Swiss School of Engineering for the Wood Industry Bienne

For its further development, the Swiss School of Engineering for the Wood Industry intended a more intense use of the available property with the greatest possible consideration given to the existing structures. The construction site was important for this project and for the user: the property lies like an island between the housing estates on the outskirts of the city and the industrial areas expanding to the southern foot of the Jura mountains; the open placement of the single-story factory building and storage shed, the level, inclined gable roof and the direct relationship to the pond and the park are all insignia of a romantic national tradition.


We placed the new teaching building as a four-story wood structure right next to the factories, so that it protruded far over the world of the lower gable roofs. Through the nearly dissonant proportions and mass ratio, the flat silhouettes of the traditional wooden structures in the foreground enter into a tension with the new body, which is composed of a series of wooden boxes constructed from rigid frames. Based on experiences with large free spans in wood skeleton structures, we superimposed the unity of a school room on the the basic constructed element so that the modular arrangement refers to the spatial subdivision of the class room. The bodies of the school rooms are treated as individual pieces and are integrated into a structure in which open and enclosed spaces form the whole shell of a building. They are strung together in such a way that the required light falls into the inner structure through the open spaces. 

Our interest in this huge wooden body was no longer focused on the fragmentary and ephemeral elements of the construction of a house of cards as in Altishofen, but instead, the sculptural expression and physical force of a body in which the tactile lines in the surface of the façade elements and the gaze into the depths stand out in an intense light-dark contrast. The rules of joining and connecting, which in traditional wood construction organize the separation of cladding and structure, are lifted: for one, the structure itself appears disproportionate, and for another, the load-bearing structure is reproduced as a form in the cladding. These design-based, structural examinations of the tectonic and physical expressivity of large wooden buildings not only move in a foreign terrain, but also break with the tradition of structural continuity in timber construction.

Location: Bienne

Competition: 1990–1991

Project: 1994–1997

Realization: 1997–1999

Client: Kantonales Hochbauamt Bern

Meili, Peter Architekten: Marcel Meili, Markus Peter

Zeno Vogel; Thomas Kühne, Marc Loeliger, Andreas Schmidt,
Thomas Schnabel, Urs Schönenberger, Othmar Villiger


ENGINEERS: Conzett, Bronzini, Gartmann Engineers, Chur

CONSTRUCTION MANAGEMENT: Hofmann + Huggler, Bern/Thun


Tashi Lindegger (realization)


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Ground plan first floor of the old and new buildings

Ground plan fourth floor with offices and library

Ground plan second floor instruction area

Longitudinal section

Structure of the façade panels

Cross section through the classroom and entrance

Engineer’s plan longitudinal façade

Engineer’s plan south façade


Construction studies for windows and façade panels

Aerial view of the old School of Engineering for the Wood Industry

Structural model of the concrete core

Connection of the old wing to the new building

Building phase of the concrete core with stair towers and post-tensioned suspended floors

View from the south in the direction of Jurakante

Model façade Spanish chestnut

North façade

West façade

Stairwells with main corridor

Interior view of school room, terrace space

Model studies of the large foyer before the hall, interior view of the large foyer before the hall