Paul Clemence Photographs The Circle by Riken Yamamoto

Over the past few years as photographer Paul Clemence flew in and out of Switzerland, he watched, fascinated, as The Circle was being built adjacent to the Zurich Airport.

Little wonder.

The mixed-use development is built atop a 320,000 square-foot footprint and represents an investment of one billion Swiss francs.

There’s a conference center, two Hyatt Hotels, a series of shops, a mini-clinic by the Zurich hospital, a park, and a number of restaurants. There’s also Microsoft’s Swiss headquarters.

Clemence managed to take a few tours of the development designed by Japanese architect Riken Yamamoto – and then, to shoot it.

All of it – as it went up.

“I’d seen it from the foundation stage, then as it was being built, and now as it’s completed,” the American-born, Brazilian-raised  photographer says. “It’s very photogenic and lively with people walking around it and enjoying the place.”

Yamamoto’s assignment was to assure that the buildings capture the essence of Switzerland – or, as the clients said, its “Swissness.”

“It’s about precision, but also about the scale of the Swiss cities,” Clemence says. “And he accomplished that – there’s Swiss precision, and a Japanese quest for precision too.”

The clients also wanted the complex to offer elements of surprise, but with connections to the world, since it’s adjacent to a major international airport. Passengers with an afternoon layover can take the tram to The Circle and ramble through an ecologically informed park.

In fact, the complex serves as the connecting tissue between airport and park. The airport is never out of sight – visitors connect by walking outside at ground level, or  through an underground tunnel that connects to The Circle. “You walk around and feel like you’re in an enclosed little Medieval town,” he says. “There’s a labyrinth of paths around it all.”

Clemence’s photos capture the feeling and experience of being in all its spaces, mainly by focusing on the way natural light filters throughout. “The glass skylights – they’re not flat, but float with space in between them,” he says. “There are glass canopies that offer protection but don’t enclose the space – they protect you but don’t isolate you from the exterior.”

He also captured Yamamoto’s one-of-a-kind, way-finding system. “He created little light elements like a squiggle that follows the path,” he says. “It’s not on an orthogonal grid – the light system tells you where to go.”

That’s probably a good thing, since The Circle’s usable space totals 1.9 million square feet – making it Switzerland’s largest built project.

For more, go here.

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