Zurich Airport opens large, mixed-use project.

Aerial view of The Circle (image courtesy Zurich Airport)

by Ron Bernthal

After a construction period of almost six years,  a new commercial district opened in November, 2020, at Zurich Airport. Named The Circle at Zurich Airport, Switzerland’s largest construction site has now been transformed into a modern, eye-catching district that includes two hotels, a meetings and exhibition center, numerous shops and restaurants, headquarters for international companies and facilities for medical services.

More than 1.2 billion Swiss francs (US$1.3 billion) has been spent on the two million square-foot project, and both of its investors, Swiss Life (Switzerland’s largest life insurance company) and Flughafen Zurich AG (the operator of Zurich Airport and its related businesses), understand that the project will initially face an uphill battle to attract visitors due to the current decrease in air travel. However, The Circle’s mixed-use business model means it is not 100% dependent on airport passengers, and since Switzerland’s tourism and diversified business economy is expected to recover faster than most European countries, there is little doubt that the project will succeed.

In some ways, the new project is similar to other new airport development projects in Manchester (UK), Singapore, Dubai, Beijing, Istanbul and at the proposed Western Sydney Aerotropolis, where the airports themselves and their adjacent highways and rail transport facilities are woven into the fabric of new office, retail and even residential buildings to form an airport-centered edge city.  

New buildings face the green spaces of The Circle’s park (image courtesy Zurich Airport)

The Circle and its adjacent green spaces are directly linked to the airport terminals, and also offer a quality external ambience and a quality airport address that is known throughout the world. The Circle will include venues for working, shopping, dining, medical services, congresses, events and, with the two Hyatt Hotels, a place for tourists, business travelers and Swiss residents from the area to enjoy whether or not they are arriving or departing on flights.

The Hauptplatz (Main Square) is filled with retail and dining outlets (image Zurich Airport)

“The decision to implement this project was a bold step by both co-owners,” said Andreas Schmid, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Flughafen Zürich AG. “Today, we can reap the rewards. In the early development stage, we allowed ourselves plenty of time to select the right concept. The prudent definition of the usage mix and the positioning, and, building on that. The architecture competition itself took several years and contributed to our success in keeping the construction costs under control while ensuring almost full occupancy at the time of the opening. I am unbelievably proud to be able to open The Circle, together with our co-owner, the Swiss Life Group.”  Swiss Life is Switzerland’s largest life insurance company.

The Park is a new meeting place and recreational area directly connected to the airport. Spanning 20 acres of green space, a new recreational area has grown up on the Butzenbüel hill in just under two years.

“We are delighted to be opening the Park for our visitors at the beginning of November, 2020. The new meeting place will bring nature into the urban airport site and increase the quality of the time spent at Zurich Airport. It’s worth visiting the new park. There is plenty to discover, and people can also visit The Circle, which will open at the same time”, said Manuela Staub, Head of Corporate Communication at Flughafen Zürich AG.

A funicular 262 feet in length carries visitors from The Circle directly to the Park’s panorama route (image courtesy Zurich Airport)

The Park’s design was the subject of a landscape architecture competition won by Studio Vulkan Landschaftsarchitektur GmbH, which created the concept for the project and oversaw its construction. The costs of the project came to around 15 million Swiss francs (US$16.3 million).

The range of uses comprises the different existing landscapes, including the established woodlands, meadows and wetlands that are being revived and a variety of paths has been created. A “sky platform” has been installed at the Park’s highest point. This level area with a water and mist feature is one one of the Park’s main attractions. The Park’s transit system, a funicular 262 feet in length, carries visitors from The Circle directly to the panorama route, one of the two path systems, in around 60 seconds. A path leads directly to the sky platform. In addition to the sky platform, there are also several places where small events can be held in the Park.

“The Circle is in every respect a future-oriented construction –  concentrated, sustainable building at the right location, and a modern usage concept geared to the needs of today’s and future generations,” said Rolf Dörig, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Swiss Life. “Enormous thanks are due to the many building specialists and tradespeople involved, as they have achieved something amazing and, especially in the final stage, have had to work under very challenging conditions.”

The Hyatt Regency Hotel (image courtesy Zurich Airport)

There are about a dozen shops operating now on the main square and in the alleys of the district, including a Jelmoli Lifestyle House and Sports House, an immersive Omega brand boutique, as well as interesting concepts from Anecdote by Dufry, Läderach Chocolatier Suisse, Sapori d’Italia and DLUX Hair. Pop-up stores feature the Zurich-based cosmetics label Soeder and the Swiss e-bike manufacturer Stromer.  

Using the lanes within The Circle, pedestrians will find various dining and retail venues (image courtesy Zurich Airport)

Food and beverage venues range from the cosmopolitan rooftop restaurant Sablier, which has a nice view of the park, to Leon’s Loft at the main square, which offers a large, feel-good food menu from early morning to evening. The Circle eateries also include a street food-inspired bowl concept at Rice Up! and Italian wood oven-baked pizza at restaurant l’Oro di Napoli.  In addition, both Hyatt hotels offer a wide variety of restaurants and bars, including Babel where guests can enjoy flavors from the Middle East.

The Circle Convention Center at Zurich Airport (image courtesy Zurich Airport)

More new venues at The Circle will be added in late 2020, including Avec and Bayard Co Ltd, and the 255-room Hyatt Regency Hotel and its attached Convention Hall, which can accommodate 2,500 people. In spring, 2021, the Hyatt Place Hotel will open, along with the natural cosmetics concept Cermony Suisse.

The University Hospital has already been welcoming patients in its new outpatient health center, called USZ Airport, since October, 2020, along with the Neuroth Hörcenter’s (hearing center). health-related range of services.

The Arthub at the Circle (image courtesy Zurich Airport)

Office tenants have begun moving into the new buildings. Employees of Flughafen Zürich AG, Isolutions and Totemo are already on site, and the Swiss firms Raiffeisen, Abraxas, Lunge Zürich and Inventx will move in by end 2020, along with the Globegarden childcare center and the Kieser Training fitness center. Early 2021 should see Horváth & Partners, Microsoft, Edelweiss, MSD, Novo Nordisk, SAP, Oracle, and Co-Working Spaces utilize other commercial office venues. About 80 percent of the available office space is already leased.

“We realize that we are opening The Circle in a challenging time.” said Stefan Feldmann, Head of The Circle at Flughafen Zürich AG. “However, we are very pleased to receive guests at The Circle, using the necessary precautionary measures. Over the next few months, we will continue to optimize and develop the Circle’s content and appearance to make it a vibrant place for our guests, tenants, employees, visitors and passengers.”