As architects we bear responsibility for the continuation of our architectural history and for the formulation of the built environment in which we all live. We are a classic architecture practice which erects buildings and combines all the relevant areas of knowledge, from the urban design study and the architecture competition, the various planning services right up to construction, and make this knowledge available for the built object.
We are the representative of our clients, while at the same time we also have obligations to the users of our buildings – for instance as regards public spaces and the careful and economical use of resources. Therefore, design means controverting and negotiating, it is a meandering, iterative process and we greatly respect our clients who take this path with us. We support and cultivate the architecture competition as it is a guarantor of our culture of building that also stimulates our own reflections and creativity.
We are driven onwards by a will and delight in realising high quality spaces with lofty design ambitions and their own individual atmosphere. Through its geometry and surfaces space is made perceptible to all the senses and is charged in terms of programme and context. It is the development down to the last detail that gives architecture an unmistakeable identity. In the process we avoid compromises and search for the archetypical. We are moved by precision and unambiguity; we strive for clarity and simplicity. This is how strong architectural structures and coherent and durable constructions are created.
We learn and teach – and have been doing so since 1929.
Wilhelm Fischer, the founder of the architecture practice, was the son of a master joiner and was born on February 4, 1900, in Dottikon, Aargau. He was formed by his father’s joinery business, which provided the basis for his later craftsman-like creative work. In 1921 this successful young technician began his years of travel, which brought him to Germany, which was still suffering the effects of the First World War.
His first workplace was in the office of Professor Klotzbach in Wuppertal-Barmen, where he was entrusted with supervising the construction of two large houses in Berlin-Grunewald. From 1925 to 1929, when he set up his own firm, he worked for Ziegler und Balmer in St. Gallen, Professor Rittmeyer & Furrer in Winterthur, and the architecture office Tittel in Zurich.
In the up-and-coming business city of Zurich, a new factory and residential building for SIM AG Zurich (1929) on Letzigraben in Zurich-Albisrieden offered Wilhelm Fischer an opportunity to become self-employed. This was followed by his first large housing developments, for example the apartment buildings on Speerstrasse, Zurich (1932), and the former Morgenstern restaurant, Zurich (1935), which was regarded at the time as an example of a moderate modernism and is still in a good state of preservation.
Influenced by the buildings of Max E. Haefeli, Wilhelm Fischer built the Lagler House in Uitikon (1957) a private house with an open floor plan that employs the typical formal language of the 1950s. Wilhelm Fischer continued working in the office until 1979.
In 1960 Wilhelm’s son Eugen O. Fischer joined the architecture practice. After successfully completing his studies at the ETH Zurich and working as an assistant to Professor Albert H. Steiner. the young architect turned to professional practice and architecture competitions.
He did not have to wait long for his first successes. He designed the Liguster schoolhouse, Uitikon (1960), which unfortunately was never built. The influence exerted on him by architects such as Walter M. Förderer, Roland Gross, Claude Paillard or Ernst Gisel is evident, for instance in his competition-winning design for Vogtsrain primary school in Zurich Höngg (1966–1973). Other prize-winning entries in competitions for school buildings soon followed and illustrate Eugen O. Fischer’s architectural ambitions and his attempt to equal the architects referred to above, who were his models. One example is the first prize awarded to his design for the church of St. Katharina, Zurich-Affoltern (1967–1972), which received the “Award for Good Buildings of the City of Zurich”, another is the first prize for his Büel B schoolhouse, Unterengstringen (1974).
In 1967 Eugen Mannhart joined the office as a partner. He devoted himself to developing the areas of project management and site supervision, while Eugen O. Fischer concentrated more on architectural design questions. Together the pair led the office to further successes; for instance, they won the competition for the garden housing estate Winzerhalde, Zurich (1978–1982), which also received an “Award for Good Buildings of the City of Zurich”.
The building industry boomed and large building projects that shape the appearance of Zurich today, were realised. These include the Neumarkt residential and commercial building, Zurich-Oerlikon (1978–1981) and the project for the adaptation and renovation of the Sihlpost, Zurich (1994–1997) in a working partnership with Werner Stücheli. The office of Fischer Architekten was obliged to accept a painful decision: while they won the competition for a development phase of the ETH Hönggerberg, Zürich (1990), following a revision of the competition entries the commission was ultimately awarded to Mario Campi.
During his final years of creative work Eugen O. Fischer devoted himself increasingly to the future of the office and who would succeed him. He designed new projects in a team together with talented young architects. Mention should be made here of the Ticino Vita office building, Dübendorf (1991–1992) or the first prize for the adaptation of the Chemistry Building ETH Zentrum, Zurich (1997–2001), and the first prize for the Chrüzächer housing development, Regensdorf (1998–2001), which, sadly, Eugen O. Fischer did not live to see completed.
Following the death of Eugen O. Fischer in December 1999, the management consisting of Eugen Mannhart and Marcel Barth continued to steer the architecture office in the new direction that Fischer himself had initiated.
The first contacts between Eugen O. Fischer and Christian Leuner resulted from the fact that over the years the practices of Fischer Architekten and Leuner & Zampieri AG had taken part in many of the same competitions, each under its own name. From 1998 Leuner worked on various competitions for Fischer, as a freelance staff member. The forthcoming generation change, the interesting commissions, and the good network of Fischer Architekten AG offered Leuner as a young architect the opportunity to achieve the growth he aimed for. This led him to join Fischer Architekten as a new partner, together with the office of Leuner & Zampieri, which he had founded and ran together with Danilo Zampieri between 1995 and 1999.
When the two offices merged in 2001 Christian Leuner, the majority shareholder, took over the management. Beat Engeler, Ernst Breiter and Beat Eyer, who were already working in the office at the time, formed the new management team together with Leuner. It was Leuner’s aim to introduce a more uniform understanding of architecture and a more unified architectural language to the office’s architecture production workshop. The most important works by Leuner & Zampieri AG became model buildings on which Fischer Architekten AG, which was undergoing a transformation process, oriented itself in renewing its architectural profile.
The two-family house Thunstetten (1990–1992) and the Suhr residential and studio building, which was awarded the SIA Prize “Priisnagel für gute Bauten” in 1995, illustrate this structured way of thinking and the clear formal idiom. Further important buildings include the Lightcube commercial building in Glattpark Opfikon (2001–2005) with its interlocking spaces and terraced gardens in the interior, the competition entry for Aarau Crematorium, with its two glass membranes, and the Eggbühlstrasse commercial building in Zurich Oerlikon (2000–2003), which has a facade of printed and etched glass.
The new office structures began to have an impact. In 2001 Fischer Architekten won second prize in the international competition for the AMAG-BVK in Zurich and subsequently were awarded first prize for Balgrist University Clinic (2002–2004), which they could then develop to the preliminary phase. Their entry for the international competition for the Schweizerisches Landesmuseum in Zurich (2000–2001) was granted second prize. A further example of the newly defined architectural approach is offered by the Villa Stüber in Zollikon (2002–2005), a split-level dwelling house that employs a strongly reduced formal idiom. The practice begins to develop its own architectural signature.
With the introduction of quality management according to ISO 9001 in 2001 the foundations were laid for a clearly structured architecture practice managed by the owners, with a permanent staff of between 50 and 60. The management and participation structure enables different generations to work well together and ensures that the architecture workshop functions continuously and at a high level of quality.
In the years 2003 to 2014 Beat Engeler, Ernst Breiter and Beat Eyer were respected and successful members of the management team and at the same time partners in the firm. With their knowledge and their experience, they helped Christian Leuner to advance the restructuring process. In 2014 Timo Allemann (until 2020) and Ivo Weinhardt (until 2016) joined the management as new partners. They, too, provided Christian Leuner with daily support in implementing the mission statement that had been jointly defined in 2015 and in making its contents and values visible in the form of the buildings realised.
Since 2017 Carol Gartmann, an economist with responsibility for the areas of human resources and finances, has augmented the management team and the shareholder bases. She was followed by three experienced architects: Simon Edelmann and Mark van Kleef in 2020 and Gian Müller in 2022. The increase in the size of the management team allows Christian Leuner to devote more time to substantive themes within the projects.
Over the past two decades Fischer Architekten have increasingly focussed on the area of competitions. A sizable number of first prizes means that today the office acquires most of its commissions through competitions and study commissions. As a result, the architecture production workshop remains independent and free.