The Gotthard service station, the Pilatus Aircraft assembly hall, the new mountain station on the Klein Matterhorn, the training hall for ice hockey team HC Davos and many other projects besides all have one thing in common: Their captivatingly beautiful timber structures stem from Lungern – the picturesque village in Obwalden at the foot of the Brünig Pass, where the small industrial zone at the end of the village is home to a laminated wood production business supplying timber engineering projects at the highest level. In 35 years, Neue Holzbau AG has developed into a renowned enterprise that now employs 65 staff.
Highly precise production
There’s a smell of wood, and a few machines, some computer-operated, are moving almost noiselessly to and fro. In the various halls, raw materials are inspected and wooden slats are glued and pressed. For the arched components, meanwhile, wooden slats are curved to the required radius, while laser projectors mounted on the ceiling ensure that this is done with millimeter precision. Elsewhere, wooden slats are being planed and mechanically assembled by means of finger joints, as they are known in the industry, which make it possible to achieve extraordinary lengths. “For the new assembly hall at Pilatus Aircraft, we produced beams measuring 36.5 meters in length”, explains Bruno Abplanalp, former CEO and now Chairman of the Administrative Board. Right now, a larger quantity of ash wood slats are being cut to shape – they come from forests in the surrounding regions and have been earmarked for the new headquarters of Obwaldner Kantonalbank. A short distance away from the production facilities, meanwhile, things are quiet: Behind the showroom lies a research laboratory where the specialists of Neue Holzbau AG can tinker.
A super-system for joining: the GSA® technology
Since the year 2000, three letters have stood for a globally unique innovation developed at Neue Holzbau AG in Lungern, as Abplanalp explains: “GSA® stands for a special, extraordinarily reliable, resilient and at the same time aesthetically pleasing joining system.” The system makes it possible to connect the individual GSA® components quickly and easily on the construction site and thus to assemble large support structures within a short space of time. Thus broad span widths, elegant arches and delicate structures can be created with the greatest efficiency.
“We start where others stop”, says Bruno Abplanalp, as he leads a tour of the production facilities, going on to explain: “All our products are bespoke commissions, for which we use around 85 percent native woods.” The spruce, pine, beech, ash, or oak slats are expertly processed with the help of cutting-edge production facilities and a good dose of intuition.
The view beyond the border
Neue Holzbau AG still primarily supplies customers in Switzerland, but the SME from Lungern is now also catching the attention of internationally renowned architects. Hence, for example, for the ski world championship in St. Moritz in 2018, the company worked on the roof for the Medal Plaza, as designed by world-famous architect Sir Norman Foster. This structure is now serving as a model for the construction of the new Colindale London Underground station, planned as an addition to the Northern Line in 2021, and there’s a good chance that the Central Swiss timber construction experts will make their mark there too.
The Swiss Business Hub, one big wrestler and three SMEs
Rule Britannia! Neue Holzbau AG has set its sights on this exciting market. Reto Schneider, a timber expert and freelance employee at Neue Holzbau AG, contacted Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE) and asked how we could help. “The collaboration with S-GE and subsequently with the Swiss Business Hub in London worked really well from the outset”, says Schneider. “The King meets the Queen”: The idea of the Executive Committee back in Lungern was to join forces with “Schwingerkönig” Matthias Glarner, Switzerland’s king of folk wrestling, and two other companies in the timber industry to host an event at the Swiss embassy, and it was well-received. Around 80 people, of whom around 50 were architects, accepted the invitation to the event, where they watched presentations, took part in discussions, shook the hand of the big, bad guy from Glarus, and finally brushed from their shoes the sawdust that had come all the way from Switzerland.
“The unique support we received from S-GE really convinced us”, says Schneider, noting that “this positive experience means we would be happy to work with S-GE again in future”.
There was only one regret where the embassy event was concerned: “Unfortunately an important decision-maker from the London Underground project was unable to attend”, says Schneider. “He was stuck on a building site in Cambridge.” The disappointment was short-lived though: “I decided to go and see Mark Bax myself, and I was able to speak to him and invite him to Lungern.” Box came, saw… and is now an enthusiastic proponent of Neue Holzbau AG.