Published in: Sabine Schaschl, Stiftung für konstruktive und konzeptuelle Kunst (ed.), Dem Raum Raum geben. Marguerite Hersbergers architektur- und raumbezogenes Werk, Wien: Verlag für moderne Kunst, 2023, pp. 18-33.
Five fragments of a cube in black volcanic rock lie scattered in the park outside the castle Schloss Salenegg. A narrow gravel path serves as the underlying surface, forming a large circle bordered by flower beds and hedges. Designed in 1988–89 for the entrance area of an office building in Zurich, Geteilter Würfel (Divided Cube) lost its original placement due to renovations. Since 2013, it can be found on the grounds of a wine-growing estate in rural Graubünden. Between the vineyard and the buildings of Schloss Salenegg, we cross a baroque garden landscape, the symmetry of which is now interrupted by irregular black prisms. These bodies of rock once rose from the ground in front of a facade of glass and steel and led from a public sidewalk to an insurance company’s reception desk, reinforced by yellow/white strips of light in the floor and ceiling.
Colored light spaces made of acrylic glass have been a key element of Marguerite Hersberger’s architecture-related works since the 1980s: the decade that saw the start of her engagement with built situations, which continues to this day in parallel to her exhibition activities. Alongside such interventions in architectural givens, which the following text will address, Hersberger has also created a multitude of different space-related visual constellations for interior spaces. However, because there is not enough room here for a comprehensive presentation of both artistic paths, I will concentrate on the former—the architecture-related practice—on this occasion. Before I follow the trails and transformations of selected works that the artist has been able to realize in connection with construction projects, I would first like to present some early experiments with light and space.
Already in the late 1960s, Hersberger began to produce a series of small showcases: so-called Boîtes magiques. These are cubic casings made of spray-painted chipboard that contain a prism of acrylic glass inside. One particular property of this synthetic glass caught the artist’s attention: Unlike normal glass, acrylic glass not only concentrates incident light; it also redirects it back into the adjacent space—albeit divided into spectral colors. In retrospect, we can already notice in these small-format spatial explorations that the material with which the work mainly operates is to be found primarily outside the visible framing. Light from the surroundings, which strikes the prismatic geometries and is redistributed in the space as a spectrum, forms both a fundamental condition and a material for the optical apparatus. At the beginning of the 1970s, she produced another series of showcases. Under the title Organisation spatiale, these volumes multiply their outer square form by means of nylon threads that are stretched inside them in corresponding spatial geometries. Here, too, light plays a key role: Depending on the surrounding light source’s spread and angle of incidence, the cast shadows draw additional spatial figures. At certain moments, an intangible condition of the very act of seeing also becomes visible: It almost seems as if a physical extension of the existing nylon thread framework is created in the process. Through the acrylic glass’s polished surface, the interior of the transparent showcase appears clearly defined. This changed in the mid-1970s, however, when Hersberger added opaque zones in her series Pollisages. In stark contrast to the immaculate smoothness of the plastic, her treatment of part of the surface with sandpaper now gave rise to additional semi-transparent zones. These are zones in which light spreads out in a completely different way and changes the effect of the visual volumes in terms of media. Does this suggest that the artist was distancing herself from, or at least playing with, the modernist principle of transparency? In any case, it was a step toward postmodernism’s exploration of spatial materiality and the nature of media. Here, space can no longer be understood as a functional “machine” in Le Corbusier’s modernist sense, but rather as an optical and seemingly symbolic medium with multiple overlapping layers. In the 1980s, Hersberger’s semi-transparent visual volumes also began to feature mirrored elements, which added further complications in terms of media.
In parallel to works shown in exhibition contexts, she has since produced numerous architecture-related designs for spatial transition zones. Art often marks a threshold where companies or institutions negotiate their relationship with customers or passers-by—for instance, in entrances, atriums, corridors, or elevators. Around 1980, such transitions were not so easy to identify, however. On the contrary, multiple reflective facades, inwardly oriented floor plans, and an increasing overlapping of public and commercial uses made clear demarcations in postmodernist buildings difficult. This problem was also virulent elsewhere in art and design at the time. For instance, Daniel Buren was applying large-scale stripe markings to public streets and squares in Paris, Dan Flavin was creating light spaces in museums with lamps from open-plan offices, and the “critical mannerism” of Trix and Robert Haussmann was playing with orientation between the interior and exterior realm in Zurich. Marguerite Hersberger also uses margins between spatial categories to thematize materials, permeability, and spatial orientation in architectural transition zones. At the same time, these are areas that are particularly exposed to changes in urban development and society. For artworks that establish such close links to the built environment—such as the example mentioned at the beginning—this entails significant challenges. Unlike in museums exhibition spaces, art must reckon with use and environmental influences on the one hand, while being more or less directly integrated into commercial or political communication strategies on the other.
It is not uncommon for alterations to be made unilaterally when interests change, or for certain parts to be replaced during maintenance. Particularly if artworks are privately owned, they can even end up being dismantled or disposed of. In the case of Geteilter Würfel, disposal was only narrowly prevented by the artist. The pieces of rock were rearranged about 100 kilometers to the east, in the Salenegg vineyard park—albeit without the strips of light in colored acrylic glass and without the context of urban office architecture. Although we could compare this architecture-related art installation to a service that had been used by the company on a temporary basis, at the time of the work’s relocation in 2013, it was no longer the same insurance company at all. A larger, globally active company had taken over the business some years earlier and had fully integrated it into its own structure. In Salenegg, the rock shapes have come to a different place and also a different economic environment: What had once shaped an entrance area in the highly globalized insurance and finance sector is now in a park belonging to a family business that produces locally. The Schloss Salenegg winery has been family-owned for centuries and is currently in the process of converting its production to fungus-resistant varieties with increased biodiversity. Two opposing economic developments that were becoming much more influential in the 1980s—the green movement and neoliberal deregulation—thus come into contact with each other via the artwork’s different locations.
Yet do we even encounter the same work that was created as Geteilter Würfel in 1989 in the prismatic rock forms in the Salenegg park? However this would be judged, a material part of the artwork does continue to exist at the new site. In addition, parallels between the two versions can certainly be detected. They are both placed on important transit routes that connect different uses. In the park, it almost seems as if the gravel path has replaced the strips of light as a route marker, although, on the light-colored gravel, the individual rock shapes stand out much more clearly. Here, they refer less to the surrounding architecture and accentuate their own sculptural nature more. Moreover, the black prisms bring an enormous temporal shift to the surrounding baroque park layout: The two design concepts behind the garden and the artistic intervention are about 300 years apart. At the same time, it seems as though certain leitmotifs are interlinked: from the geometric shaping of natural resources, to the integration into symmetrical structures, through to the representative transitional space between landscape and interior. However, the ways in which this is done in the garden planning and in the artistic intervention differ significantly. While the baroque planting symmetry is mainly oriented toward a central point within, Hersberger’s asymmetrically arranged cube fragments open up a dynamic scope beyond the marked area.
In contrast to the widespread polemic that the architecture and art of the so-called postmodernist period between the late 1960s and early 1990s was merely a game of arbitrary appropriations, the impression we get here is more that of a reordering of symbolic relationships. In a review of postmodernist architecture, Reinhold Martin called this process a “re-semantization” in which the production and linking of symbols can be regarded as the main goal, or indeed as a “mode of production in its own right.” As a prominent example of this, Martin describes the Pennzoil Place office complex in Houston, where two trapezoidal high-rise sections, which are offset against each other, play with the perspectival foreshortening of an orthogonally bounded space. These building volumes also appear elusive due to their dark shimmering facade of bronze-tinted, solar-control glass and anodized aluminum profiles. According to Martin, the building ensemble is “all corners, inside and out […] producing a time-space that is neither interior nor exterior, neither here nor there, neither this nor that, neither now nor then.” The parallels with Hersberger’s Geteilter Würfel, despite the completely different production contexts, are uncanny: Both geometric bodies defy clear functional classification, so to speak. The contours, which appear variable depending on the light situation and perspective, create an optical illusion of constant transformation and expansion. Postmodernist architecture, just like Hersberger’s related works, sets a flow of symbols in motion in terms of media via multiple light refractions, reflections, and more or less transparent spaces that merge with each other. Nevertheless, the Pennzoil Place building complex appears confoundingly monumental and unreal at the same time. We could actually speak of an “unrealization” in which an architectural fiction takes the place of functions.
If we go back to Zurich, there is not much to be seen of postmodernism in the city center at first glance. In the immediate surroundings within German-speaking Switzerland, the situation is not very different: There are no prominent examples in urban or commercial centers. If any postmodernist architecture is to be found in Zurich at all, it is more likely to be on the city outskirts in the agglomeration or in the fixtures adorning entrances or interiors. Many structures built in and around Zurich between the 1970s and 1990s address postmodernist questions of media, materiality, and spatial orientation via floor plans and details rather than through iconic facades. Relationships between transition zones and interior spaces play a major role here. This is also true of the University of Zurich’s large-scale campus that was newly constructed in four phases between 1979 and 1999 on a hill outside the city center. Due to sharply rising student numbers, which had tripled from the 1950s to the 1960s, extensive expansion of this educational institution had become necessary. Incidentally, similar challenges are currently being faced again in connection with a societal shift away from the former industrial economy toward a globalized knowledge- and services-based economy. For the second construction phase, completed in 1983, Marguerite Hersberger created a special interface with the sections that had already been built in 1979. A series of light elements in the floor, columns, and ceiling now led from the existing structure into the central two-story atrium on the Irchel campus. This artwork, Farblichtfelder (Colored Light Fields, 1980–1983), features delimiting triangular floor segments along the dividing line between the buildings, alternately pointing into one or the other. Illuminated strips that can be walked on are embedded within these and connect the two spaces in contact zones of light that is blue, white, and yellow, then once again white and blue. In her works from the 1980s, mostly blue and yellow dominate as two elementary components of prismatic light refraction. This exemplary contrast between cold and warm creates opposing color spaces that also mix in the architectural space and are each absorbed differently by various surfaces. In this way, Hersberger presents the usually imperceptible division of the light spectrum into individual components, while also showing its spatial diffusion. In the course of the comprehensive technological transformations seen in the 1980s, the presence of artificial light rose exponentially via electronic displays, activity indicators (on, off, stand-by, and so on), and by disco choreographies. At the same time, since modern electrification, light can be considered an exemplary medium that permeates everything—a pure “medium without a message,” as it were.
Furthermore, a central zone formed by yellow strips of light transfers the symmetry of an immediately adjacent lecture hall, from the first construction phase, to the added atrium. Along the supporting column structure, which borders one side of both the atrium and the new building, the triangles of light strips meet in a luminous frame. The encounter takes place only in the spatial diffusion of the light, however, and never in the material form of the strips themselves. Like an open zipper, the light strips on the ceiling and floor remain at a certain distance from each other. The mirrored continuation of the triangles beyond the former building boundary indicates a common axis. Certain elements, such as the darker floor slabs of the second construction phase or the color scheme of the neighboring triangle, sometimes also spill over into other zones in a material sense. A remarkable spatial dynamism is thus created. This impression is reinforced not least by the fact that the apex of each triangular zone marked in the floor is never completely filled by the light strips. From a spatial point of view, the vanishing point of the triangles remains undetermined. It is also worth noting how markedly the effect of the artistic interventions changes when seen from different perspectives in the spacious atrium. While we are almost completely absorbed by the light’s colors and the geometry of Farblichtfelder when walking through it, the work comes across merely as a marker when viewed from a distance.
By taking a playful approach to perspective, symmetry, and transitions in this work, Hersberger highlights the postmodernist typologies of the Irchel campus’s second construction phase. This applies both to the design of certain architectural elements, such as the strikingly prismatic configuration of the concrete roofs, as well as to favored types of space, like the atrium. This construction phase’s fusion of public, private, and institutional interests has often been spotlighted and, not least, criticized. In the same building, extensive ribbon windows and the use of exposed concrete in structural elements bear witness to the continuing presence of modernist principles. It seems that, in the second construction phase, transparency and doing justice to materials were not completely abandoned in favor of the production of symbols and the shifting of boundaries. Instead, we actually encounter a combination of modernist and postmodernist elements, which is not uncommon in German-speaking Switzerland. When passing through Farblichtfelder on the Irchel campus in the spring of 2023, temporary factors also played a role. Although the conception and preservation of the artwork have no influence on these, they can nevertheless decisively alter readings of the work: Voluminous garbage bins in shiny stainless steel and tall green plants are just as much a part of the overall impression as the widespread, present-day practice of carrying screens around.
Not only have certain strategies in Hersberger’s architecture-related works maintained their relevance across time-spans, societal shifts, and changes of media; they can also be reread today under new auspices. For one thing, this has to do with the fact that, in the past decade, it has again become more common to encounter postmodernist themes and forms, as these have evidently regained importance. The omnipresent screens of cell phones and tablets, for example, supplement the light strips in Farblichtfelder with various coexisting, mobile, luminous surfaces circulating within the university atrium’s space. Media’s penetration of spaces, which Hersberger exemplarily explores in the form of relationships between light and space, can be considered one of the most important and controversial societal issues at the moment. Media no longer confront us as artificial worlds; rather, they are integrated into our environment in largely inconspicuous ways.
Light and color continue to play a leading role in the numerous architecture-related projects that Hersberger has been able to realize in recent decades. Her range of colors has even increasingly expanded to eventually include the entire spectrum of refracted light. In addition, some of her 1990s works grew to take on new sculptural dimensions that refer to monumental exterior facades, which they also visually dissected . For instance, Lichtbrücken und Lichtsäule (Light Bridges and Light Column, 1996–97), a work on an insurance building in Leipzig, incorporates the symmetry of the architecture and adds a blue luminous strip to the central four-story-high (17 m, or just under 56 feet) column at the entrance. At the same time, narrow, interrupted semicircles, also glowing in blue, point to the structural challenges of the built balance here. A work in Frankfurt am Main from the following year, Aussen-Innen-Innen-Aussen (Outside-Inside-Inside-Outside, 1998) doubles, as it were, the representative column structure of another insurance building, moving it into the exterior space in front. Here, too, an essential element of architectural representation is simultaneously accentuated and broken up.
In several projects since the 2010s, she has resumed, in a particularly playful way, her interest in the specific symbolic nature of color and light that she had already exemplarily conveyed on the Irchel campus in the 1980s. Farbe-Licht-Zeichen (Color-Light-Symbols) was produced between 2011 and 2012 for a retirement center in Pfäffikon, Zurich. This multi-part artistic design was created in close cooperation with the planning architectural firm. Hersberger developed volumes comprising both images and light for corridors and common rooms on each story, as well as colored floor inlays that point to the building’s key functions. For this, the artist’s architecture-related practice, which is geared toward structural changes, was combined with a space-related way of working that operates primarily with visual constellations. The floor elements, divided into sequences of dots and dashes, and the corridor panels’ backlit squares come across like codes: be they Morse or pixilated images. These are codings that, although recognizable as a formal structure, can barely be deciphered as symbols without specialized knowledge or appropriate equipment. The technologically codified environment is no longer directly legible—which also applies in a certain sense to architecture and urban planning. Today, human perception has become far more dependent on the sensory and interpretive capabilities of digital interfaces. Perhaps this is how Hersberger’s architectural interventions once again refer to the interconnection of aesthetics, technology, and economics that, since postmodernism, has visibly gained in importance in a computerized society, with its promise of immateriality, diffusion, and pluralism.
 Rudolf Koella, “Im Zwischenreich. Zum Frühwerk von Marguerite Hersberger” (In the Intermediate Realm: On the Early Work of Marguerite Hersberger), in Marguerite Hersberger, exh. cat. Haus für konstruktive und konkrete Kunst (Zurich: Waser, 1995), 10.
 In the original French: “machine à habiter.” See Le Corbusier-Saugnier, “Des yeux qui ne voient pas… Les Paquebots,”’ Esprit Nouveau, no. 8 (May 1921): 848.
 With numerous interior design projects, furniture editions, and commissions in public spaces (such as the basement of Zurich’s main train station to mark the construction of the suburban railway in 1992), Trix and Robert Haussmann created an ornamentally mannered interplay between indoor and outdoor spaces—a working principle they themselves called “critical mannerism.” See Trix and Robert Haussmann, Manierismo Critico / Progetti, Oggetti, Superfici, Studio Marconi, Documenti 5 (May 19, 1981).
 Hersberger heard from a befriended art dealer about extensive renovations on the building in whose entrance zone the work was installed. This was mentioned in a conversation with the author on May 11, 2023.
 The company returned the artwork to the artist in 2013.
 The definitions of postmodernism vary greatly in terms of duration and in terms of whether postmodernism is a historical period at all or more of a sensibility. The period I have marked out here is the one to which most discourses on postmodernism refer.
 Jürgen Habermas, “Die Moderne – ein unvollendetes Projekt” (Modernism: An Unfinished Project), Die Moderne – ein unvollendetes Projekt. Philosophisch-politische Aufsätze (Leipzig: Reclam, 1990), 32–54.
 Reinhold Martin, Utopia’s Ghost: Architecture and Postmodernism, Again (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 4.
 The two trapezoidal towers, which were completed in 1975, are named after the client, an oil company belonging to the Shell Group, and were designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, whose architectural firm received the inaugural Pritzker Prize for them in 1979.
 Martin, Utopia’s Ghost, 100 and 109.
 David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1991), 338–342.
 No comprehensive research on postmodernist architecture in German-speaking Switzerland has yet been conducted. One research project by Cyril Kennel is currently examining examples and media perception thereof: https://postmoderne.ch.
 Hersberger said in a 1995 interview, “We are just at the beginning of a new light culture.” Elisabeth Grossmann and Marguerite Hersberger, “‘Raumbezogene Kunst” (Space-oriented Art), Marguerite Hersberger, 31–58, at 33.
 Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964, reprint, Cambridge, Mass., and London: MIT Press, 1999), 8 (page citation is to the reprint edition).
 The building complex from the second construction phase on the University of Zurich’s Irchel campus was planned and realized by Jakob Schilling and Zweifel+Strickler+Partner. See Jakob Schilling and Heinrich Blumer, “Die Universität Zürich-Irchel, II. Etappe: zur Aufgabe der Architekten” (University of Zurich, Irchel, Phase II: On the Architects’ Task), Schweizer Ingenieur und Architekt, 103/38 (1985): 895–905.
 Florian Sprenger, Epistemologien des Umgebens. Zur Geschichte, Ökologie und Biopolitik künstlicher Environments (Epistemologies of Surroundings: On the History, Ecology, and Biopolitics of Artificial Environments) (Bielefeld: transcript, 2019).
 Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, Theory and History of Literature, vol. 10, with a foreword by Fredric Jameson, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984), 19. However, the societal development outlined by Lyotard is a vision that, soon after its publication, was criticized as “neoliberal interest group pluralism plus the democratization of computers” by Seyla Benhabib. Seyla Benhabib, “Epistemologies of Postmodernism: A Rejoinder to Jean-François Lyotard,” in Feminism/Postmodernism, ed. Linda J. Nicholson (London and New York: Routledge, 1990), 107–132, at 123.