On September 12, 1848, the Federal Constitution of Switzerland came into force. It forms the foundation of modern Switzerland and is a milestone in Swiss history. To mark the 175th anniversary of the constitution the facade of the Parliament building has received a new work of art. At Bern’s Bundesplatz on September 12, 2023, starting at 5:30 p.m. to celebrate the anniversary and to unveil the work “Tilo” at 6.48 pm. This in the presence of Federal Councillor Elisabeth Baume-Schneider, President of the National Council Martin Candinas, President of the Council of States Brigitte Häberli-Koller, President of the Federal Supreme Court Yves Donzallaz and the artist couple Renée Levi and Marcel Schmid.
Unveiling of artwork “Tilo” by Studio Renée Levi, Renée Levi & Marcel Schmid, for the facade of the Parliament Building in Bern, Switzerland. September 12, 2023.
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To mark the 175th anniversary of the Federal Constitution, the facade of the Swiss Parliament building in Bern is receiving a new work of art, a mosaic consisting of 246 triangular ceramic panels. Each element of the mosaic represents one of the 200 National Council and 46 Council of States seats. The work is entitled “Tilo” in honor of Tilo Frey (1923–2008), a Neuchâtel politician who was one of the eleven pioneers who were the first women to enter the National Council in 1971 and who was also the first black woman in the Federal Parliament. The newly designed tympanum of the parliament building symbolizes a diverse parliament that is in constant change. The glaze of the ceramic panels reflects both daylight and nighttime lighting, giving the building shine. This also creates a slight visual movement in the static facade.
When it came to the color of the mosaic panels, Renée Levi was inspired by the gray limestone and the green Bernese sandstone. In this way, the front of the building is decorated without massively changing its appearance. The artist wants to underline and emphasize the spirit of the building. In the spirit of Federal Palace architect Hans Wilhelm Auer, who wanted to honor Switzerland’s traditions and craftsmanship in his work, the individual elements of the mosaic are made by hand. In fact, 95 percent of the materials used in the construction and renovation of the building come from Switzerland.
Decoration of the gable field of the north facade was already intended when the building was designed, but was never realized. Architect Hans Wilhelm Auer spent 16 percent of the construction budget on the artistic decoration of the building. The interior contains numerous references to the founding legends of Switzerland, from Rütli to William Tell. The south facade is decorated with sculptures and the cantonal mosaics and the north facade with three female figures. However, the tympanum above remained empty. In his implementation plan from 1894, Auer proposed an allegory of the then 22 cantons to the Federal Council, but this was ultimately not implemented.
In 1903, a year after the inauguration, an art competition was announced. The Neuchâtel artist Alfred Lanz suggested a bas-relief for the tympanum. However, it is not known what became of his suggestion. “We would have liked to see the minutes of the art commission at the time. However, there is no trace of them so far,” says Art Commission President Hans-Rudolf Reust.
In 1906, the Ticino architect Augusto Guidini (1853–1928) tried his luck. Without being asked, he submitted no fewer than seven projects. But without success: the Federal Council limited itself to keeping one of the pictures as a “homage to an artist and citizen” without ever paying for it.
A new art competition was now successful. In view of the anniversary of the Federal Constitution, 15 Swiss artists were invited to submit their projects. The Basel artist Renée Levi ultimately won the contract for her work “Tilo”. The Turkish-born Basel artist is known at home and abroad. Her works can be found, among others, at the University of Basel, at the Zurich headquarters of Credit Suisse, in the Winterthur Cantonal Hospital, in the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Geneva and even at the Dübendorf military airfield.