Earthquake structures

Structural reinforcement of the Collège de l'Euope in Monthey

In the case of an earthquake, a set of sculptural steel structures, designed by architects Catherine Gay Menzel and Götz Menzel, will secure a primary school from the 1960s in Monthey, Switzerland. The work is the result of a close collaboration between the architects and the structural engineers Kurmann & Cretton, whose principal Roberto Peruzzi, is an expert in earthquake-safe construction.

The primary school, a compound of five buildings, is located in Switzerland’s earthquake risk zone number one: the Valais. The next major earthquake, the so-called “big one”, is expected to exert horizontal forces triggered by seismic waves, which can be calculated in the hundreds of tons. Prior to the reinforcement, the buildings would have resisted only a tenth of these forces, due to a severe structural deficiency. In true modernist tradition the construction of the 1960’s hoisted a box on pilotis: structurally-speaking a heavy mass resting on a soft base. Furthermore the required bracing for such a feat was completely absent. Due to great number of pupils in the school, the municipality had the structure reinforced.

The engineers and architects proposed a set of concrete cores to brace the buildings and steel structures to constrain the building from torsion in the case of an earthquake. The steel- work’s dynamic geometries are the result of the close collaboration between the architects and the engineers and evoke the forces that will act upon the buildings when strong seismic waves occur. During more temperate geological conditions the structures are used by the pupils as goals for a soccer match during the break, a hide-out or simply a bench. With their partial infills of sheet metal, the structures have a playful side to them, reminiscent of a puzzle or a tangram. The steel is painted in different shades of silver, picking up the on the mute grey hues of the existing buildings. According to the sun’s angle, their surfaces become either reflective and create a contrast or remain taciturn and blend in with the background. The structures both express their own identity as well as create a dialogue with the existing through the proportions of their profiles, their colours and their will of structural expression.

Earthquake proof structural reinforcement
Monthey, VS
Municipality of Monthey
Direct mandate
Civil engineer
Kurmann & Cretton SA, Monthey
Eik Frenzel & Philomène Hoël
  • Prix d’architecture et d’ingénierie parasismique, 2012