Christmas lighting Bahnhofstrasse Zurich, Zurich, 2003-2005
The World's Largest Time Piece

View on the Paradeplatz

View from the Paradeplatz
Opening event on the 23rd of November 2005
View from the Uraniastrasse


“Distinctive, generous, unique”—these were some of the qualities expected of the Christmas illuminations in Zurich’s internationally renowned shopping street. The competition brief also called for an interpretation that was contemporary in both aesthetic and technological terms. To master this challenging task we designed a continuous band of lights, 1.1 km long, using 275 tubes of light, which we called “The World’s Largest Timepiece”.

In terms of urban planning, the installation connects the railway station to the lake. Its simple, linear course turns the band of light into the visual backbone of the city, accentuating the appearance of the Bahnhofstrasse and its two slight yet distinct changes in direction. The vertical rods down the middle of the street form a spatial contrast with the building façades to each side, and draw the onlooker’s gaze upwards into the night sky. Depending on where the observer is standing, the Christmas lighting can look like a slick series of individually lit tubes, or like a glowing, constantly shifting curtain of light.

It is the nature of light to be dynamic, not static. Modern digital technology for controlling light intensity means that light can now be used as a highly flexible, informative medium. The appearance of the Christmas illuminations evolves dynamically over the course of Advent and creates a constantly changing atmosphere of festivity.. The pattern shown on the band of lights is generated by an algorithm regulated by date as the festive season progresses, as well as by the street’s activities, which we record using sensors. Hence, the visual image reflects not only the passage of time, but also the life of the Bahnhofstrasse itself. The passersby influence the lighting patterns in a sort of collective interaction: the Christmas lighting becomes the city’s inner timepiece and creates an unpredictable, dynamic and disembodied architecture, as transient as clouds in the sky.

Gramazio Kohler Architects, Zurich

Client: Zurich Bahnhofstrasse Association
Collaborators: Patrick Sibenaler, Damaris Baumann, Claudia Nasri
Consultancy: Rolf Derrer
Selected experts: Arup London (structural engineering), Arup Lighting (lighting consultants), IMS (lighting planning), Encon (construction), Marc Schwarz (cinematography)
Selected contractors: IMS (lighting elements and light control), Kummer+Matter (cable structure)