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UZH News

Zurich’s University District

Once-In-A-Lifetime Project Starts to Take Shape

Today, the Government Council of the Canton of Zurich and the Zurich City Council presented a master plan for Zurich’s central university district. The plan shows how the University of Zurich can continue to develop in the city’s center ‒ which augurs well for UZH’s goal of consolidating its teaching and research activities at its City and Irchel campuses.
Marita Fuchs


Planning areas «University medicine/ETH» (red) and «University» (blue). (Click on the picture to open a larger view)

UZH is running out of room. Growing student numbers and a lack of construction development over the past 15 years have made it necessary to lease property in and around the city (various locations on the Zürichberg, in Oerlikon, and most recently in Schlieren) in order to accommodate the strong growth. This sprawl is making the University increasingly inefficient and expensive to run. And to complicate the issue, the majority of the existing buildings are in acute need of renovation.

To increase efficiency, UZH has set itself the goal of consolidating its operations at its City and Irchel campuses. To reach this objective, the master plan foresees increased building density and flexible use of new and redeveloped spaces on the University’s two largest campuses. The many leases for properties in the vicinity of the university district, but especially in Oerlikon and Schlieren, can then be terminated.

Medicine, business and economics, law, the humanities, and theology are designated for City Campus, while the natural and social sciences, veterinary medicine, preclinical teaching, and basic medical research will be concentrated on Irchel Campus. The overall project is expected to entail investments of more than three billion Swiss francs over the next 20 years.

UZH as an urban university

The master plan presented at today’s media conference outlines how further expansion of the areas in Zurich’s central university district could proceed. UZH has always maintained close links with the city and its residents, and the University is convinced that Zurich’s dynamic urban environment provides excellent opportunities for future development. This includes UZH’s status as an urban university and its central location in and around Rämistrasse. As an urban university, UZH has the following advantages:

  • The existing central university district with its excellent infrastructure will be upgraded further. Because consolidated medical competence is a major component in Zurich’s identity as an academic and economic hub, the unique center of knowledge and clinical care made up of UZH, ETH Zurich, and UniversityHospital Zurich will be strengthened.
  • Centralization ensures short distances between the various institutes as well as proximity to the city ‒ including the main station and Zurich’s cultural institutions. The latter represents an attractive prospect for students and staff at UZH, while the former enables researchers to interact easily with colleagues in their discipline, allowing them to benefit from each other’s work.
  • Consolidating operations will make running and maintaining the buildings more efficient. Optimal use of teaching and research facilities (laboratories, lecture halls, classrooms, offices) and efficient operation of shared large facilities such as cafeterias, libraries, and large equipment will be made possible.                       
  • City residents and the academic world can benefit mutually from each other.  As an urban university, UZH with its student population helps invigorate the city and constitutes a tangible presence in everyday life.

Creating space

While the plan sounds promising, is it really feasible? Can the space required be created on the limited confines of the central university district between Hirschengraben, Zürichbergstrasse, Universitätsstrasse and Gloriarank ?

The master plan and in-depth studies are clear: Yes, it can be done.

The current floor space of UZH, UniversityHospital Zurich, and ETH Zurich in the central university district comprises a total of 870,000 square meters. This space can be redeveloped and extended by 350,000 square meters (replacement buildings included).

The master plan presents a possible approach to realizing the objectives. Priority would be given to new buildings for education, research, and clinical care over other uses. In return, leased property outside of the central university district could be freed up again. The master plan was drafted in collaboration with a working group comprising all stakeholders (city, canton, UZH, ETH Zurich, UniversityHospital Zurich, neighborhood organizations).

In-depth urban development studies were prepared alongside the master plan. They provide documentary evidence that sustainable development of the three institutions – UZH, ETH Zurich, and UniversityHospital Zurich – is possible at the central location. In addition, the studies confirmed that the space allocation foreseen by the master plan can be implemented in compliance with urban development regulations.

Stefan Schnyder, Director of Finances, Personnel and Infrastructure at UZH, is pleased about this: «This means that the university will remain an integral part of the city and be able to further reinforce its character as an urban university.» Schnyder, a member of the Executive Board of the University, is responsible for estate development at UZH.

Three visions

For the areas Wässerwies, Schanzenberg and Gloriarank (see image above), three planning offices created models of their visions for the site.

  • The team at Max Dudler presented a version with an imposing building extending high above the Schanzenberg, a modern counterpart to the two main buildings of UZH and ETH Zurich that already mark the cityscape.
  • The proposal by the planning team at Diener & Diener Architekten is more reserved: Existing buildings deemed worthy of protection are integrated in the overall concept and given new functions. The maximum height for new buildings in Gloriarank, Plattenstrasse, and Schanzenberg areas does not exceed 30 meters.


Visualization of the project by «Diener & Diener Architekten».

  • In contrast to Diener & Diener Architekten, the planning team at Bob Gysin + Partner modeled a range of high-rise buildings. Particular emphasis is placed on creating and utilizing empty space – one suggestion is to have a spatial connection between the UniversityHospital Park and Rechberg Garden.

The three models should be understood as proposals that consciously emphasize different aspects. A synthesis of all three visions will then define the specifications, for the subsequent competition and project planning phases; all submitted proposals must naturally conform to urban development regulations

One step at a time

«We want to move forward with our project quickly. Individual projects that have been brought forward are already through the first planning phase and will soon be of use to the parties involved», says Schnyder. «But we are talking about a very long-term project. We will only reap the full benefits of the extensive expansion of the central university district in about 20 years.» He explains that the district will not be “plowed under” as part of these measures. Instead, redevelopment and construction will move forward one step at a time throughout the entire project.

«The fact that UZH, ETH Zurich, and UniversityHospital Zurich can work closely together at one location raises the synergy potential of the three institutions considerably», says Schnyder. Furthermore, he believes the future development of the three institutions as integral parts of the project  will facilitate better use of infrastructure and substantially raise efficiency.

«Along with the construction of the main building in 1914 and of the Irchel Campus between 1979 and 1999, the expansion of UZH in the central district is the third strategic milestone in UZH’s building history. This is a major project to ensure that future generations can receive a high-quality education, which will further improve UZH’s competitiveness,» Schnyder is convinced.

Plans progressing quickly

The data provided by the master plan and the studies lay the foundation for revising the Canton of Zurich’s so-called «structure plan», which contains regulations on zoning and use of land. The next stage commences on 12 September 2014 with the two-month public disclosure and hearing for the partial revision of the cantonal structure plan for the central university district.

After this period expires, a consolidated draft of the structure plan is scheduled to be approved by the Cantonal Council by the end of 2015. «This means the authorities have already laid the foundation for the successful future development of UZH, ETH Zurich, and UniversityHospital Zurich in the central district,» says Schnyder.

At the same time, work is starting on the next planning stage, including a proposal for the individual areas and the preparation of architectural competitions for the priority projects on the Wässerwies and Gloriarank locations. The first buildings should be ready to use between 2020 and 2025.

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