FAS: Architectural Activism

Architectural Activism: Oh baby let’s get political!


FAS (Foreign Architects Switzerland) is a collective of Swiss-based architects, founded in reaction to the general political apathy and neutrality of the profession on the occasion of the minaret ban, voted in 2009. FAS took up arms in protesting against this restriction of the constructed environment, as well as against the xenophobic sign this vote represents. It developed into objecting to the common indifference of architects and planners toward real-estate pressure, conservatism and a general trend of non-involvement. The relevance of such activism has only been confirmed by the recent (feb. 2014) referendum restricting foreigners entry in the country by re-establishing quotas.

One possible motto of FAS is Jean Nouvel’s: “Architect’s responsibilities begin with their silence and their disengagement.”


Confronted with intolerance, traditionalism and the generation of capital[1], but trapped in the daily commercial occupation of construction, it would be tempting for architects to resist the urge to resist. In a blog note from 2009 entitled ‘Architecture and resistance’, Lebbeus Woods claims: “To say that you are resisting something means that you have to spend a lot of time and energy saying what that something is, in order for your resistance to make sense.” FAS has long identified the nemeses against which it is resisting. Partly, it could by what C.G. Jüng refers to as ‘the shadow-side of human nature’[2]. For FAS, the battle lies also within. Architects must fight themselves and the way they practice rather than ‘the other’. Likewise, standing against the impalpable forces of capital that are generating architectural demand is a turn towards nonconformity few are ready to take. In that sense, we admit that we are not better, since FAS is an anonymous collective.

The architectural practice is tarnished by self-satisfaction, nepotism, sclerotic patriarchal structures and antediluvian methods of construction and design, not to mention dubious social conditions. We architects are engrossed in our prerogatives, not seeing that territory is being produced ahead of us, not able to hold grip on our own profession, not able to confront our demons, not able to take political positions, not able to speak up for or against the building environment. Woods’s checklist for resistance states: “Resist the idea that architecture can save the world.” But also “Resist the idea that architecture is an investment.” and “Resist all claims on your autonomy.”  This sums the paradoxes architects have to face and the real obligation to address contemporary political problems.


Practicing Resistance:


Against the Minaret-Ban

Against this restriction of the constructed environment (“The building of minarets is forbidden”), attempting to fight over a general disillusionment throughout the local architecture community over its ability -or interest- to be agents of change, FAS felt it necessary that architects propose solutions to a dire problem. A counter-competition -the site picked was slated for a housing competition- to design a mosque on a prominent position in Zurich, was launched, asking for solutions for interactions and dialogue. Hoping to raise awareness among the profession, the call addressed many topics that agitate FAS, as politically aware architects and urbanists. Following the call, 3 winners were awarded and published (see the attachment N° 1 and 2 of FAS). FAS went to the Architectural Association to discuss and express concerns on the lack of reaction from architects at the Symposium Faith and the City (11.2010). FAS published letters in local magazines to raise awareness. The Swiss office Frei+Saarinen (3rd Price) developed its winning entry further and has been exhibited at the Ifa Berlin, at the “Mosque modern” exhibition curated by Christian Walzbacher (author of Euro-islam architecture). With this, FAS considers to have achieved a form of victory over the general apathy of the architectural profession, through resistance. It also takes pride in the very existence of the call, keeping in mind that in a remote future, whoever considering that particular period will find traces of resistance.


Against the ‘Guterbahnhof’ destruction

The Guterbahnhof (train station dedicated to the loading and unloading of goods) in Zurich was protected as a heritage site; it was first threatened in the mid 1990s by a mandate stating the construction of a Police-Centre as necessary for the welfare of the city. Following a public municipal voting the project was rejected and almost immediately discussions started about constructing flats, congress hall and else. At that moment, FAS felt the need for another Call for Ideas, to ensure the protection of the Guterbahnhof by turning it into the Icon of Zurich West. Because the Guterbahnhof’s future needs no plans or planners, it needed lovers and defenders. FAS called for a provocative Non-Building moratorium. But the days of the industrial building were counted: a second voting accepted the Police-center project. FAS considered this call unsuccessful, as there were very few responses. The building was demolished in 2013. Nevertheless, the very fact that FAS stated its position against real estate gave an alibi acknowledges the fact that opposition can be generated by architects- against the precise raison d’être of our profession, paradoxical paradigm. FAS keep actions going by means of social medias.


An Union for Architects


In Spring 2012, FAS launched a call for social awareness. As Switzerland stands as an island of prosperity on an economically devastated European territory- or so we are told, FAS believe architecture firms to hold a social responsibility towards their working force. Worldwide, architects and designers -we like to call them slaves of design- are employed in offices, doing night shifts and uncompensated over-hours for miserable wages. In perspective to this, the Swiss market is another shitty day in paradise. However, the construction business of Switzerland runs thanks to abusive practices, and the cool kids that makes it run are young foreigners, undergraduates and interns constitute the proletariat of architecture. FAS called and is active in promoting an Union for (employed) architects that will truly defend employed architects, interns, trainees against the culture of sacrifice that lays in our profession.

At a time when globalization and liberalism are undermining not only all forms of social services but also solidarity movements through promoting hard-core individualism, we analyse this current situation as a proletarization of architecture and call for the appropriate reaction: social organization. 


Modus Operandi:

FAS is an anonymous collective which outcome is mainly a zine-like publication. A folded a3 black and white format is self-produced, edited, financed and published. Each publication is issued with 200 exemplars and posted to a randomly established list of architects, institution and firms in Switzerland and abroad. The publication tone attempts to be provocative and unserious- while dealing with extremely relevant matters.

FAS also operates on the web, where the publications are posted as well as with Facebook activities, focused on discussing current local problems absent from dialogue such as the Prostitution boxes planned by the city of Zurich, or Zurich current gentrification process, etc. FAS also gives lectures and takes part in public discussions, however only on foreign ground and never on Swiss soil. Behind the anonymity of FAS lays primarily the concern of keeping individualities at bay. (see bio note).


If the FAS collective was to look in an interpretative way on its action, we consider us at the opposite of the notorious letter of Patrick Schumacher[3] on the duty of political non-interference, and that architects should mobilize and dissent whenever necessary. We at FAS believe that architects are responsible for the form of the city; that it is also up to us to organize social relationships; and that architects are capable of constructive, creative dialogue -if they dare to speak up. In line with Woods Resistance Checklist to “Resist believing that the result is the most important thing”, FAS is just happy to exist and to be vocal.  

Others are undertaking the mission of replacing architecture onto a political agenda, taking other forms of rebellion or sedition from the assigned role of architecture as generator of sole capital. Didier Faustino’s works have been a permanent inspiration regarding the duty of architecture to question social issues (Stairway to heaven, 2007), along with Michael Rakowitz’s and a few others.


Foreign Architects Switzerland


[1] Harvey, David (2012). Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution. London: New Left Books.

[2] Jung, Carl Gustav "Psychotherapist or the Clergy" (1932). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.528

[3] ” I also doubt that architecture could be a site of radical political activism. I believe that architecture is a sui generis discipline (discourse and practice) with its own, unique societal responsibility and competency. As such it should be sharply demarcated against other competencies like art, science/engineering and politics.“ Schumacher, Patrick. (2012). SCHUMACHER SLAMS BRITISH ARCHITECTURAL EDUCATION. Available: http://www.architectural-review.com/view/overview/ar-exclusive-schumacher-slams-british-architectura.... Last accessed 15th March 2012.


Since none of the format are working, please find all our issues documenting our actions under following URLS (from more recent to first).




Bio Note:

Foreign Architects Switzerland is a collective of Swiss-based architects, founded in reaction to the political apathy and neutrality of the profession on the occasion of the minaret ban, voted in 2009. FAS took up arms against this restriction of the constructed environment, and against the xenophobic sign it represents. 

FAS is a publication dedicated to filling the gaps of theoretical and political dialogue in the Swiss architectural community. FAS is meant as a platform for ideas and people that remain illegitimate to the brain-dead, incestuous architectural media of Switzerland. FAS organizes competition and calls for ideas.

FAS is the illegitimate child of Switzerland and its foreign architects. As a flexible structure, FAS count as members, apart from the usual architects, philosophers and researchers. To avoid personal recuperation for self-promoting motives, and with the fear to become important, FAS tries to stay anonymous. However, whenever necessary, FAS stands for its positions in public.



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