Tilla Theus: FIFA headquarters, 2003-6
So, FIFA. It has a headquarters, in Zürich, in a very Swiss building by Tilla Theus. There are so many architects in the world doing really lovely work that we rarely hear about – Tilla Theus's presence on the web doesn't extend to english-language sites at all. However, she studied at ETHZürich and has a small practice of sixteen people, Tilla Theus und Partner AG. The FIFA headquarters in Zürich-Hottingen was built between 2003 and 2006.
The building wraps a garden where (superstitiously I would think given that just this morning there was a report of the Brazilian team sprinkling beach sand on the pitch for its meeting with Croatia) earth from all the FIFA member countries has been placed. The glass skin on the outside is ambiguous: slightly torqued, it appears to shimmer in its landscape. The transparency is an architectural conceit, given how un-transparent and allegedly corrupt and open to bribery some FIFA members are. Photographs show an elegant, serious, marbled hall of mirrors. Unfair to project FIFA's operating politics on a piece of architecture, that would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Forget FIFA, the building is beautiful. The materials are emotional, rather than the structure, or the programme: tilted translucent alabaster walls, polished stone, layers of structural glass so that the building envelope is both transparent and thick.
It is cool, a cool, calm setting for what must be often quite hot negotiations about politics, money, face, national identity, whistleblowing, power – is architecture capable of calming tempers, holding a moral high ground? Or does it legitimise impunity. This is a question that has been applied to Le Corbusier and Neimeyer's UN Headquarters in New York since it was built in 1952. For Tilla Theus the project was to do an excellent piece of architecture in the city in which she lives and practices. Very Swiss. It can't all be smooth sailing though, as I struggled through German texts and interviews I came across this little comment: 'I am a woman, I always take criticism personally.' Well, yes.