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Interim Use

Irchel Campus to Host High Schools

This summer, Kantonsschule Zürich Nord will relocate to two renovated buildings on Irchel Campus, creating a coexistence of university and high school that is unique in Switzerland. This move will enable joint projects but also poses certain challenges. Members of the UZH community had the opportunity to learn more and ask questions at a town hall meeting.
Nathalie Huber, English translation by Barbara Simpson


Schüler:innen am Campus Irchel
From summer 2024, around 2,300 high school students will attend the Irchel campus. (Visualization: Raumgleiter AG)

This move brings UZH and Zurich’s upper secondary schools closer than ever before. In about four months, Kantonsschule Zürich Nord (KZN) will be the first Zurich high school to move into two specially converted buildings on Irchel Campus until 2027. Another four high schools will follow in two three-year cycles until July 2033, while their respective school buildings are renovated.

In close collaboration with the high schools and the Department of Education, UZH has prepared for a smooth interim use. However, the relocation of KZN and the start of the fall term with over 2,000 pupils on 19 August present a challenge for the university and its infrastructure. Last week, the Executive Board of the University held a town hall meeting to provide information, answer questions and promote dialogue. The meeting offered UZH members the opportunity for constructive exchange.

A unique opportunity

President Michael Schaepman: "We can look forward to a unique, open and mixed Irchel campus in Switzerland, which uniquely combines a grammar school and university." (Image: Fabio Schönholzer)

Sharing a campus between a university and a high school is a unique situation in Switzerland. As President Michael Schaepman emphasized at the start of the event, it also presents a special opportunity: “We have the opportunity to experience a new educational campus.” Proximity not only fosters mutual understanding, it also creates a space for collaboration in learning, teaching, research and experimentation. Nonetheless, an integrated campus also poses challenges. “Meticulous planning does not necessarily guarantee that everything has been considered,” stated Schaepman. Not everything can be predicted or planned in detail, and he does not consider this the objective. Adapting to everyday life will require patience from everyone. “Be generous, tolerant, curious, open-minded and interested – particularly at the beginning. It is our shared goal to shape this open campus together.”

Gaining insight into university life

The future standard classrooms for the canton's students (Rendering: Stücheli Architekten)

Andreas Niklaus, principal of Kantonsschule Zürich Nord, introduced his school, which he compared to a considerable SME due to its size. KZN is the largest upper secondary school in Switzerland, with 2,275 pupils, 96 classes and 300 teachers. It comprises both long and short-term secondary school programs, as well as a technical high school.

The school will occupy buildings Y12, Y32 and Y34, with its own schoolyard located between Y32 and Y34. The buildings previously used by UZH chemists have been repurposed. Y34 now houses specialized rooms for science, musical and art lessons, as well as the school administration. Y32 contains the general classrooms. The school community will also utilize the UZH connecting corridors to move between floors and wings. The timetable has been designed to minimize room changes. Andreas Niklaus reports that preparations for the move are in full swing: “We’re excited about this excellent location, which provides new opportunities to support our students.” The proximity to the university offers high school students a glimpse of university life.

Learning from each other

Gabriele Siegert elaborated on the concept of mutual learning and highlighted how the integrated campus will not only provide a common daily routine, but also enable the pursuit of shared interests. According to the Vice President Education and Student Affairs, “joint projects between UZH and high schools foster understanding and trust.” With funding from the Department of Education of the canton of Zurich, project ideas will be implemented that promote subject-specific and interdisciplinary skills, strengthen collaboration between teachers and teaching staff and inspire university students to pursue a career in teaching. For instance, university students can acquire valuable teaching experience, while pupils can benefit from the expertise of UZH members for their Matura theses. During open lecture hall weeks, high school students can gain insights into selected lectures and degree programs. Siegert encouraged all participants of the event to propose projects and actively engage in them.

Catering and sports facilities secured

The pupils will have their own canteen with seating for 300. (Rendering: Stücheli Architekten)

Daniel Hug, the Vice President Finance, presented measures related to catering and sports. Importantly, the school will have its own cafeteria. In addition, a food truck park will be established at Strickhof, and the instructors’ foyer will be opened for self-catering to alleviate congestion in the UZH cafeteria. A temporary sports facility with two gyms, three multifunctional rooms and separate changing rooms will be built on the Irchel West site for the 300 or so sports lessons at the KZN; the existing gyms will also be available. The ASVZ program will have to adjust its scheduling; the sports and fitness courses that previously took place during the day will now be held in the evenings and on weekends. However, Hug assured that the regular sports program will continue to take place for everyone, albeit at different times in some cases.

Part of the vision

The inner courtyard between buildings Y32 and Y34 can be used by pupils as a break area. (Map: Schmid Landschaftsarchitekten)

Last but not least, François Chapuis, Vice President Real Estate and Facility Management, presented the longer-term structural development of Irchel Campus. The new PORTAL UZH building plays a key role in this. Its construction can be brought forward thanks to the interim use of the former chemistry buildings by the Zurich high schools and is due to begin in 2030. The buildings of the first construction phase, UZI 1, from the 1970s, including the temporarily used premises, will undergo complete renovation after the completion of PORTAL UZH and the relocation of the high schools back to their own buildings.

After the presentations, the audience had the opportunity to ask the speakers questions about the interim use. Here is a summary:

The speakers answer questions about interim use (from left to right): Daniel Hug (Vice President Finances), Michael Schaepman (President), François Chapuis (Vice President Real Estate and Facility Management), Gabriele Siegert (Vice President Education and Student Affairs), Andreas Niklaus (Rector KZN), Roger Nickl (Moderator UZH Communications) (Image: Fabio Schönholzer)
  • How will the additional flow of people caused by the move be managed?
    François Chapuis explained that the campus already functions as a “city within a city” and benefits from excellent public transport connections. Zurich’s public transport company (ZVV) will be adding extra tram journeys between Oerlikon and Irchel at the start of the school year as needed. Additionally, the access route signage will be updated and information about the high schools will be integrated.
  • Are there enough bicycle parking spaces?
    There will be around 600 additional spaces available for schoolchildren. This should be sufficient, as the pupils also use other means of transportation, according to Andreas Niklaus. The existing bicycle parking spaces remain available for UZH members.
  • The move to Irchel Campus begins in July and overlaps with the exam period. Has this been taken into consideration?
    According to François Chapuis, this is not a problem, as a lot of goods are also being transported during normal operations and the necessary logistics routes are available and do not affect examinations.
  • Will pupils use the UZH study areas and library?
    Yes, according to the house rules, the UZH buildings and study areas are open to everyone. The Irchel University Library is open to everyone from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; with their badges, UZH members also have access outside of these hours. Pupils are also assigned study spaces in their own buildings and have access to a separate library.
  • Certain areas at UZH are considered sensitive for security reasons. How do you deal with such security issues?
    Michael Schaepman pointed out that doors in secure areas are kept locked and are only accessible with a UZH badge. It is important for UZH members to ensure that doors with automatic closing are consistently closed and locked.
  • The Irchelbar serves alcohol. How should the bar handle this with students?
    Daniel Hug said that the operator of the bar, the ZFV companies, has been informed of the presence of high schools on the campus. As per the law, it is the responsibility of the operator to check the age of customers before serving alcohol. Furthermore, the high school’s house rules prohibit students from consuming alcohol during school hours.
  • How will the school staff be introduced to their new surroundings?
    Andreas Niklaus reports that preparations are being made step by step. School staff are kept in the loop via a newsletter, and videos are available to provide orientation and valuable information about the campus. During the last week of the summer break, KZN teachers and staff will be given a tour of the campus. After the school holidays, pupils will also be given a tour of the campus.
  • What happens if the planning measures taken are not sufficient? Does UZH have a plan B?
    Gabriele Siegert noted that overly detailed rules can also be restrictive. During the interim use period, a specially appointed interim use coordinator will be the contact person for any concerns and queries. In addition, round table events will be held to facilitate the exchange between UZH and the schools and find joint solutions to any problems that may arise.