Empa: Switzerland’s built infrastructure under pressure – Rethinking Switzerland’s built infrastructure

Buildings, roads, railways, supply and disposal networks and much more: The entire Swiss built environment is as complex as its challenges for the future – due to climate change, natural hazards, population growth and other factors. Where to start? With which priorities? An expert group has launched an initiative for an overall view – and thus is giving new impetus for research and practice.

By guest author Norbert Raabe from Swiss Empa

Caption courtesy by Swiss Empa

Reducing CO2 emissions from heating, building more densely, making greater use of solar energy and storing it efficiently, rethinking mobility and transportation: These are the buzzwords that come to mind for many contemporaries when asked about urgent tasks. But what is most important? How can our limited resources be used most efficiently to achieve the net zero target in greenhouse gases by 2050, for example? When, at the same time, the Swiss rail network is at capacity, the road network is highly congested, and the volume of traffic continues to rise?

These are questions that make even experts wonder. In view of the manifold challenges, five experts now want to give new impetus to the project “Entwicklung Bauwerk Schweiz”, which started about ten years ago (see info box). Under the leadership of Peter Matt, Fritz Hunkeler, Hans Rudolf Ganz, Laurent Vulliet, Professor at the EPFL, and Empa Deputy CEO Peter Richner want to provide new food for thought – with a bird’s eye perspective of all the tasks ahead. Only a synopsis of this kind makes it possible to prioritize measures across many topics and, in short, to do the right thing at the right time, the experts are convinced.

Five focal points

Details from the experts’ analyses can be found in a new roadmap entitled “Switzerland’s building stock is under pressure to adapt!” According to this, five segments are particularly affected by the upcoming challenges: the building stock, freight transport infrastructure, passenger transport infrastructure, both individual and public, drinking water networks and wastewater networks.

The roadmap also depicts graphically where its authors see the greatest potential. In a matrix, the need for action and the potential impact for individual measures are rated as particularly high in the area of passenger transportation and buildings. Moreover, mind maps provide an overview: Graphics that contrast drivers – i.e., challenges – with possible levers for individual segments of Switzerland’s built infrastructure. For cargo transport, for instance, you can find keywords such as drones, “cargo sous terrain” and true costs as the basis for mobility pricing.

Expanding knowledge and making it usable

More specifically, the experts propose three initiatives: increased research to expand existing knowledge; secondly continuing education to ensure that it quickly reaches professionals in the field; and thirdly an impulse program to make useful information available to all interested parties in the form of documentation and other tools. “With the roadmap, we are pursuing several goals,” says Richner, “to demonstrate the importance of Switzerland’s built infrastructure for our society, to specify the need for action and, above all, to raise awareness of the fact that we can only develop a goal-oriented strategy for the future from a higher perspective.”

Detailed information on the ideas of the five experts is available on a new website. In addition to the roadmap, the documents also include “Main Topics – Attempt at an Overview,” written by Fritz Hunkeler: an extensive collection of materials that is also intended to serve as a stimulus for discussion. The technical background is illuminated by various presentations from the symposium “Entwicklung Bauwerk Schweiz” in Bern in June 2013, on which the project is partly based.


Website with detailed information about the project “Entwicklung Bauwerk Schweiz”