The Circle, Switzerland’s biggest commercial development to date, is taking shape within walking distance of Zurich Airport and a 12-minute train ride to the city. When it opens in 2020, the lifestyle and business center will help change the landscape of Zurich and may serve as a model for other international airports in search of new business models.

The city within a city encompasses a convention center, hotels, restaurants, high-end retail, a health care facility, green spaces, art places, and co-working areas and offices.  Zurich Airport’s operating company owns 51 percent with insurer Swiss Life AG holding the remainder. Total cost: $1 billion (1 billion Swiss francs).

According to International Airport Review, “The Circle is a project of strategic significance to [Zurich Airport]. Opportunities for commerce and flight operations are finite, but to generate value, the company needs to grow. When, in 20 years’ time, aviation capacity has reached its limit, The Circle will provide a motor of growth for the company and the generations ahead.”

It will also benefit its host city. “The Circle incorporates a lot of very innovative retail and catering concepts that will have an impact on the increasing popularity of Zurich,” according to Martin Sturzenegger, director of Zurich Tourism. As a result, “Zurich will experience a pulse and will get more recognized, especially when it comes to conventions.”

Doris Armellini, The Circle’s commercial director, said that the project began about 15 years ago, as the airport’s board started considering how to utilize its adjacent land while tackling the challenges of the future as they related to both locals and visitors. The board examined forecasts in areas like retail, health care and working spaces.

In the end, the concept was to create an integrated complex made up of seven distinct modules. They are Brands & Dialogue (retail); Headquarters & Offices (Microsoft Switzerland has already announced it is moving here); Health & Beauty (the main feature of which is an outpatient facility run by the University Hospital of Zurich); Hotel & Convention; Education & Knowledge (a space for meetings, seminars and workshops): Dining & Events; and Art & Culture. Armellini compares The Circle to the iPhone, saying “the facility will be a platform for a variety of different applications – but everything will be interconnected.”

While The Circle designed the headquarters and health modules for the local populations, it is planning for the other elements to appeal to visitors as well, particularly on the luxury end of the equation.

The Art & Culture module is set to become an art market destination, featuring loans from private collections, galleries, shops and art forums. Dining & Events will house upscale restaurants like Caviar House & Prunier, along with other food and beverage concepts.

But it’s the Brand & Dialogue module that is creating the most buzz. “We are in the midst of a transformation of retail,” said Armellini, where the business is becoming a combination of online and off-line, The Circle’s Brand & Dialogue hub melds the two.

There will be traditional stores, but a large focus will be on spaces existing “in a compact environment to enable brands to create experiences.”  For example, the Swatch Group will host a Brand House for Omega timepieces. Swiss-based Dufry, which operates airport duty-free shops, is planning on launching a new, yet-to-be-announced format in its space. Armellini said there will also be new product lounges, product testing and even pop-ups, which will further link the on-line and off-line experiences.

While retail and food outlets won’t necessarily all be “luxury per se, they have to be about creating valuable, unique high-quality experiences” Armellini said.

The Hotels & Convention module lends a huge addition to Zurich’s meetings and events offering, due to its size and easy airport access. A Hyatt Regency and a Hyatt Place will serve The Circle Convention Centre Zurich Airport, which has a capacity of 2,500.

“Due to the large capacity, the conference facilities are expected to bring new meetings and conferences to Zurich. Flagship stores, the open park area and the entire environment will offer many meeting opportunities for all kind of industries and meeting purposes (including team building, product presentations or commercially purposed conferences,” according to Evert Schuele, Hyatt’s vice president of sale operations for  Europe, Africa, Middle East and Southwest Asia.

Armellini points out that while Switzerland in general and Zurich in particular are not often considered avant-garde, she believes The Circle, as a project ahead of its time, will change that image. “We are not just building for profit, but to create an icon for the region.”

Photo Credit: What The Circle at Zurich Airport will look like. The development will give tourists another reason to visit the city. The Circle