Why there is a push in Switzerland to make buildings higher

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Why there is a push in Switzerland to make buildings higher
More living space can be created by building on top of existing houses. Image by Ralph from Pixabay

Tall residential buildings are not very common in Swiss cities, but efforts to change this are gathering strength.

Looking to move? Find your next rental apartment here.


Many of Switzerland’s cities are suffering from a chronic housing shortage, with the demand for accommodation far exceeding the available supply.

Though a number of measures have been proposed — for instance, loosening certain regulations which slow down construction of new buildings, such as noise ordinances — the Swiss Tenants Association has said current plans lack “rapid and effective measures."

READ ALSO: Why Swiss tenants are unhappy with plan to solve housing shortage

Reaching new heights

Another possible solution currently on the table addresses the scarcity of land for new constructions.

“This is why expansion must absolutely take place at height,” the Liberal-Radical Party (PLR) said in a press release

This means that additional living space should be created on top of current residential buildings.

To that end, “building and zoning regulations in Swiss cities must be adapted so as to systematically integrate the raising of one or two floors into urban plans.” 

“In addition, in all residential areas, the maximum authorised height of existing buildings should be  increased by at least three metres. This should make it possible to add an additional floor or two for housing, where possible," the party states.

The 'where possible' clause would exclude historic buildings that cannot be altered and ones where adding more floors is not feasible for technical reasons.

Building ‘upwards’ not only creates space for more dwellings, but also helps stop urban sprawl and preserves agricultural land, according to  PLR’s MP Simone de Montmollin. 


What might happen next?

The party has started an online petition, which it urges all Swiss citizens who favour this change to sign. 

"Building and zoning standards in Swiss cities must be adapted so that the maximum permitted height for existing buildings in all residential areas is increased by three metres," its text says. "This should make it possible to add an additional floor for housing, independently of the existing use."

If and when the petition collects at least 100,000 signatures, the issue would be brought to a ballot box.

No details are available about the number of signatures collected to date.

Historic perspective

While the idea may sound ground-breaking, it is not.

As de Montmollin pointed out, already in the 16th century, houses were raised in Geneva to create accommodation for persecuted Protestants (Huguenots) fleeing France.

Much more recently, such ‘elevations’ have been possible in Geneva thanks to a law passed in 2008.

And in Zurich, the PLR, along with a multi-party coalition, launched a popular initiative for the raising of existing buildings.


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also