Jürg Conzett and Gianfranco Bronzini are a reminder that the engineer’s craft is also, and invariably, a part of our built culture. That is largely because they see themselves not as service providers to famous architects, but as designers in their own right. In their projects, they are guided by a single goal: to ensure that their interventions in the landscape, the city or the existing fabric are appropriate—in terms of construction, economics and aesthetics. As such, Conzett and Bronzini are carrying on the tradition of the great Swiss engineers Robert Maillart and Christian Menn.
Their designs are the product of an intensive thought process. Their tactic is that they always try out the opposite, in order to find the solution that is most intelligent, both technologically and aesthetically. Conzett and Bronzini can opt for an attention-grabbing solution such as the slender Negrelli footbridge over the tracks leading out of Zurich’s main railway station, the bold suspension bridge spanning the Viamala Gorge, or the Wonder Bridge at the Technorama in Winterthur; or go for something laid-back and unassuming, and on occasion will even propose a smaller and more modest bridge to a client. Because, as Bronzini explains, “we don’t just want to build bridges”.
Conzett and Bronzini’s unique, often detective-like working method has made them highly sought-after for civil engineering projects. They have collaborated fruitfully with architects such as Meili + Peter (wood industry school in Biel), Miller + Maranta (Volta schoolhouse), Peter Zumthor (Swiss Sound Pavilion, EXPO Hanover) and Diener & Diener (Kongresshaus and Tonhalle Zurich).
Conzett and Bronzini have been working together since 1994 and have had their own engineering consultancy in Chur since 1996. Both have building in their blood: Conzett’s father was a surveyor and cartographer; Bronzini grew up in an environment of skilled manual labour, with a father who was a guest worker in the building trade. Conzett studied at the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology in Lausanne and Zurich; Bronzini completed an apprenticeship as a civil engineering draughtsman before studying at the Eastern Switzerland University of Applied Sciences (OST).
Both have a profound respect for the existing fabric, which comes through in their surveys of infrastructure projects for the Rhaetian Railway and civil engineering departments. “Actually, we like what we’re analysing, and never set out to change as much as possible. There’s a kind of reluctance to intervene too drastically. It’s an instinctive desire to preserve historic monuments”, explains Conzett.
The duo are also researchers. Conzett’s “Wegleitung zur Gestaltung von Stützmauern” (Guidelines on the design of retaining walls) emphasise that in mountainous cantons, retaining walls must also be designed in accordance with uniform principles. In the 2010 publication “Landschaft und Kunstbauten” (Landscape and Structures), the Swiss contribution to the 12th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice, he and photographer Martin Linsi laid out the essence of the engineer’s art.
Conzett and Bronzini have received a number of awards for their work, including the Prix Acier steel and metal construction prize in 2021 for the Negrelli footbridge.