Restoration Construction maestros

René Dalla Corte gave back Zurich’s carpenters their guild house. He explains why construction defects still arise.

The fine art of craftsmanship: rebuilding the roof truss of the carpenters’ guild house. Photo: Athanasiou & Lüem

Would you still advise young people to learn a skilled trade?

Absolutely! Joiners and carpenters deliver true craftsmanship.

It’s often said that construction quality standards are slipping.

Money plays too big a role. If an investor insists on tough deadlines to build 1,000 new homes, it makes things difficult. The work invariably goes to the lowest-price craftsmen, who use the cheapest materials.

Is that why construction defects arise?

Yes. Plus, young site managers are often bombarded with demands from all sides. Not everyone can cope with such pressure.

What advice would you give a private individual wishing to renovate an older house?

How you begin is crucial! I’d turn to a good architect or construction consultant. Draw up a specification sheet before work starts. And references are important too.

You restored the Zunfthaus zur Zimmerleuten. What was the biggest challenge?

As a protected historical monument, we had to restore the guild house in a way that was true to the original while using modern technology. Up to 100 people worked on the site each day, which took a lot of coordination.

Did you hire specialists?

Architect Ernst Rüegg and I found very capable craftspeople. They took such pride in their profession that quality was never an issue.

Which professionals were involved?

Carpenters, stove fitters, joiners and plasterers with some understanding of historical construction. The guild house has a history dating back over 850 years. No wall was at right angles to another. It was a journey back in time – we uncovered frescoes from the 15th century. Restoring the wooden ceiling in the main hall was a real headache.

What was the solution?

Master carpenter Hausi Rentsch tackled the job with apprentices from LWZ, a school for cabinetmakers in Zurich. They knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Building maestro

René Dalla Corte (70) trained as an electrician, became a site manager, then joined general contractor Oerlikon-Bührle. In 1992, he set up his own construction management and consulting company.

Masterpiece

After the Zimmerleuten guild house was destroyed by fire in 2007, René Dalla Corte orchestrated its restoration. He is still involved in its maintenance today. He is a member of the Carpenters Guild of Zurich, whose roots date back to the 14th century.

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