From paper factory to urban entertainment centre

The site is always busy. Freight wagons carrying raw materials cross lorries delivering the finished paper. A canal directs water from the Sihl river into the factory to drive the electricity turbines. Steam rises from the tall chimney and sits in the air. Papermaking is something special. This is what an observer would have seen in 1965. Here, where paper was once manufactured for more than 150 years, is where Sihlcity now stands. Steam may not be rising from the chimney any more, but the former factory premises are still as lively with around 24,000 people visiting Sihlcity every day, enjoying the urban, architectural ambience, the wide range of shops and the many cultural and culinary treats.

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The rise and fall of Sihl paper

But let’s go back to the past, more precisely to 1836 when industrialists and bankers from local Zurich families founded the mechanical paper factory. And just at the right time, as education was growing in importance, there was a big increase in the number of newspapers, flysheets and books, and consequently in the need for paper, too. The factory started paper production with around 100 workers. Sales volumes continued to rise, additional machines were bought in and the premises kept on growing. The company was heavily affected by the world economic crisis of 1931. It was only because of the factory’s solid financial base that it was able to survive and from then on it focused increasingly, and successfully, on the production of high-quality speciality paper. In 1973, the flourishing company built the world’s biggest machine for transparent paper. There were now some 500 people working round the clock in shifts. But things went downhill in the recession that followed the oil crisis: there was short-time work and many machines were shut down; only the Ausrüsterei (sheeting and packaging centre) continued, up until 1990. The paper company then went very quiet apart from a few halls and workshops that were rented out for occasions or to artists and small businesses.

The ‘Sihlcity’ idea is born

In the meantime, sole contractor Karl Steiner developed Sihlcity with the architect Theo Hotz. Today’s Co-owner Association bought the project in 2003. Four stone constructions from the former building complex on the site have been preserved. These venerable contemporary witnesses are a continuous reminder of a precious and lively chapter in Zurich’s history.

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