Alpine Architecture New paths in the Alps

Kanzelwandbahn
Kanzelwandbahn | Photo: Klaus Noichl

The healing properties of a mountain climate already started to attract tourists, nature and winter sports enthusiasts back in the middle of the 19th century. New hotels and spas were built next to the Alpine pastures and mountain huts, and with them came new roads, bridges and ski pistes. In response to these extensive developments there is today a growing demand for a more sustainable tourist trade and a new building approach that fosters a careful selection of materials and direct local dialogue.

In 1919 the architect Bruno Taut designed a series of crystal buildings with which he wanted to redesign the Alps as a fantastic Expressionist art landscape. “Alpine Architecture” was the name given to his folder of coloured drawings and visions of space for a mountain landscape and for the self-liberation of the people through the presence of more light, colour and new shapes. Taut’s poetic vision - that can be understood as an antithesis to the political and social situation in cities and society after the First World War - remained a utopian project on paper.

Regional identity without romanticism

In recent years, however, his idea of building in the mountains as a symbiosis of nature and artistic creation has re-emerged. In the two neighbouring countries, Switzerland and Austria, architects like Peter Zumthor, Bearth & Deplazes, AO Architekten or wood specialists Hermann Kaufmann and Bernado Bader have demonstrated with their fascinating high-altitude projects that it is possible to implement contemporary and sustainable architecture with regional identity, but without kitsch-like mountain romanticism. And since the nineteen nineties the Vorarlberg Initiative for Building Culture has gradually become an internationally acclaimed platform for wood construction and regionally oriented architecture that connects technology and alternative home, work and living styles.

Local resources and sustainable tourism

This direction of architecture has now spread to more northern regions as well. More and more people want to safeguard existing cultural landscapes. Alternative modern architecture approaches are turning to the use of local resources, a sustainable form of agriculture and to living a more simple lifestyle.
 
  • Bruno Taut, Alpine Architektur, Blatt 17, Baugebiet, Hagen 1919, vollständig einsehbar unter: http://goobipr2.uni-weimar.de/viewer/ ©
    Bruno Taut, Alpine Architektur, Blatt 17, Baugebiet, Hagen 1919, vollständig einsehbar unter: http://goobipr2.uni-weimar.de/viewer/
  • Monte Rosa Hütte Zermatt Foto: Tonatiuh Ambrosetti
    Monte Rosa Hütte Zermatt
  • Kanzelwandbahn, Kleinwalsertal Foto: Klaus Noichl
    Kanzelwandbahn, Kleinwalsertal
  • Kanzelwandbahn, Kleinwalsertal Foto: Klaus Noichl
    Kanzelwandbahn, Kleinwalsertal
  • Natur-Hotel Tannerhof, Bayrischzell Foto: Tannerhof
    Natur-Hotel Tannerhof, Bayrischzell
  • Natur-Hotel Tannerhof, Bayrischzell Foto: Tannerhof
    Natur-Hotel Tannerhof, Bayrischzell
  • Natur-Hotel Tannerhof, Bayrischzell Foto: Tannerhof
    Natur-Hotel Tannerhof, Bayrischzell
  • Wohnhaus Bad Kohlgrub Foto: Wolf Frey
    Wohnhaus Bad Kohlgrub
  • Wohnhaus Bad Kohlgrub Foto: Wolf Frey
    Wohnhaus Bad Kohlgrub
Angelika Blüml and Klaus Noichl from Oberstdorf, for instance, are two architects who implement modern and sustainable architectural solutions for projects in the Alps. They are well known for their cable-car station projects in the Allgäu region, such as the Scheidtobelbahn on the Fellhorn mountain, the Koblatbahn on the Nebelhorn mountain, the Möserbahnstation on the Fellhorn and the Hörnerbahn in Bolsterlang. Their conversion and extension project on the Kanzelwand in Kleinen Walsertal also demonstrates how small but effective alterations do not have to rob existing mountain architecture designs of their specific character, and also leave the landscape morphology intact.

Bringing the countryside indoors

Another tourist attraction is the hotel Tannerhof, designed by Munich architect Florian Nagler and completed in 2012 in Bayrischzell in the Bavarian Alps. The eco hotel and health resort was distinguished with the 2013 BDA (Association of German Architects) Prize for Bavaria and the German 2013 Wood Construction Award in the category “Refurbishment and Upgrading”. In cooperation with the clients Burgi von Mengershausen and Roger Brandes, the architect Florian Nagler remodelled the 400 year old farmhouse establishment and former sanatorium building and erected new hut towers on the original Lufthuetten, or open-air huts, that set a counterpoint with their straight-line architecture. The rooms are stacked one above the other as a cube. Large windows and balconies connect the outside to the inside.

“Don’t seek to build in a picturesque manner“

A new awareness in Alpine architecture is also showcased by the growing use of regional resources – also for the construction of simple, purely functional buildings, such as a cowshed. The rough-cut solid timber used by Florian Nagler in 2007 to build the plain and simple three-part structure came directly from the forest of the client and was prepared in a local sawmill. “Don’t seek to build in a picturesque manner. Leave such effects to the walls, to the mountains and to the sun. A person who dresses to be picturesque is not picturesque but looks like an oaf. The farm labourer does not dress to be picturesque. But he is.” This was a statement of the architect, Adolf Loos, back in 1913, encouraging a simple form of building that is adapted to suit the local surroundings and to the task it has to fulfil.

The increasing popularity of this basic concept is underscored by the work of architect Wolf Frey with his residential house and holiday accommodation built in 2010 in Bad Kohlgrub, in the Ammergau Alps. It is called “Bleibe” (Stay), and this name can be understood both as an imperative and as a plain and simple place to live. Standing in the shape of a cube with a saddleback roof it a low-energy concrete building of a puristic design and features a lot of glass and wood. Light floods into all levels of the building, and in spite of the 50 cm thick concrete walls there are views to the surrounding mountain peaks, offering a feeling of closeness to Alpine nature, space for slowing down, space for quietness, contemplation and for listing to the chimes of cowbells.