High ground floor – toilet poetry and street art

Barracks from Lausanne are not afraid and create architecture where no one else looks. A tour of the faceted retaining wall and toilet on the highway overlooking Lake Gruyere.

Baraki as a video profile.

When Jeanne Wéry and Georg-Christoph Holz first started their own business after the EPFL, they already had an engineer. When he left in 2020 and was joined by longtime employee Marc Vertesi, the trio from Lausanne was named after the Belgian-French word ‹baraki›. Which means “don’t be afraid of anything.” Wéry, who studied architecture, art and urbanism and worked as a theater set designer and taxidermist, says: “We want to be free to build what people really need – not to be under the pressure of architecture as a business with money. We want to flirt with the limits of discipline. “

The barracks are architects and engineers from Lausanne, from left to right: Jeanne Wéry, Georg-Christoph Holz, Marc Vertesi. (Photo: Mathilda Olmi)

The fact that “Architecture & Ingénierie” is under the office logo today is also coincidental: Wéry’s father is an engineer and gave the office a difficult 2015 bus station project. The barracks made it better, but not more expensive, which quickly bypassed the construction department. This was followed by a bridge handrail and a retaining wall or toilet on the highway. The office is currently advising the canton of Friborg on three bridges. She also remodeled the restaurant and nightclub, designed the set and furniture for Max Bill’s ‘Théâtre de Vidy’ at Expo 64 and turned the convent into a reception center for asylum seekers. In Baraki you will not find typical projects of young offices such as attic conversions, apartment buildings or pavilions. “We’re interested in what’s left and the infrastructure,” says Vertesi, “there’s too much budget and too little thinking.”

An oasis on the highway
We get into the family business van and drive the A1 to the Gruyère service area. With ice cream we sit in the shade in front of the toilet. Sheet metal and pipes turn roadblocks into a seating set with coat racks. Lake Gruyere, located at the foot of the highway, looks at us from the mirror. “It used to be a dark and neglected place,” says Vertesi, “we wanted to make it bright and transparent – like an oasis in the asphalt desert.” The conversion is simple: a piece of natural stone wall is added imperceptibly. In addition, the rest of the building from the 1980s remains unchanged, with spread legs, wooden side panels and a sloping roof with Eternit. Instead of curved corners, you now enter individual chrome-plated steel toilets. The door almost disappears into the mirrored surface. Since the bird was injured during the construction period, countless dark spots are now glued to the landscape from the postcard – and, turning the need into a virtue, they have become part of the signalization.

Under the roof of the toilet on the A1 near Gruyère, simple sheet metal and pipes turn standard blockages into furniture. Baraki calls this “la langue de la rue”.

Lake Gruyere can be seen on the wall with a mirror. Front and back at the same time, you can’t escape from a postcard of Switzerland on the edge of the highway.

The once inhospitable toilet has given way to individual toilets made of chromed steel that can be accessed directly from the outside.

In the photos, the mirrors have not yet been pasted with bird protection points, which are now also used in toilet markings.

A little later, shortly after Friborg, we pass a 100-meter-long concrete retaining wall, in the facets of which light and shadow play. As the construction office moved the road away from a nearby gorge and uphill, officials were shocked by the massive wall being built beneath the idyllic hamlet of Riederberg. Under the mandate of the urban planner, Baraki changed the geometry into twelve identical arched segments. It was necessary to equip only eight standard-size formwork panels with sheet metal in order for the relief to be formed in stages. It is four inches deep and tilted to the left. “It’s an optical trick for more depth,” says Holz, revealing, “In fact, the wall is a homage to early land art, paired with engineering.”

Light and shadow guided Baraki in designing the retaining wall below the hamlet of Riederberg near Friborg.

The wall intersects a green idyll over a hundred meters long and over five meters high.

The pattern repetition consists of eight formwork panels that climb along a sloping curve.

The relief is only ten centimeters deep, but turned to the left it looks much more plastic.

Axonometry of eight formwork panels.

Production of payment with metal relief.

The situation plan shows twelve identical arc segments.

Each year, the Hochparterre, Zürcher Ziegeleien and Eternit represent four selected architectural firms whose founders are under the age of 40 in the ‘Wild Card’ category. On October 6, four offices at Zentrum Architektur Zürich will compete for a place in an inviting architectural competition.

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