swiss manhole covers

11.01.2016

This year I’ve started noticing and appreciating the unique and yet universal architectural features that are manhole covers. They come in all sizes, shapes and forms, and are simultaneously unique and universal: While each country/city/town/village puts their own touch on the design, certain features can still be found on manholes across the world.

When I was in Switzerland this summer, I spent quite some time staring at the ground, and I was interested to find that while the designs varied overall, they could be categorized into larger groups—some of which were not so different from those in the US. The first trend I noticed was with circular patterns, beginning in the center of the manhole and radiating out.

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The second was a gridded pattern of linear blocks, which can vary in size, thickness and surrounding space.

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I also noticed a few manhole covers which created patterns out of diamond shapes. I have yet to find this pattern in the US, so I’m curious to see what other countries it can be found in.

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The gridded square pattern is very common in Switzerland, and rather popular in the US too. My theory is that it’s easy and straightforward to create, but still allows water to flow within the ridges so as to avoid being slippery when it’s raining. The gridded pattern of linear blocks seems to be a step up from this pattern, as it probably reduces risks of slipping even farther, thanks to the way the blocks face in different directions, thereby interrupting a continuous flow/slip.

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Some of the manholes had particularly interesting shapes. Like this one, which looks like a bloated star, or the manhole below it which is made of  circles within circles and squares.

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Some of the manholes try to blend into the environment they’re in, something I’ve found to be particularly true in old cobblestoned streets.

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One trend I noticed in Switzerland (that I am fairly positive I haven’t see in the US) is the use of crests or Coat of Arm–type symbolism. This must be tied to Europe’s medieval history, in which symbolic imagery was used to identify and distinguish families, villages, towns and cities.

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There were mini manhole covers as well.

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And strangely shaped oval ones.

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Some labelled in languages I couldn’t understand, and which were strangely marked as having a US Patent (zoom in on the small text to see).

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And most likely my favorite was this manhole cover sporting a wavy pattern and retro type.

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Speaking of wavy, the drains had their own interesting patterns too.

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This one seems to have gotten its inspiration from a spider’s web.

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And lastly, these manhole covers were not found in Switzerland, but right across the border in Divonne, France. I just couldn’t resist including them here because their patterns are truly unique and unlike any manholes I’d seen in Switzerland or the US before.

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