Contact person for provided information:
Swiss Federal Directorate for Cadastral Surveying
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Switzerland is situated in the centre of Western Europe, bordering
with Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Italy and France. Its territory
covers an area of 41,290 sq km and is dominated by mountain ranges
(Alps in the South, Jura in the Northwest) with a central plateau
of plains, rolling hills and large lakes. The highest point is
Dufourspitze with 4,634m, while the lowest point is Lago Maggiore
at 193m above sea level.
The total population is 7,261,000 (end of 2001). The five largest
urban areas are Zurich (943,400), Geneva (457,500), Basle (401,600),
Berne (319,100), and Lausanne (288,100). There are four languages
in Switzerland that are used and recognized as official administrative
languages. About 65% of the population speak German, 19% French,
8% Italian, and 1% Romansch; a remaining 7% speak other languages.
After the last civil war of 1847, the loose confederation of states
was replaced by a soundly structured federal state, in which, however,
the autonomy of the Cantons and communities was largely maintained.
Many parts of the present Swiss Federal Constitution still correspond
to the first modern version of 1848. Subsequent Swiss history led
not to a unitary state but to a nation by will in which small communities
of varying size, economic strength and cultural traditions (language,
religion etc.) live alongside in mutual respect.
Switzerland's independence and neutrality have long been respected
by the major European powers and it was not involved in either
of the two World Wars. The political and economic integration
of Europe over the past few decades, as well as Switzerland's
role in many UN and international organizations has strengthened
Switzerland's international role. Switzerland is active in many
UN and international organizations, but retains a strong commitment
to neutrality. This neutrality has long prevented Switzerland
from becoming member in the UN itself, which it finally joined
in 2002. Although there is a very close cooperation with the European
Union, Switzerland is not a member so far.
Switzerland in recent years has brought its economic practices
largely into conformity with the EU to enhance its international
competitiveness. Although Switzerland is not pursuing full EU
membership in the near future, agreements have been signed in
1999 to further liberalize trade ties. Further areas for cooperation
are in discussion.
Current Political and Administrative
The Federal Constitution defines Switzerland as a "league of the
peoples of 23 sovereign Cantons" (three Cantons are subdivided
into half-cantons) making it a federative, democratic and constitutional
nation. The Constitution also defines the separation of the three
powers - legislative, executive, and judiciary.
The Federal Parliament is the legislative body consisting of
two chambers that have equal rights: the National Council (Nationalrat)
with 200 representatives and the Council of States (Ständerat)
with 46 representatives, 2 from each of the Cantons. The Federal
Council (Bundesrat) is the Swiss Government and the supreme executive
body. Each year, the Federal Parliament elects 1 of the 7 Federal
Councilors to be the President of the Confederation. The Federal
Court is the highest judicial authority and acts as a supreme
civil law court to judge offences against the state.
The Confederation, however, has only limited power. The 26 Cantons
and the approx. 3,000 municipalities exercise a large degree of
autonomy according to the subsidiarity principle. The Cantons
are autonomous and have their own constitutions, parliaments,
governments and courts. Also the municipalities enjoy certain
autonomy with their own constitutions and communal statutes, although
being under the supervision of their respective Cantons.
Historical Outline of Cadastral
During the early 19th century under Napoleonic influence, cadastres
were established in many of the 26 Cantons; however, mainly for
fiscal purposes. With the putting in force of the Federal Constitution
in 1847, a modern state with a stable rule of the law developed,
and with the industrial developments, the need for a legal cadastre
emerged, securing land ownership rights and enabling land transactions.
The Civil Law from 1912 constitutes the basis of the "Federal
Land Registry System". It was detailed with the "Instruction for
the Monumentation and Cadastral Surveying" in 1919 and with the
"Ordinance for Land Registry" from 1910. When the cadastral system
has been established in the early 1900s, several principles have
been defined that are still valid today:
- the land register has five main parts and is based on a cadastral
- the cadastral map has to be based on cadastral surveying;
- according to the political and administrative structure of
the country, the operational control of cadastral surveying
and land registration is with the Cantons;
- the Confederation is supervising and subsidizing the Cantons;
- cadastral surveying can be contracted to private sector land
- surveyors carrying out cadastral surveying need to hold a
In 1993, two new ordinances - VAV and TVAV - replaced the old
instruction from 1919. The aim was to renovate the cadastral surveying
system and to introduce the digital data format. Due to the versatility
of data in digital form, the purpose of the cadastral surveying
data has been extended from purely serving the land register to
serving land information systems of any kind. The establishment
of the system independent data description language INTERLIS was
a crucial element in this concept.
The data of cadastral surveying has been structured in 8 information
layers, which had the advantage that they can be acquired independently
from each other, which in fact was a prerequisite for the newly
introduced tendering system for surveying projects.
The organizations involved in the cadastre are situated on the
different administrative levels - federal and cantonal - and have
different tasks and functions. For cadastral surveying, the Federal
Directorate for Cadastral Surveying (V+D) has mainly the responsibility
of supervising the cantonal surveying agencies (KVA). Those KVA's
have the responsibility to implement cadastral surveying and have
chosen different, although similar solutions in carrying it out:
a few Cantons carry out cadastral surveying by administrative
units on their own, but most of them contract the field work as
well as the maintenance of surveying data and cadastral maps to
private land surveyor offices, which then are acting as public
agents on behalf of the Cantons. On the Federal level, there are
approx. 15 employees working for cadastral surveying, while there
are approx. 300 on the cantonal level, and approx. 3,000 on the
municipal level - most of them in the private surveying offices.
For land registration, the regulations, set-up of offices and
districts, the appointment and the compensation of land registrars
lie in the competence of the Cantons. The Confederation supervises
the Cantons through the "Federal Office of Land Registration and
Land Law" with approx. 5 employees. Some of the smaller Cantons
maintain a single cantonal land registry office, while in 18 Cantons,
there are offices per one or several districts, or even per municipality
resulting in a total of approx. 350 cantonal or regional land
Figure 1: Organizations involved in the cadastral system.
Private Sector Involvement:
The private sector carries out 80-90% of the total work within cadastral
surveying. The involvement of the private sector is a normal practice
since the establishment of the cadastral system in the early 1900's.
This proved to be beneficial over the past decades and has further
been confirmed over the last few years with the general trend of
new public management demanding higher cost awareness and flexible
The private sector is commissioned with projects - through a
tendering process - for data acquisition, upgrading, and updating.
There is a long established and accepted system, through which
the private sector is mandated with data updating and maintenance
procedures. As such, the private surveyors are acting as public
agents providing a decentralized service close to customers. With
the availability of digital data, Cantons and municipalities are
introducing their own land information systems and private surveying
offices quite often support such projects either by contract or
With the many technological developments over the last few years,
the involvement of the private sector proved to be very useful
for the development of the whole cadastral system. Being forced
- through the market situation - the private sector had to adapt
processes and technologies, and picked up new possibilities, applications,
and methods that helped to improve the system. The innovation
potential of this private-public cooperation has benefited the
whole cadastral system.
Professional Organization or
Most of the cadastral surveyors are member in the "Swiss Association
for Surveying and Rural Engineering" (Schweizer Verein für Vermessung
und Kulturtechnik, SVVK), which has some 830 members. SVVK is
member in FIG and is committed to the advancement of professional
interests. The private sector cadastral surveyors are maintaining
their own section within SVVK: the "Swiss Cadastral Surveying
Association" (Ingenieur-Geometer Schweiz, IGS), which is representing
the interests of the private sector.
The cantonal agencies for cadastral surveying are cooperating
with each other and meet at least twice a year in the "Conference
of the Cantonal Cadastral Surveying Agencies" (Konferenz der Kantonalen
Vermessungsämter, KKVA), where structural and strategic matters
are being discussed in close cooperation with the Federal Directorate
for Cadastral Surveying (V+D).
With the introduction of the land registration system in 1910,
the Confederation also introduced a regulation for the licensing
of cadastral surveyors. Only licensed land surveyors can carry
out cadastral surveying. The practical examinations are being
carried out under the responsibility of the Federal Directorate
of Cadastral Surveying (V+D). The first examination has been held
in 1913 and there are some 10-15 candidates on average that pass
the licensing exams annually.
The licensed land surveyor can carry out cadastral surveying
in any of the 26 Cantons. Although they are mostly operating in
the private sector, they are public agents, bound by regulations
On the university level, there are education programs in surveying
on both campuses of the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH),
one in Zurich and the other in Lausanne. Both offer programs equivalent
to Masters degrees, which focus more on rural and environmental
engineering with mostly optional courses in geomatics. The tendency
towards environmental engineering over the last few years is actually
a big challenge for geomatics. Around 50-60 students graduate
from both ETH's combined each year.
In Switzerland, there are also two technicums that offer bachelor
degrees in surveying (in Muttenz and Yverdon). Both technicums
combined have 20-30 graduates annually.
Purpose of Cadastral System:
From 1912 until 1993, the cadastral system had purely a legal
purpose and was mainly geared for securing land ownership rights.
The cadastral surveying data have always widely been used as basis
for utility mapping and many sorts of municipal planning and management
Since 1993, in addition to the legal purpose, cadastral surveying
data (in digital form) are also to serve as basis for any land
Since around 2002, there is a growing need to document public
law restrictions and responsibilities; working groups have been
established to investigate their integration into the cadastral
system (compare Figure 2).
Figure 2: Increasing content of cadastral system serving more
Types of Cadastral Systems:
There is only one comprehensive cadastral system, which by definition
of land parcels covers the whole territory in a complete way. Every
piece of land is a parcel with an assigned owner. Roads or public
areas can for example be in the ownership of municipalities, Cantons,
or Federal organizations. Also private companies or cooperations
can be owners of land parcels.
The cadastral system is based on a folio principle, i.e. each
"land parcel" on the ground is related to exactly one ownership
title registered in the land registry. Every land parcel has a
unique parcel identifier number, to which all parcel-relevant
information is linked. Buildings are by definition integral parts
of "land parcels" and by default cannot cross parcel boundaries.
In the case of a building sitting on top of a parcel boundary,
the boundary would need to be rectified accordingly or the two
parcels would need to be merged. Land parcels can be sold only
as complete entities. If only a part of a parcel is to be sold,
it has to go through a subdivision process by first creating a
new parcel, where the new boundary is delimited by a predefined
cadastral survey process.
Content of Cadastral System:
The cadastral system can be described consisting of the
two main elements "land registration" and "cadastral surveying".
The content of cadastral surveying is defined by a data
model with 8 information layers (compare Figure 3).
The content of the land registry is mainly the registration
of properties, which can be: · real estates (land parcels
including buildings on them), · servitudes and easements,
· mines, and · condominiums.
Figure 3: The 8 information layers of cadastral
The "digital" cadastral map consists of 8 information layers illustrated
in Figure 3. By definition, the two layers "land cover" and "ownership"
cover the whole territory in a complete way, i.e. without overlaps
and without gaps, while other layers have different structural
definitions. Buildings are part of the "land cover" layer.
Each of the 8 information layers is object-oriented and defined
by an entity-relationship diagram, which is the data model and
also the basis for the translation of the data into an interoperable
INTERLIS data exchange format.
The precision of cadastral surveying and the degree of detail
are prescribed in 5 different levels according to the economic
value of the areas: city centres, settlement areas, intensively
used agricultural areas, extensively used agriculture areas, and
Cadastral surveying data are based on a national control system,
organized in a hierarchy of 3 orders. Like the majority of geographic
data in Switzerland, they are based on a specific geodetic reference
framework (oblique Merkator projection), which is in the process
of being adapted to modern GPS requirements.
Example of a Cadastral Map:
Figure 4: Example of a traditional cadastral map.
Figure 5: Example of new digital cadastral map with object-oriented
Role of Cadastral Layer in SDI:
SDI started in Switzerland with the introduction of the new data-modelling
concept for the description of cadastral surveying data in 1993.
The basic building block is the data description language INTERLIS
with which spatial data can be defined, modelled, and exchanged
without information loss and independent from any system restrictions.
The data model for cadastral surveying has been named AV93, which
is defined in the Federal TVAV Ordinance and legally binding for
cadastral surveying in all Cantons. The data-modelling concept
with INTERLIS has triggered the definition of more than 100 other
spatial data domains over the last 8 years, enabling the use of
the same data exchange mechanisms as cadastral surveying. With
the introduction of the INTERLIS concept, cadastral surveying
can be regarded as the forerunner for the SDI development in Switzerland.
In 1998, a new agency (COSIG) has been established to foster
the coordination, acquisition, and use of spatial data within
the Federal administration. COSIG promotes the INTERLIS concept
as well for the definition and handling of all spatial data. This
concept is also at the core of a new e-government project (www.e-geo.ch),
which attempts to bring digital spatial data closer to the users.
Although the new legislation for the digital data format has been
passed and put into force in 1993, cadastral surveying is still
in the process of transforming old data formats into the new digital
AV93 format. In this context, it is facing some challenges:
1. In contrast to land registry, which did not necessarily require
a complete coverage for spatial data, land information systems
now need complete data coverage over the whole territory in order
to be operational and useful. Complete data coverage is needed
as soon as possible as the real benefits of digital spatial data
cannot take effect without that.
2. The system change in the payment of Federal agricultural subsidies
has led to a need for more precise and more up-to-date information
about the size of agricultural areas. The problem manifested itself
mainly in the transition zones between forest and agricultural
3. There are more and more public restrictions and responsibilities
interfering with private land ownership rights. They are documented
in different registries and documentations - if at all - and therefore
difficult to be aware of. A transparent and fair land market is
increasingly in need of a comprehensive cadastral system, which
also includes and documents public restrictions and responsibilities.
In response to the above challenges, the Federal Directorate for
Cadastral Surveying (V+D) is undertaking the following initiatives:
1. Complete data coverage: V+D adopted a strategy in 2001 for
a complete AV93 coverage of all Cantons until the end of 2007.
2. "Land cover" layer in agricultural areas: V+D started a project
for the acceleration of the AV93 information layer "land cover"
in the transition zones between forest and agricultural areas.
Data acquisition is being done mainly through the use of digital
3. Integration of public restrictions and responsibilities: V+D
and the private sector surveyors have established working groups
for the discussion of the technical and organizational inclusion
of public restrictions and responsibilities in the cadastral system
according to proposals of "Cadastre 2014".
At the same time, a motion to amend the Federal constitution with
a new "surveying" article has been put forward. The aim is an
improved legal and constitutional basis for the extension of the
cadastral system with public restrictions and responsibilities.