Too big

Too big to fail. We all thought that after the financial crisis some fifteen years ago, we would not deal with the same kind of problems again. The banking sector in Switzerland has proven us wrong. One of the 2 big banks Credit Suisse in Switzerland was about to default and asked for 170 billion state guarantee middle of March 2023. Only after a forced merger with the other big bank UBS (which was rescued in 2008 already) and the huge state guarantee the solvency of the even bigger bank was re-established. Tax payers were expected to foot the bill. Less than 6 months later the Finance Minister Karin Keller-Sutter announced that there is no longer a risk for tax payers to pay for the mismanagement of the bankers involved. This is a relief for the political system which is going to the polls next year.

Many unresolved questions remain. Financial market supervision is faulty to say the least. Banking left to bankers as controllers is risky. Apparently fines do not work only prohibition to exercise similar functions (internationally) again is likely to be effective (NZZ 2023-8-9 S.19). Other remedies lie in a complete overhaul of the governance system of banks and beyond. Supervisory boards should in theory be able to assess the risks incurred by the management board. Failure to do so has no consequences for them either. Representatives of the employees in the board is likely to introduce more longer term concerns into decision-making. Saving jobs is a valuable goal not necessarily in the interest of investment bankers. Capitalism is at high risk of survival and with it our democratic systems. It was not a bank in Niger that got into trouble, but at a major European financial center. Too big to fail in a tiny country still sends shivers throughout Europe. And the other big bank is growing even bigger now, probably un-savable now. If I had a bucket of Swiss Franks, I would rather sell them.


Le Corbusier (1887-1965) chose his artist’s name instead of his lengthy original name of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret at the age of 33 (in 1920) after having moved from Switzerland to Paris in 1917. He established a theory of modern architecture often summarised in his 5 major principles of modern architecture: 1. Pilotis as grid of pillars, 2. freeing ground floor design, 3. more open facades, 4. windows stretch horizontally, 5. garden, terrace on the roof. All these principles allow a more healthy living environment due to more light, less humidity in buildings and ease of circulation. The house Le Corbusier designed features surprising effects of light and lightness of living. “Les maisons La Roche et Jeanneret” date from 1923 and was completed in 1925. These purists Villas breathe thanks to the impression of abundant empty spaces despite relatively small surfaces. One Villa is designed for a small family, the second for a single person (Raoul La Roche) with a collection of paintings to be exposed in a small gallery. The focus on essentials of living, health, light, water, air and art combine to a relaxing and inspiring atmosphere.  Despite many of his convictions to build affordable housing for many people, which received mixed success, his “maisons bourgeoises” in Paris and elsewhere remain masterpieces beyond the 1920s and the 20th century. Le Corbusier was concerned about tuberculosis. Today the corona-crisis has reached comparable health concerns. Architecture might react to the latter crisis in re-considering the lessons from the former. Relaxing in a Le Corbusier Chaise longue and meditating in front of a Picasso, Braque or Léger painting is indeed more than a little bit elitist. But copies of such images or your very own slide show or museum VR-clip in this surrounding make this experience more affordable and compatible with living arrangements for millions of people of the middle class as well.

20th Century

The 20th century has told us many lessons. History does not repeat itself, but it appears that new variants of old themes keep coming back. Slowly passing the century like a movie in decades instead of episodes, we witness socio-emotional tides. The first decade, the 00s intensify the beginning of urban planning and social revolutions. The 10s show the arousal and subsequent extinction of masses of people in trenches. The 20s were described as the Carefree Twenties. In the 30s we observed the rising tides of fascist organisations followed shortly afterwards by the disastrous 40s. After the Shoah and the World War the 50s were fabulous viewed from the U.S. and Western Europe. The 60s propagated sex, drugs and rock n’ roll spreading across continents. The wild 70s became almost inescapable through the continued rise of mass media. The 80s were depicted as the colourful 80s as the 2 previous decades had set the scene for psychedelic colours. The 1990s have been coined as the gay 90s by some. Coming out as a gay person became easier and Western societies more sensitive and open to diversity. The back cover of the recent publication by Aurélien Bellanger “Le vingtième siècle” (The 20th century) speaks of the book as “roman polyphonique virtuose”. I look back on the 20th century as “polyphone” in many respects. It would be an illusion to believe we can only keep the nice sounding harmonies without the tensions or dissonances.


In retrospect from the 1930s and in prospect from the 1910s, the 1920s may well be described as “The Carefree Twenties”. Several other summary notions are attributed to the 1920s. “Les années folles” in the French speaking world, “The Jazz years” within the U.S. or the “Wild 20s” in Germany coined the decade after the disillusion of the 1st world war. The economic and cultural revival after the period of atrocities has seen thriving city centres and comparatively little economic hardship until the Wall Street crashed on October 24th in 1929 the so-called “Black Thursday”. The party was suddenly over and a lengthy economic crisis spread globally. It was within this carefree spirit of the 1920s that the counter movements of the 30s started to take roots. The 20s saw the skyscrapers soar and the credit-financed speculation was at its highest. Pierre Boudon (1991, pp. 137) characterises the architecture of the 1930s as “l’inversion des signes”. The Bauhaus of the 1920s was later forced into emigration. The film of F. Lang “Metropolis” (1927) prolonged the constructivist lines of the 1920s to a haunting vision of big cities with its daunting acceleration of economic and cultural experiences. Walter Benjamin later referred to the method of technical reproduction as one of the major foundations for the mass movements and mass culture, which turned the relatively carefree 20s into the disastrous 30s. Indeed, many scholars group the 20s and 30s into one historical period as the rise and decline between the 2 world wars of the 20th century. Certainly in terms of economic development many countries witness as steep rise in prosperity in the 20s followed by deep recession in the 30s. What went up in spectacular terms in the 20s, economic development, democratic participation, came down in the next decade due the rise of Fascist movements. 100 years later in 2020s we still struggle with many of the same issues. Poverty and “Existenzminimum” as topic of the 2nd International congress of modern architecture in 1929 in Frankfurt reflects the ever lasting need to address “social questions” throughout decades, if not whole centuries of mankind.