Remembering Fritz Schwarz, architect and friend of the VT Architecture Program
October 30, 2023
“The conversion is operationally unusable, but has been a great success,” wrote the magazine Domani about the interior spatial shell inserted into the existing rowhouse at Neumarkt 17 in Zurich’s old town in 1955. The architect relied on Le Corbusier’s strategy of the Promenade architecturale and the monochromatic theories of his friend Rudolf Olgiati to choreograph a path through the volume which led to numerous pedestals, niches, and plazas while accented by unexpected moments of natural light.
The architect in question, Fritz Schwarz, passed away in Zurich on September 18, 2023 at the age of 93. While the widely published Neumarkt 17 furniture store project became an icon to the design world, the Fritz Schwarz portfolio includes a great range of architectural typologies where he experimented with materials, urban formation, roofscapes and also furniture. Although his professional territory was mainly focused in Switzerland, he had deep ties to Blacksburg and Virginia Tech’s architecture program.
Fritz Schwarz opened his own architecture practice in 1955. He was the winner of several national and international competitions and the recipient of many architecture awards. His constant curiosity led him to visit architecture around the world. As well, he briefly worked for Gropius’s Architects Collaborative in Boston and for Charles Goodman’s office in New York in 1960. In 1987, he founded the Zurich Architecture Forum which continues to be active to this day.
In his engagement with architectural education, Fritz Schwarz taught at the ETH Zurich and at Ahmedabad, India, but most importantly at Virginia Tech where he developed deep ties with our architecture program. Between 1981 and 1989 he spent two months annually as visiting professor, followed by occasional engagements in student project reviews and lectures on architecture. In the Spring of 2013, Fritz Schwarz co-taught a semester-long 4th year architecture lab, and as recently as November of 2022, Fritz lectured passionately about his work and the importance of architecture in Cowgill Hall. This last presentation focused on the pending exhibition of his work titled ‘Sprengkraft Architektur’ in the Zurich Architecture Forum in May of 2023.
Fritz Schwarz was a part of a cohort of Swiss professionals who were invited to introduce design positions and approaches of the highly regarded Swiss architecture culture to the students at Virginia Tech during the 1980s and 1990s. Under his guidance, students developed a number of intense and inspiring design-build projects sited on the VT campus. Projects, such as a cube as windmill stood on one corner on the Cowgill Plaza, or tensegrity hot air balloons launched over the Drillfield, reflect his approach as an educator in challenging students to respond to the unexpected complexities of design.
In Europe, Fritz also extended a welcome to numerous VT student groups traveling with our Architecture Study Abroad Programs by hosting visits to his renowned Zurich furniture store at Neumarkt 17 as well as many other projects. He also was instrumental in helping to secure the Ticino location of Center for European Studies and Architecture (CESA), now called the Steger Center.
Fritz Schwarz, architect and friend of our Architecture Program, will be dearly missed.
We share below tributes by those who knew him well.
He was the epitome of discipline. This is evidenced by all of his diaries that he kept every day of his adult life. He believed in what he was doing, how he was doing it, and he was an example to our students.
Fritz Schwarz’s lectures, commentaries and individual critiques represented not only the perspective of an international architect and designer, but a cultural school of thought. He often shared the impressive influence of great designers and architects from Le Corbusier to Carlo Scarpa, whom he knew personally. It was those influences that when mixed with his own extraordinary talents, were an essential part of his professor - student dialog.
Fritz invented juxtaposition, creating delight with what became more than twice-told tales, a gift to all. Fritz opened the door to adventure, history, and images. Through Fritz, alpine hikes, frigid waters, Roman imagination, a log cabin in downtown Blacksburg, a towering domain in Zurich, and a multilayered dwelling in Ludiano secured the unexpected from an architect who challenged all to architecture.
Swiss precision and American entrepreneurship energized every encounter with Fritz Schwarz. The many episodes of events in and around Blacksburg, and visits to the Ludiano and Zurich abodes, were filled with energy and life. Our then seven- and four-year old’s will never forget the three weeks of bustling friendship on the hillsides of southern Switzerland.
I remember Fritz Schwarz as a great professor, with a kind wit. He would give me helpful advice - often in a very subtle way - and then patiently wait for me to process it and elaborate it in my own way in my project. I am grateful I had the opportunity to take his studio and have direct access to his knowledge.
Fritz Schwarz lived his life in constant motion. It was his love of the action of life that gave him a remarkable serenity. This was the gift he gave to us all.
See here for a catalog of products designed by Fritz Schwarz