The place

The project area is a partly obsolete industrial site on the north side of the railway station of Oerlikon (Figure 8.8). On the southern side of the tracks is Oerlikon district, an important secondary centre in the Zürich agglomeration. Oerlikon is home to 50 000 people and workplace to 30 000.

With the neighbouring Glattal and Furttal municipalities it is part of Zürich Nord, an area of 120 000 inhabitants and 90 000 workplaces. Zürich Nord is the section of the agglomeration that has grown the fastest in recent years. It has witnessed both heavy restructuring and loss of jobs in its traditional industries (including sites next to Oerlikon station) and a development boom of high-tech and international service firms on more peripheral locations, particularly in the vicinity of the international airport of Kloten.

Fig. 8.7 Zürich Oerlikon station in the urban-regional railway networks. (Source: Zürchner Verkehrsverbund)

8.6.3 The process

The plans for the redevelopment of the railway station area of Zentrum Zürich Nord are of a more

Fig. 8.8 Zentrum Zürich Nord: the project area. In the background are the A20 motorway and the international airport on the right of the tracks is Oerlikon city centre. (Photo: Swissphoto Vermessung AG. Graphics: UR architects & planners)

recent period than those for Basel EuroVille. The first initiatives only started between 1988 and 1991. But here also the translation from initiative to plan, programme and implementation took a rather long period. At least three stages can be distinguished, as follows.

Phase 1: from the initiative to the programme, 1988—1991

The trigger for the urban redevelopment initiative was the de-industrialization and production reconversion processes in the areas north of the station of Zürich Oerlikon. As in many other areas in the city the restructuring of production made industrial land and buildings redundant. In Zürich Nord it was Oerlikon Bürle, a weapon factory, that at the beginning of 1988 approached the major landowner in the area, Asea Brown Boveri (ABB, machine construction), to agree on a common redevelopment strategy. Together they controlled a strategic majority of the land north of the station. Advised by a planner, Ueli Roth, they contacted the city of Zürich and the Swiss railways (SBB). They needed the cooperation of the city as the areas were zoned as industrial, and a change of the land-use ordinance was a precondition for any redevelopment. In the absence of a new municipal plan the legal framework had to be provided by an amendment to the existing plan in the form of special building prescriptions (sonderbauvorschriften). These had to be approved by the city and the canton executives, by the city council, and—if a referendum was called—by the population of Zürich. The negative experiences of other big privately initiated projects in the city (such as HauptBahnhof Südwest) were evidence to the landowners that attuning with the public actor must be sought from the outset. SBB was seen both as an important landowner in the area (about 10% of the land) and as the major transport provider: frequent connections to the city centre and the international airport make the station of Oerlikon exceptionally accessible.

The landowners, the city and SBB agreed to form a partnership for the redevelopment of the area. The initiative was labelled Chance Oerlikon 2011. The name alluded to the 'chance' that the freeing of space from industry offered, an opportunity that could be realized by the year 2011. Negotiations began. The main problem was to reach agreement on the percentages of different land uses between the landowner and the city. The industrial firms intended to keep some production in the area, but for the rest strived for reallocation to the most profitable use— offices. Unlike other landowners in the metropolitan area, however, they seemed ready to discuss other possibilities. The worsening conditions in the property market and a management 'with broad views' (ABB is a multinational, innovation oriented company) were among the explanations given by actors and analysts for such a relative openness. The city's policy was to guarantee that, in the conversion, space was retained for production (including small-scale firms), and that a diverse area of the city, including housing and public spaces, was achieved. For the municipality, an important element was the charismatic leadership of Ursula Koch, the influential alderwoman for urban development. She kept her post during the whole planning process, thus guaranteeing continuity and public accountability in the negotiations. In 1990 definitive agreement was reached on a struktuurkonzept that fixed the quantities and percentages of land use for the site. A total of 820 000 m2 would be developed (including the renewal of existing industrial buildings); 10% would be reserved for public uses, and the rest would be allocated equally between housing, services, and industry. Average densities would be 160%: 120% for housing, 250% for services, and 165% for industry. According to all the actors this was the turning point in the negotiations, as thereafter 'we knew we could trust each other'.

Phase 2: from the programme to the plan, 1992—1994

Until this point nothing had been said on the form that the development would take. To this end it was decided to launch an open international urban design competition. After two rounds a local team of young architects—Ruoss, Schrader and Siress—was appointed. Public reactions to their competition entry were positive. Above all, two features of their project struck the jury (Figure 8.9):

• The project envisaged a gradual, flexible transformation. Respect for the existing street grid and building masses allowed for maximum discretion in the implementation. A full range of possibilities was accounted for: buildings could be maintained in their present form and function, or just the function could change with few adaptations, or new buildings could be built, though consistent with the masses and the uses of the existing buildings.

• There was a clear concept of how global urban design quality was to be achieved. A diverse and articulated presence of green and open spaces was the main instrument: the clusters of buildings were organized around a series of parks, while linear and punctuating elements continuously connected the whole. Also important was the choice of a spatial differentiation of functional accents (for example, services dominating next to the station, residential space in outer areas), which nevertheless also entailed some functional mixture in every parcel (for example, minimum percentages of housing and public uses in the service areas, and a share of services in the residential areas).

Unexpectedly, after the urban design competition, SBB chose to cease active involvement in the process, and dropped its area out of the planning perimeter. Initially, on SBB's request, options for developments across and along the tracks had also been explored. Now only about 3 ha in the northern section of the site (formerly a freight yard) would still be included: a small share, and one without any direct link to the main transport node. According to SBB, this decision was based on technical and economic considerations (building above the tracks would be too complicated and too costly). But it also stemmed from the fact that railway land could be developed even without a zoning ordinance. Furthermore, Oerlikon station plays no strategic role in SBB's transport development programme. However, it should be noted that Zentrum Zürich Nord is the largest urban redevelopment project in Switzerland. The station could and should be the strategic link between the existing and the future centres on both sides of the tracks. It is therefore fairly obvious that a 'chance' is being missed, not only by SBB but also by the other promoters of the ZZN initiative.

Fig. 8.9 Zentrum Zürich Nord: the urban redevelopment concept, based on the winning competition entry of Ruoss and Siress Architektur. (Source: Amt für Siedlungsplanung und Städtebau der Stadt Zürich)

The prize-winning project was adopted as the basis for the elaboration of the legal planning framework (land-use plan and urban design guidelines, sonderbauvorschriften) and of the contracts between the partners (rahmenvertrag and bilateral contracts). After two years of discussions, agreement on an urban redevelopment concept (Entwicklungsleitbild) was finally reached in 1994 (Figure 8.9). The proposal was presented jointly by the City of Zürich, the property owners, and SBB in September of that year. For the partners, its publication marked the point where their agreement achieved a sufficient level of clarity and substance to be submitted to the outside world.

Phase 3: from the plan to the contracts, 1995—1996

At the beginning of 1995, public consultations got under way. Individuals and associations were invited to comment on the proposal and make suggestions. Until then, the decision process had been essentially restricted to the three partners, or rather to the two most active ones: the landowners and the city. Local groups had been denied information and the right to participate. Among these local groups, one had been particularly active: the association called zürifüfzg! First they demanded access to the planning process for the local population. Then they came up with their own development vision, which was defined through open workshops. Afterwards they offered comments on the official proposal. And finally they came forward with concrete suggestions as their contribution to the transformation process. Surprisingly, when the official development concept was presented in 1994, it contained many points of overlap with the proposals made by the group. Furthermore, there was a readiness to cooperate on both sides. Both zürifüfzg! and the public-private partners had the same main objective: to develop a diverse, lively urban district on the former industrial sites. The local groups were motivated by the desire to attract activities from the city centre (above all in the cultural sphere) to a peripheral neighbourhood where 'nothing much was going on'. The landowners perceived the development of a lively urban district as a precondition for attracting investment into the area. The partners seemed to be conscious that the input of the local group 'was a sort of planning we could not do' and that their contribution was therefore welcome.

There was also a political element in the change, of course. In Zürich's fragmented and coalition-based political scene, it would have been too risky—at least from the perspective of the public authority—to open up the debate on a plan that did not yet enjoy widespread support. In particular, Ursula Koch feared that allowing the local population to take part at an early stage would have led to polarization. It would have pitted the left against the right, driven a wedge between economic and social interests, and paralysed the planning process. This political strategy seems to have paid off. The project, unlike many others in Zürich, can count on wide support in the council. And given its open-ended and process-oriented character, there is still room for external contributions. The local community seems also to have accepted the point, as it sees more opportunities for direct involvement. One remarkable turn of events in this respect is that a direct line of communication and cooperation is developing between the landowners and zürifüfzg! This readiness to collaborate—particularly unusual on the landowner side—appears to be grounded in their shared awareness of the complexity of the task. An industrial area has to be transformed into a diverse part of the city. To accomplish that goal, a plurality of initiatives and initiators is indispensable.

The planning framework derived from the winning plans of Ruoss, Schrader and Siress seems perfectly suited to this philosophy. The sonderbauvorschriften are taken as flexible guidelines. Guiding concepts (functional, building, open space, and traffic principles) have been clearly articulated. Nevertheless, the development aims have not been defined in detail. Their specification awaits the results of feasibility studies. The concrete form of the development could be diverse in nature (temporary or permanent) and might be initiated by different actors (market or community).

In the spring of 1996, public reactions to the urban redevelopment concept were evaluated. Both the sonderbauvorschriften and the contracts were elaborated so that they would be ready for submission to the relevant bodies in the course of the year. The progress towards a detailed plan was commended in December 1996 by the city executive and in the spring of 1997 by a city council commission. However, some problems (mostly connected with land reclamation issues) still had to be sorted out with the landowners. As soon as these are solved—according to expectations, in the autumn of 1997—the plan can be submitted to the city council for final approval. At that point, it would be possible to call for a referendum and to lodge objections. If, as is presumed, no major resistance emerges, the plan could be then formalized.

Meanwhile, marketing has already started. In March 1996 the project was presented at MIPIM, the annual international real estate fair in Cannes. In principle, each property owner should market their property independently. But joint meetings are held regularly, and the main landowner, ABB, has a virtual leadership. In the summer of 1997, feasibility prospects for the plan were presented. The prospects looked good: a first series of new industrial facilities had already been built, and a concrete proposal for a shopping and housing complex had been submitted. Design competitions for parks and housing projects, among other things, had either taken place, or would soon be held.

Once the approval has been given for the planning framework, the municipal government will consider its mission accomplished. However, informal involvement in the project will remain high. Thus a continuing role of the municipality as facilitator of informal contacts is to be expected. More concretely, individual development would require a building permit. It is the intention of the public and the private partners to prepare each application in close cooperation with the interested investors/users. All the actors consider the level of private, public and community interaction not only exceptional but also extremely positive, and they intend to keep profiting from it. In this respect, it is revealing to see how the evolution of the planning process and the communication plan of Zentrum Zürich Nord have run parallel and have been consistent with each other (Tables 8.3 and 8.4). To preserve this capacity for concerted effort since February 1997, and following a proposal of zürifüfzg!, an accompanying team has been installed. Their task is to foster communication between the public, private and community partners, thereby ensuring that the implementation process will run smoothly.

Table 8.3 Zentrum Zürich Nord: summary of the main phases

16 June 1989 7 July 1989 12 June 1990 16 May 1991

28 April 1992

29 April 1992

11 November 1992

12 November 1992

26 September 1994

5 December 1994 10 January 1995

Orientation of personalities of city districts 11 and 12

Press conference of the landowners

Joint press conference of the city and the landowners

Joint press conference on the urban design competition

Joint neighbourhood information on the urban design competition results

Joint press conference on the urban design competition results

Joint neighbourhood information on the result of the second round of the urban design competition

Joint press conference on the result of the second round of the urban design competition

Press conference and neighbourhood information on the urban development concept Zentrum Zürich Nord

Information event for the local population

Opening of the public consultations, with a press conference and information for the local population

January-March 1995 Public consultations

Property development at Zentrum Zürich Nord

The functional concept

The objective of the development is to transform an industrial zone into an area with an urban mix of functions in the spheres of work, living, culture, and leisure time. Five thousand residents and 12 000 workers are expected. The area has been subdivided in sub-areas with a dominant accent (residential, industrial, service). Overall, about 240 000 m2 of housing, 315 000 m2 of services, and 270 000 m2 of industry are to be developed (1996 data). A degree of functional mixture will be pursued in every parcel, with the exception of those reserved for industrial production and public functions. For instance, in the predominantly service-oriented area around the station, at least a minimum amount of housing will be kept. The diffuse presence of housing will help to create a socially secure environment, one that is lively at all hours of the day and night. On the other side, the presence of services in the residential sections will allow experimentation with new combinations of living and working (for example, home working, or artists' studios). The establishment of shops and restaurants, of activities that attract large numbers of visitors, and of neighbourhood-level services in all the ground-floor premises will be also promoted. Existing buildings could provide space for temporary uses such as exhibitions, ateliers, workshops, theatre, and education. Public services will eventually include a professional school (funded by the canton of Zürich), an elementary and middle school

Table 8.4 Communication plan for Zentrum Zürich Nord (up to 1995)

Phase 1: from the initiative to the programme, 1988-1991


Initiative of the property owners (ABB, OB); establishment of the partnership with the City of Zürich and the Swiss Railways; negotiations

Agreement reached on the Struktuurkonzept

Phase 2: from the programme to the plans, 1992-1994

1992 Urban design competition (in two rounds); elaboration,

September 1994


Presentation of urban development concept

Phase 3: from the plans to the contracts, 1995-1996

Beginning of 1995 1995/1996

March 1996 1996/1997 Autumn 1997

Public consultation

Elaboration of the land-use plan and urban design guidelines (,sonderbauvorschriften); elaboration of the contracts (.rahmenvertrag, bilateral contracts)

ZZN participates in the MIPIM in Cannes; international marketing starts

Progress noted by the city council and executive; the public and private partners work towards finalization of the contracts

(Expected) vote on land-use plan; contracts to be signed

(funded by the city of Zürich), and a public engineering facility (also funded by the city of Zürich). A planning bonus of 2% will be awarded in exchange for an equivalent amount of space for decentralized public services such as daycare and community centres. Part of the site will continue to be used for industrial production (by the same landowners), but their activities will be re-oriented towards research and development, and should be able to evolve competitively.

The group zürifüfzg!, the landowners, and the city government all want to develop a true urban centre in Oerlikon. All perceive an urban centre as an attractive experience: a place where people live and work; where different forms of economic, commercial, and cultural activities take place and a social mixture is present; where a synergy exists in the supply of culture, sport, exhibitions, and food; and which has a local, regional and extra-regional significance. The proposals made by zürifüfzg! revolve around the process dimension of urbanization. That means that urbanization takes place through a gradual change in which different competing actors, trends and objectives are involved. Present and future workers, residents and city users should be seen—from the point of view of this local group—as the indispensable human resources on which to build the identity of the district. The new centre should get a distinct character and differentiate itself from other centres. This is also a basic condition for the attraction of investors. Activities connected with production and consumption of leisure time and culture are seen as particularly crucial. Some examples are sports, education, entertainment, comedies and musicals, tourist facilities, exhibitions, fashion, food, techno/disco, and open-air activities. In practice, the group proposes to start with low-investment initiatives that could make good use of the empty industrial halls. Examples of such possible initiatives are:

• A theatre, concert and event complex for 800-2000 visitors. This facility should also offer the possibility for groups to produce their own shows. It would require only a small investment to make minimal adaptations of the existing industrial buildings. The possibility is being explored with the city and interested performing groups.

• A Japanese hall: a central facility for foreign tourists to Switzerland, where the country could be presented and the visit organized. Attached facilities could be a crafts centre, a folk music school, and a transport and travel centre. Initial contacts have been already made with transport and travel organizations.

• An urban laboratory: a facility for discussions, events, meetings, and associations around the theme of urban development. A sort of meeting point, or theme-leisure centre, with a restaurant, cafe, conference rooms, library, and exhibition spaces.

• Other possibilities include artists' studios, a 24-hour computer centre, an 'action square', a 'discovery trail', and public services.

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