Hostel in train carriages



Swiss Foundation for Social Tourism (Swiss Youth Hostels), Zurich

Maximum number of guests

One overnight stay incl. breakfast CHF 30.00

Bauart Architectes et Urbanistes SA (Peter C. Jakob, Emmanuel Rey, Yorick Ringeisen, Marco Ryter, Reto Sulzer, Ariane Wavre), Neuchâtel

Creating space from existing elements

The concept of the expo.sleeper emerged during the discussions following the competition for the extension of the youth hostel in Zermatt. Faced with a certain lack of inexpensive overnight accommodation for visitors to Expo.02, the Swiss Youth Hostels and the office Bauart Architectes et Urbanistes SA decided to jointly develop an original concept for a temporary youth hostel. As this intention came into being only six weeks before the opening of the national exhibition, it quickly became clear that it could only be realized by using already existing elements. For this reason, an approach based mainly on the installation of railroad carriages on disused tracks in the east of the Neuchâtel station plateau was chosen. After analyzing the various functional requirements typical of any youth hostel, various elements were assembled that formed the final project:

  • four couchette coaches (rented from Deutsche Bahn) with 240 overnight places
  • one freight car (rented from SBB), which houses the reception desk
  • six modular containers housing the auxiliary facilities (sanitary facilities, kitchen)
  • a mezzanine floor, which serves as a common room (play area, dining room, etc.)
  • a marquee structure, of which only the roof was put on to provide protection from rain and sun
  • a scaffold covered with fabric to create an entrance portal (signage).

The approach thus concretizes what is known as precycling, i.e., the inclusion of considerations about the subsequent use of the materials (after the building has been dismantled or demolished) as early as the project planning stage. In fact, most of the elements used already existed before and will subsequently be returned to their usual function. Thus, in a sense, the expo.sleeper experiment represented an interlude in their life cycle. The project also built on some pre-existing infrastructure and used facilities related to the previous artisanal use of the site. For example, connections could easily be made in existing conduits, and the crane spanning the railroad tracks could be integrated into the general signage of the hostel. Only the wooden parts, i.e. the floor between the wagons and the enclosure on the track side, were specially made for the project. They were subsequently fully recycled, mainly as panels for construction fencing.

Between poetry and pragmatism

The planning and execution of the project was strongly influenced by time, which is reflected in the duration of each phase: six weeks of preparation (planning and execution), six months of operation, and six days of dismantling. The set-up phase, which lasted from the first sketch to the opening, was particularly stimulating in terms of conceptual experience. The concept chosen and the requirements resulting from the extreme speed imposed by the proximity to the opening of the National Exhibition reversed the priorities in some ways compared to a more classical project. It was not a question of designing a tailor-made device, taking into account the ideal aesthetic proportions or specific technical characteristics, but pragmatically of finding a similar existing device for each need, harmonizing with those already selected and making it possible to keep the budget within the given limits.

A balance sheet with many facets

The overall operating balance is very positive, as the expo.sleeper was a real success in terms of attendance. The occupancy rate was almost 70% of the total capacity, which corresponds to about 25’000 overnight stays during the six months of operation. Thanks to these visitor numbers, it was possible to achieve a satisfactory balance between the invested costs and revenues, keeping the price per overnight stay at a particularly low level. The project has also helped to make Swiss Youth Hostels known to a wider public, not necessarily familiar with the recent development of this type of accommodation (welcoming young people and student groups, but also families). In this sense, by the way, the expo.sleeper project was recognized with a nomination for the Milestone 2002 Swiss Tourism Award.

At the same time, the project was also highlighted in ecological terms by being awarded the Flying Fish eco-label, which recognises projects that have proven to be environmentally friendly at the National Exhibition. This award underlines that integrating sustainable development into the project process does not necessarily require the use of sophisticated technical systems, but rather the right match between the needs to be met and the resources used. This aspect is considered one of the most promising approaches for the exploration of temporary construction.

Text extracts from Bauart Architectes et Urbanistes SA, Neuchâtel (Marco Ryter & Emmanuel Rey)
Photos: © Bauart Architectes et Urbanistes SA, Neuchâtel; © André Noël Pot