VOS – visitor centre at the Swiss Ornithological Institute/



Project Details



Sempach / Switzerland



Year (Design/Construction):

2010 / 2015

Area (Net/Gross):

2010 m2 / 9190 m2
Operational Carbon emissions

Operational Carbon emissions (B6) kgCO2e/m2/y:

Embodied Carbon emissions

Embodied Carbon emissions (A1-A3) kgCO2e/m2:

  • Load bearing walls made of rammed earth.
  • Optimised and light ribbed timber roof structure
  • The structure is left exposed optimising and reducing the amount of materials required
  • Used of natural materials throughout the building
  • Good proportion on glazed and solid facade reduces heat losses and improves the thermal performance of the building

The new Visitor Centre at the Swiss Ornithological Institute has been built on the banks of Sempachersee. Its function is to provide the public with more information about the work of the Ornithological Institute and about bird life in Switzerland.

A dynamic network of routes guides visitors through the exhibition and the entire lakeside site. The compact, polygon structures have been positioned so that they interact with the countryside and the lake. The building’s load bearing outer shell is made of rammed earth. With the addition of simple timber constructions, they give the Visitor Centre, which satisfies the “Minergie-P-eco” standard, its characteristic appearance and do justice to the sustainability concept.

This building method, which uses natural materials and has a low environmental impact, was chosen in response to a brief calling for a building that exhibits a strong ecological profile. Rammed earth is also extremely durable and has excellent thermal properties.

One of the building’s volumes contains a flexible exhibition space dedicated to birdlife and the work of the institute. The other houses an auditorium and care centre on the ground floor, with a learning space on the level above and minimally decorated bedrooms for boarding interns who spend time working at the institute on the top floor.

The foyer area features a reception desk and entrances to the various facilities accommodated in the two structures on either side, as well as a glass-walled aviary housing birds that are too weak to survive in the wild.

A casual seating area positioned next to the aviary enables visitors to observe birds in this enclosure, or look out on the lake through the adjacent windows. In the foyer, the external walls of the two polygonal structures become internal surfaces with openings carved into them to accommodate doorways and windows.

Decking and joinery including exposed roof beams continue the application of natural materials throughout the exterior and interior of the building.


  • Team: Claude Marbach, Julia Wurst, Pat Tanner, Daniele Di Giacinto, Roman Lehmann, Amelie Braun, Katharina Kleczka, Marlies Rosenberger, Regina Tadorian, Johannes Weisser, Samuel Wespe, Miriam Zenk
  • Construction Management: kunzarchitekten ag, Sursee
  • Construction engineer (solid): WAM Planer und Ingenieure AG, Bern
  • Construction engineer (wood): Pirmin Jung Ingenieure für Holzbau AG, Rain
  • Landscape architect: Fontana Landschaftsarchitektur GmbH, Basel
  • Exhibition designer: Steiner Sarnen Schweiz AG, Sarnen
  • Rammed-Earth: LEHM TON ERDE Baukunst GmbH, A – Schlins
  • Photographs: Alexander Jaquemet


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