Candela – Isler – Müther. Concrete Shells in Mexico, Switzerland, and Germany

ETH Zurich, Main Building, Rämistrasse 101, Zurich, Semper Aula (HG G 60)
Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture (gta), ETH Zurich, Chair for the Theory of Architecture, Prof. Dr. Laurent Stalder, Dr. Rainer Schützeichel in cooperation with Chair of Structural Design, Prof. Dr. Joseph Schwartz
27.03.2020 - 28.03.2020
Dr. Rainer Schützeichel

An international symposium on the work and influence of Félix Candela, Heinz Isler and Ulrich Müther will take place in Zurich on March 27th and 28th, 2020. It concludes a three-part series of events that began in 2018 and is being organised at the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture (gta) in cooperation with the Chair of Structural Design at ETH Zurich, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), and the Müther-Archive at the University of Applied Sciences in Wismar.

The work of Félix Candela (1910–1997), Heinz Isler (1926–2009) and Ulrich Müther (1934–2007) coincides with the heyday of concrete shell construction in the second half of the 20th century, which the architect Candela in Mexico and the USA shaped just as decisively as the engineers Isler and Müther in Switzerland and the GDR respectively. Across the boundaries of political systems, they engaged in a lively professional exchange that took place via personal networks and organizations such as the International Association for Shell Structures (IASS), founded in 1959. Notwithstanding their mutual influences and their common field of activity in general, their professional work in particular is characterised by remarkable differences that need to be highlighted. While Candela became the undisputed master of elegant shells in Mexico, which were mostly used in public buildings, Isler positioned himself successfully as an entrepreneurial engineer in the Swiss Mittelland, particularly with his system of industrial shells that was optimized in terms of planning and construction processes. Müther, for his part, was able to achieve a monopoly position under the conditions of the socialist planned economy, both in the design and execution of such buildings by his own construction company.

Besides early projects and milestones in the work of the three protagonists, the two-day symposium at ETH Zurich will embed their work in the contemporary historical context. Their experimental form-finding methods will be subject of the lectures, as will their work with new building materials such as plastic or aluminium. In addition, the question will be investigated to what extent thin-walled concrete shells can be made fruitful for today’s construction practice. In the meantime, the historical shell structures of the 20th century are being worn down by the ravages of time, which is why the symposium will also look at exemplary works from the perspective of monument preservation in order to discuss problems and potential of their conservation.

Participation in the symposium is free of charge, no registration is required.


FRIDAY, MARCH 27, 2020

Welcome Address
Joseph Schwartz and Laurent Stalder (ETH Zurich)

Matthias Beckh (TU Dresden) and Rainer Schützeichel (ETH Zurich)

Panel 1: Three Shell Builders
Moderator: Matthias Beckh (TU Dresden)
Valeria Méndez and Laila Cordero (UNAM, Mexico City): Cosmic Rays Pavillion: Candela’s first experimental Hypars
Egor Lykov (ETH Zurich): Bringing the Shells to Market: Heinz Isler’s Way towards Technological Entrepreneurship
Georg Giebeler (BUW, University of Wuppertal): How to work better: Ulrich Müther’s Shell Buildings

Coffee break

Panel 2: Buildings and Archival Objects
Moderator: Matthias Ludwig (Hochschule Wismar)
Jan Oestreich (Hochschule Wismar): From moving Boxes to «Müther-Archive» to «Archive for Building Art of Mecklenburg-Hither Pomerania». Insights into an emerging Archive at Hochschule Wismar
Elisa Drago (UNAM, Mexico City): Candela’s Industrial Heritage in Danger: Alce Blanco Neighborhood
Giulia Boller (ETH Zurich): Form Finding or Form Validating? Positioning Heinz Isler in the Field of Experimental Shell Design

Visit of the gta Archive (non-public)

Panel 3: Crucial Projects
Moderator: Juan Ignacio del Cueto (UNAM, Mexico City)
Marisela Mendoza (Nottingham Trent University): Felix Candela’s «Rubicon»: The Sports Palace, Mexico City
Rainer Schützeichel (ETH Zurich): Mass Motorization and Fast Food: The Deitingen Motorway Station and its changing Reception
Wilfried Dechau (Neustadt an der Weinstrasse): Ulrich Müther’s Rowing Centre in Dresden

Key Note Lecture
Ekkehard Ramm (University of Stuttgart): Personal Reflections on Heinz Isler


Panel 4: Built Knowledge Transfer
Moderator: John Chilton (Nottingham University)
Mauricio Luzuriaga (Universidad San Francisco de Quito): Two Twins of Los Manantiales in Ecuador
Carlos Lázaro (Universidad Politécnica de Valencia): Candela’s last Shell: Design and Construction of L’Ocea­nogràfic Restaurant Shell Roof in Valencia
Tanja Seeböck (Berlin): Ulrich Müther’s Concrete Shells abroad

Panel 5: Mastering the Material
Moderator: Matthias Beckh (TU Dresden)
Elke Genzel and Pamela Voigt (HTW Berlin/Leipzig): Thin Ice: Isler’s Plastic Buildings
Joseph Schwartz (ETH Zurich): Form and Forces: Some Research Results on Contemporary Shell Design at the Chair of Structural Design
Johann Kollegger (Technical University Vienna): Building Concrete Shells and Bridges without Formwork

Lunch break

Panel 6: Building Heritage
Moderator: Rainer Schützeichel (ETH Zurich)
Juan Ignacio del Cueto (UNAM, Mexico City): Current State of the Structure of Los Manantiales-Xochimilco Restaurant
Susanne Brorson (BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg): The Children Summer Camp Site Buildings in Borchtitz/Rügen: An Example of Ulrich Müther’s early Shell Struc­tures and their Conservation Status today
Franz Graf and Yvan Delemontey (EPF Lausanne): The SICLI Factory, Geneva: The Genesis and Future of a remarkable Thin-Shell (1966–2020)

Final Discussion and Resume
Matthias Beckh (TU Dresden) and Rainer Schützeichel (ETH Zurich)


Rainer Schützeichel

ETH Zürich, D-ARCH, Institut gta
Stefano-Franscini-Platz 5, CH–8093 Zürich

Candela – Isler – Müther. Concrete Shells in Mexico, Switzerland, and Germany, 27.03.2020 – 28.03.2020 Zurich, in: H-Soz-Kult, 25.02.2020, <>.
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