The film shows fourteen concrete roof constructions and bridges designed and built by Robert Maillart between 1910 and 1935: The warehouse on Zurich's Giesshübelstrasse (1910), the filter building in Rorschach (1912), the Maggazini Generali warehouse in Chiasso (1924), the aqueduct near Chatelard (1925), the bridge over the Valtschielbach (1925), Salginatobel Bridge (1930), Spital Bridge (1931), the bridges over the Bohlbach and the Rossgraben Bridge (all 1932), the bridge over the Schwandbach and the Thur Bridge near Felsegg (both 1933), the footbridge over the River Toess in Winterthur (1934) and the Arvebrücke near Geneva (1935). Shooting took place in April 1996.
Img 1: Warehouse (1910) at the Giesshübel Strasse in Zurich, Switzerland, April 15, 1996
Img 2: Filter building (1912) near Rorschach, Switzerland, April 16, 1996
Architecturs as Autobiography - Robert Maillart (1872-1940)
Photography und beyond - Part 3
35 mm, color, Dolby Stereo SR, 1 : 1,37, 24 minutes
Director, photography, editor: Heinz Emigholz
Collaborators: Andreas Senn, Thomas Wilk
Sound Design: Martin Langenbach
Sound Mix: Stephan Konken
Produced by Pym Films in cooperation with FilmFörderung Hamburg and the WDR, Wilfried Reichart
Premiere: Berlin Film Festival (Forum), February 9, 2001
Img 3: Maggazini Generali warehouse (1924) in Chiasso, Switzerland, April 18, 1996
Robert Maillart revolutionised concrete-based construction. By reducing the material to the essential load-bearing elements and redesigning these in his structures, he developed a completely novel world of forms. His interests and inventions - the girder-less and hollow-box arch, beam-less floor slab, three hinged arch and round-arched bridge with curving platform - amounted to an encyclopaedic exploration of the opportunities presented by concrete. The complex simplicity and elegance of the load-bearing structures set new aesthetic standards the world over. However, his rejection of massive construction methods and his reduction of forms to the essential lines of structural strength provoked mistrust among building authorities and led them to impose absurd conditions. His pioneering experiments can be found in out-of-the-way valleys of small cantons which gave him a free reign for his design.
Img 4: Aqueduct (1925) near Chatelard, Switzerland, April 20, 1996
On the approach road to the Salginatobel Bridge we found a plaque of the American Society of Civil Engineers declaring the structure an "International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark". The Museum of Modern Art in New York held an exhibition of Maillart's work in 1947. Two years later, Max Bill became the first person to publish a style-setting book about his work. But in Europe, Maillart was for a long time known only to insiders. On the basis of what he built in Russia between 1912 and 1918, his work there is often falsely seen as one of the "artist-engineers" active in Revolutionary Russia.
In the case of the bridges it was interesting to discover that we only needed to shoot a limited number of takes to portray perfectly the forces at work and their composition. Walking for hours through small mountain valleys looking for camera positions to shoot the undersides of bridges, we were able to get an impression of the sites before the bridges were built. We enjoyed viewing the concrete bridges over our heads as chimeras brought to life, as dreams come true. We could really sense the time that people saved by using these bridges.
Img 5: Bridge over the Valtschielbach (1925) near Donath, Switzerland, April 17, 1996
A bridge is in any case a metaphor, a time machine. It is a short-cut, it bridges and it transforms one state into the next. It is both a road and a tunnel, a qualitative leap while at the same time resisting the elements, a symbol of Man's efforts to deal with the world he has to live in.
Robert Maillart's art shows us how elegantly a chasm can be overcome.
Standing in the landscape, we knew the first element to bridge the chasm had been the wish to be on one side one moment, on the other the next. To support the trajectory of that wish, sleek and discreet, arching against the force of gravity, counterpointing the flow of the rocks and the shape of the landscape: that was Robert Maillart's achievement and the theme of many of his inventions.
Img 6: Bridge over the Bohlbach (1932) near Interlaken, Switzerland, April 19, 1996
Img 7: Bridge over the Salginatobel (1930) near Schiers, Switzerland, April 16, 1996
Img 8: Bridge over the Thur Bridge (1933) near Felsegg, Switzerland April 16, 1996
Img 9: Footbridge over the River Toess (1934) in Winterthur, Switzerland, April 15, 1996
Abb 10: Brücke über die Arve von 1935 in Vessey bei Genf, Schweiz, am 20. April 1996