Farewell Edward Schwarz

We are unspeakably sad about the untimely passing of Edward Schwarz. Edi, as he was mostly called, was a marvel of a human being, passionate about his work, extremely generous to others and disarmingly humble about himself, even though he was one of the most hard-working and prolific people we have ever worked with. We were introduced to him by Marc Angélil in 2003 and saw him do his amazing logistical magic at the first Holcim Forum of Sustainable Construction “Basic Needs” in Zurich in 2004, coordinating hundreds of people, discussions, lectures, work groups, apéros, dinners, flight bookings, hotel reservations and everything into one invigorating and truly memorable event. We never quite understood how one man can follow so many threads at the same time and still be perfectly approachable at all times. With his open and warm personality he would develop the Holcim Forums over the years into a unique discourse platform for sustainable construction, and the Holcim Foundation as its enabling platform, which has become his lasting legacy.

When the second Holcim Forum “Urban Transformation” in Shanghai in 2007 approached, Edi entrusted us with a project that would change our professional lives in a major way: to produce the book for the Forum. We had done a couple of books by then for various publishers. We asked him if he could imagine that we found our own publishing house for this book, because it would save us a lot of coordination and time and allow us to realize our vision of an architecture book as closely as never before. He could have politely made us understand that for a foundation of their status it would maybe be more adequate to work with an experienced publisher, instead with two newcomers that just start out as publishers. But he didn’t. Without a blink of his eye he entrusted us on the spot with this incredible commission. He also did not flinch when we were thinking to work with a young architecture student, Leonard Streich, to do the graphic design of the book, who by then only had done one book himself. He had a very ambitious concept for book with an open binding and lots of different papers that would show on the side, like an archeological section through the historical layers of a city. Again, he was not shocked, even though it was clear that this book would differ quite radically from the publications the Foundation had done until this point. “A book on urban transformation must be a book in transformation”, he resumed our discussion and sent us off to work. One year later we had a beautiful and special book, that still sells to this day. What had made it possible was his generous trust in people he did not know very well and a concept whose successful turnout was difficult to predict at that moment.

With the same relentlessly empowering spirit he entrusted us to do the books for all the Holcim Forums that would follow (all designed by Something Fantastic, the office that Leonard had meanwhile founded together with Elena Schütz and Julian Schubert). Edi had not only forged the path to a beautiful series of 5 volumes on sustainable construction, each a unique piece in a neckless of thoughts, that soon became collectibles for bibliophiles. By his continuing loyalty he also paved the way for the foundation of Ruby Press, contributing a great deal to its success over the years with a program of over 50 titles to date. We felt we could never reciprocate what he has done for us by virtue of his confidence in our work, but we were happy to know that he was proud of the books and saw them as a fertile ground for his seed work with the foundation. His favorite book was “Machen!”, a celebration of some of the winners of the Holcim Awards, which also gave rise to a beautiful exhibition at Aedes Berlin (the photograph shown here dates from the book launch in 2012 at Aedes).

After announcing that he would retire this August, he organized two thank-you dinners in Berlin and Zurich with all his external collaborators from his time at the foundation. Just two days ago we wrote him saying that we actually want to make a dinner to thank him, implying that we have of course much more to thank him than the other way around. Now we have learned that he was then already no longer with us. It will be an excruciating exercise to come to terms with the cruel fact that we won’t be able to hear his voice on the phone anymore, see him for a spontaneously arranged lunch, and breed new projects in quick ping-pong. The best about working with him was always that no matter how much work was going on, and how much went wrong, how impossible things appeared at times, Edi never lost his good spirit and child-like curiosity for anything new, anything he had not tried yet. It would show up in his radiant smile that would often light his face when you spoke with him. This, dear Edi, is how we are going to remember you. Farewell where ever you are.