Chaiselongue – Zurich, Switzerland - Atlas Obscura
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Zurich, Switzerland

Chaiselongue

This colossal couch is an unlikely monument to Europe's first female Doctor of Law. 

Created in 2008 by famous Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist, this unique monument is placed in the beautiful atrium of the University of Zurich main building. Each day, students and visitors climb onto the colossal couch, where they’re meant to reflect on the difficult history women had and still have in academia, especially in the spheres of law.

The giant piece of furniture is dedicated to Emilie Kempin-Spyri, Europe’s first female Doctor of Law. She graduated with a doctorate in law from the University of Zurich. Despite her academic achievements, she was still barred from entering the bar.

When she finished her doctorate in 1887, it was forbidden for women to work as lawyers. Kempin-Spyri was also rejected from academic positions because of her gender. She did a brief stint in New York, where she established the first women’s law college before returning to Switzerland. However, even in New York, her status as a foreigner prevented her from practicing as an attorney. She continued fighting for women’s rights up until the end of her life and eventually worked as a legal consultant for the laity.

The monument aims to represent and symbolize the huge efforts women like Kempin-Spyri took to even the path for future female scholars and scientists. During the later waves of women’s rights activism her story was rediscovered, and nowadays she serves as an international role model for young women in law.

The solidly constructed piece of furniture can host up to 10 people at the same time. According to the artist, the act of climbing the chaise lounge symbolizes how our lives and careers are built on former generations and their achievements. A short version of Kempin-Spyri’s biography is stitched into the blue cover fabric of the chaise lounge.

Know Before You Go

The main building of the University of Zurich is open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Just cross the main hall until you reach the “Lichthof” (a big atrium) where the monument is located on the left hand side.