10. Semester, ETH Zürich


Julian Holz


supervised by Dr. Sigrid de Jong and Linda Stagni
Chair of the History and Theory of Architecture Prof. Dr. Maarten Delbeke
Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture



an Elective Thesis with the title:

on the basis of the character of buildings

After the definition of Beate Rudolf is the understanding of the term inclusivity that everyone has the right to be present in all spheres of life. Various texts and concepts show that besides thoughts on representation, especially in relation to buildings, it is mainly accessibility that is addressed and not the design or expression of the buildings. In contrast to that published in 2019 Charles L. Davis II the book Building Character, in which he looks in a chapter at the housing complex Harlem River Houses in New York, that was built specifically for black people. Davis analysis indicates, that the character of the housing project, described by the red bricks and the sculptures, incorporated the exclusionary attitude of the White people in the United States towards Black people. Or in other words: the Harlem River Houses excluded the Black People from the United States society.
This led to the question, so if a building can exclude by its character, how can a building include by its character? How are the terms inclusivity and character connected to each other? How can one define the term inclusivity in the context of the character of buildings? So if to be true, constructing inclusively therefore would mean more than just enabling access to the building and the mobility within the building for all people. Rather it needs to be asked how the place or the expression of a building may be inviting for some people, but repulsive or even rejecting for others.

To answer the questions are the buildings viewed from several perspectives: From the perspective of the architects who designed them, the residents and that of the architectural historian – my point of view. Using this method, the work asks about the perceptions and decision-making bases of the architects. In which social and political environment were the buildings built? What do the buildings speak of when read from different perspectives? To what do the buildings refer? How are the buildings characterised and how are they perceived? What has an inclusive effect?
The questions are addressed on the basis of three residential building projects in Zurich: The Escherhäuser built by Leonhard Zeugheer from 1836 until 1840, the settlement Birkenhof built by the architect Albert Froelich together with the office Kündig & Oetiker from 1925 until 1926 and the Zollhaus built by Enzmann Fischer Architekten from 2015 until 2021. The research is thereby structured in three parts, representing different perspectives. The first chapter describes the building from the perspective of architectural historian and includes the perceptions of the architects. The second chapter focuses on perspectives of the residents and puts them next to my personal expressions of the buildings which I gathered during the site visits. The third chapter summarises the discoveries from the first and second chapter in one conclusion. Furthermore, the findings are contrasted with existing understandings of inclusivity and character, and their broader definitions emerging from the analysis are presented.

The work shows that in relation to the four selected elements it could be recognized that the design of them are relevant for the building of inclusive architecture and that a concept of inclusivity can be found in any kind of things, the materiality, style, ornamentation or elements relating to something or someone. Furthermore is described that the different living conditions and standards, social and political circumstances and values over the time leaded to different criterias which made the inhabitants to be part of something / to be included. This leads to the recognition that it cannot be argued that there is only one inclusive status to be achieved, but that there are different forms of inclusivity. Moreover, from an architectural perspective, the revelations challenge Beate Rudolf’s definition of inclusivity from which the research started. At the end, four conclusions are presented which bring the historical analysis and the interviews together, which concern in specific the design of residential buildings and the character of these buildings.