, the show curated by Andreas Kofler initially takes the form of a “Salon des refusés”. This is followed by “an homage to the passionate idealism with which architects tirelessly generate new projects” – and to the competition as a myth. The documentary film “The Competition” (2013) about the contest between some of the best-known architects to win the contract for the future National Art Museum in Andorra sheds light on the power struggles taking place behind the scenes. A table is dedicated to each project in the exhibition, on which plans, sketches, models and other presentation material can be seen. This makes the museum “a kind of open-plan office”, “in which you can move chronologically from project to project”. A bilingual (German/English) publication will be published by Christoph Merian Verlag (CMV) to accompany the exhibition.

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