Light at the End of the Tunnel

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Visitor center in Pollegio

The visitor center in Pollegio is only a tiny part of a century project … and yet it is much more.

Since 2003, it is the job of Pollegio visitor center to convey and make visible something that can hardly be perceived. The visitor center is supposed to give visitors an understanding of Europe’s largest building site and the construction of the world’s longest tunnel. It is part of a Swiss vision of the future of superlatives. Swiss infrastructural project Neue Eisenbahn-Alpentransversale (NEAT) is the topic of an exhibition inside the visitor center. 

The building is located at one of the two portals of the future Gotthard basis tunnel. After its completion in 2016, Gotthard tunnel will be the world’s longest train tunnel with a total length of 57 kilometers. Since 1999, it has been pushed through the rocks of Ticino with huge logistical and technical effort and the use of gigantic drill heads.

A detailed Look at a Century Project

The visitor center was designed and built by Bauzeit Architekten from Biel. It is supposed to give the locals as well as interested tourists an understanding of the various aspects of the Swiss century project. Inside the building you will find a high-quality exhibition made by Atelier Oï which is supposed to answer questions about the project. The history of the surrounding Ticino mountain regions, the development of transport facilities and the minerals and rock types are discussed. Modern times’ issues such as environment-friendliness of the large-scale project and solutions for the various occurring problems can be discussed on location as well. The tunnel’s impact on the surrounding nature and mobility are visualized here and made understandable. For a fee and advance notification it is even possible to take a tour around the tunnel construction site from the visitor center.

An unusual Façade, pointing out the Topic

Even when looked at from a distance you can tell the close topical ties of the building to the tunnel project. One of the drill heads stands on the piece of lawn in front of the Eastern façade. The huge size of the construction site tool reminds of the dimensions of the overall project.

Passing the visitor center at its Western side, the building looks monumental and closed. The Northern and Southern façade appear like a stone armor, encasing the room to protect it. Only at its Western side the building opens up with an inviting gesture. The façade was shaped through gabion-like grid boxes, with rock fall nets and filled with gneissic rocks. These were taken from the building site and are supposed to showcase the reusability of the baring material.

Under the heavy façade shell, punched only at a few spots, inside the building you will find a steel construction, used to attach the top floor and roof structure to. The main usages are separated from each other through glass walls. On the first floor you will find the extra rooms, built with solid concrete. These rooms are integrated in the structure of the grid boxes. They push through the grid boxes at the area of the Southern façade, directed towards the rail tracks.

About 400 m² are available to the exhibition, apart from sanitary facilities and a café area there are also conference rooms that can be rented.

Thanks to the way it’s built and the materials used Pollegio visitor center provides a quick entry to the topic of “mining”. The building has the structure of a tunnel. It’s closed at its long sides, while it appears open at the front and back through end-to-end glazing. The inside of the building is characterized by an impressive light atmosphere and a professionally designed exhibition concept. Here, the rough baring materials meet digital show elements, the means of modern communication were fully made use of. The curious visitor will encounter flat screen and projections amidst rough rock. In this case a very well made and exciting combination.

Project details


Bauzeit Architekten GmbH in cooperation with Atelier Oï (exhibition)


Competition 2001, 1st place

Completed in 2003 


AlpTransit Gotthard AG


You need to login or register to post comments.
This comment will automatically be synchronized on social networks.
tonybennet25_1's picture
tonybennet25_1 2. October 2015 - 17:10

This center is definitely the only place where you can find out all the details about the construction of the world’s longest tunnel. In this kind of projects, the CNC milling equipment plays a very important role, especially in the first part of the project, where everything must be precisely executed. The success depends on this aspect.