The architectural concepts of the High Tatras region reside mainly in the foothills, where they form the basis of mountain tourism. On the exposed terrain of the Tatra Mountains there are huts that were once the result of craftsmanship, but today there is an increased concentration of architectural interest. We are focusing on architectural design in the context of adapting the typology to the visitor’s needs or in response to the challenges of extreme environments. The focus involves the structural alteration, restoration or reconstruction of a building that represents an architectural discussion of the alpine environment. The huts under study trace the colonization of different vegetation zones and the different typological standards of the hut. The architectural planning process represents an example of restoration of a post-war modernism work, its reconstruction into a new form and the response to the problem of avalanches in the alpine environment. Through the prism of the social situation and technological innovations, we explore the transformation of the hut typology and its relationship to its setting. At the same time, we look for a connection to the original building destroyed by fire or avalanche or a reflection on regionalism or the general architectural discourse. The article presents a brief introduction to the architectural scene in the High Tatra region from the perspective of socio-political changes. The main question was: what principles does architecture apply in a high mountain environment? Differences and innovations are sought in the context of design in the foothills and urbanised areas, as well as in the context of the social situation and the authors of the project themselves.
The Albanian Alps, with an elevation ranging from 285 m to 2694 m above sea level, like all the high mountain areas, have experienced isolation until recently and consequently, time has stood still there, maintaining a slow development. Until the 1990s, settlements in the mountainous areas were in complete harmony with a cultural landscape and architecture entirely traditional for the time. After the fall of totalitarianism, these areas underwent massive migration due to the difficulties in lifestyle and the lack of services and roads. It was precisely the 50-year totalitarian isolation and the abandonment during the 25-year transition that caused a “pause” in the development of the region, which is also reflected in the architecture of the area. With the exception of 4-5 buildings that try to bring a more contemporary architectural style, the rest remains a continuation of ‘Vernacular Mountain Architecture’. Stone kullas, Albanian term for dwelling in mountainous areas, with their typical vernacular Alpine style, minimalist in form and in perfect harmony with nature, vastly dominate the cultural landscapes of the settlements in the Alps. Sometimes they are found in ruins and degraded by time and sometimes they are grouped together in hamlets or neighborhoods.
With 6% of built-up space, Croatia is certainly one of the most sparsely populated countries in the European Union, but at the same time it is intertwined with mountains in almost every region. The 150-year history of mountaineering in Croatia has resulted in more than 6,000 km of built trails and 163 mountaineering facilities, which speaks of a highly engaged national mountaineering association. In the beginnings of the Association’s activities, Dr. Ivan Krajač, lawyer and politician in the Government of the Kingdoms of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, stimulated the development of mountaineering in Croatia, as well as the construction of mountaineering infrastructure. Undoubtedly, one of the most significant buildings is the Premužić trail, which he designed together with the forest engineer Ante Premužić – the trail in the Northern Velebit part is an almost straight line, with only a small number of ascents and descents, and follows the most beautiful landscapes. The Krajač’s house at the foot of Mt. Vučjak, known as the Zavižan Hut, was built in his honor. After several expansions and renovations, it is now undergoing a thorough reconstruction.
In recent times, a need to restore the built structures has emerged, in which, with several reconstructions and new constructions of mountain shelters, under the leadership of mountaineer and architect Ivan Juretić, a new chapter in the development of built infrastructure in the Croatian mountains is being traced.
Although Serbia does not have significantly high mountains, it does have vast mountainous areas south of the Danube River. Since most rural mountain houses in Serbia have disappeared over the last three decades, traditional mountain building is reduced to sporadic reconstructions, mostly for open-air museums and ethnic parks.
Contemporary mountain architecture in Serbia is developing under the same overall influences of the rest of the country. These influences, among others, are the primacy of market demands, non-systematic planning, and lack of investment in raising the level of spatial culture among the general public. Fortunately, some examples illustrate the willingness of architects to push the contemporary Serbian architectural practice forward and the willingness of investors to consider a wide range of influences and aspects that generate a comprehensive response to contemporary demands and concerns. The selected projects presented in this article show different responses in relation to the context, environment, heritage, and ideas of contemporary life in rural and natural areas.
Most of these examples follow a more experimental approach. This usually stems from links to regionalism and modernism. Despite expectations, Serbia cannot join the most progressive European currents or fully adopt the vision of individual high-quality national architectural agents overnight. However, the Serbian architecture scene will be increasingly present in the media, also as a result of international connections and circumstances that had somehow ‘matured’.
Dinaric Alps: the other Alps. They still give off that vibe, don’t they? The entire region: the other Europe. We will probably never shake off that attribute, so why not embrace it? If the entire Balkan region is the other Europe, then Dinaric Alps are the other, darker, unknown, chaotic Alps? Let’s pretend, for the sake of this article, that they are.
A large part of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the eponymous mountain – Dinara, lie within this mountain range. Apart from the extreme north up to the Sava River and part of the south that lies in the fertile Neretva River delta, the entire country and the lives of its inhabitants are defined by mountains. The place names and the customs still practiced today, which predate Christianity and Islam, testify of their rich role in the lives of people who live there (for example, the name of Mt. Prenj is related to the Slavic god Perun, Velež is linked to Veles; on the peak of Džamija people offered cheese and performed religious rituals to ensure favourable weather conditions, etc.).
This article will focus on positive architectural practices but will also cite negative ones because it would be irresponsible to present everything as picture-perfect and thus minimize the efforts needed to produce the extraordinary in such a context. This contrast is what makes this architecture valuable. Several typologies will be presented, but the article does not claim to be a comprehensive, detailed overview of the contemporary architecture in Bosnian mountains.
Discussing the phenomenon of the Balkans is always a delicate task. The term is elusive and can be understood in different ways, from the geographical and cultural to the political context.
The Balkans is an area of great strategic importance, which has historically been a bridge of cultures between East and West and between South and North. Its original name comes from a mountain range in Bulgaria called the Balkan (Old Mountains), but the central Balkan peninsula is covered by the long Dinarides. Even though modern geographers do not agree about the term and its borders (they rather speak about “South-Eastern Europe”), one of the definitions of the Balkan peninsula includes the territories south of the Kolpa, Sava and Danube rivers, surrounded by the Adriatic, Ionian, Aegean and Black Seas.
Today this heterogeneous area is home to a number of countries, the central ones being Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania, Northern Macedonia and Bulgaria. Sometimes part of Romania, the continental part of Greece and a small European piece of Turkey are also comprised, as well as Sloveniain the far north.
The following text is intended to introduce the diverse context for the subsequent essays by Dario Kristić (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Andrej Strehovec, Maja Momirov (Serbia) and Robert Jonathan Loher (Croatia).
The vastness of territory that makes up the mountainous areas of the United States and Canada could be characterised more by its diversity than by any common trait. Different environmental, socio-cultural and historic conditions mean a wide array of architectural response strategies.
Many elements play a role in dictating contemporary mountain architecture in North America. The ruggedness and remoteness of the mountain territories drives materiality and design influences. Land ownership ranges from private to tribal to federal and has an impact on the built environment, as does the historical context which spans from thousands of years of indigenous habitation to homesteaders and settlers in the last two centuries. Recent efforts to revive and preserve Native American traditions have seen an increase in indigenous influence on design, while inspiration from Europe and Scandinavia has likewise had an impact. The result of this myriad of influences is not a definable American mountain architecture style but rather a multifaceted diversity of approaches to design.
The essay begins with an introduction to the diverse contexts of the mountain ranges in Canada and the United States, then illustrates the variety of approaches to contemporary architecture within the territory through examples projects from four architectural studios spread across the region.
In Chile, the word mountain requires further disambiguation, otherwise it will not define a specific landscape or climate condition. Unlike other mountainous conglomerates, climatically it is as highly diverse as it can be expected when covering such different latitudes.
With the arrival of mountain sports in the first decades of the last century, a number of first Refugios were explored in several valleys primarily in central Chile, where altitude, precipitation, temperature and population density overlapped with the will and power of the first pioneers, many of them carrying their own dreams and knowledge from Europe.
These settlements, together with a handful of new villages further south, constitute the bulk of study, to which we at DRAA (Del Rio Arquitectos Asociados) have been mostly invited, aiming to provide a sensible approach to the changing needs of the mountain in a diverse array of topographic and climatic situations, such as those described.
Mountain design has influenced the way we have understood architecture, regardless of context; the limited use of space, energy efficiency and context pertinence have been key issues to address. At present, with the Farellones Mountain Museum and other museums, housing and refuge projects underway, we aim to convey our view of architecture.
For nearly 30 years, I have been fascinated by architecture built in mountainous areas and have been conducting research and analysis mainly in Japan. Many of the mountain lodges located in hostile natural environments are devoid of decoration because of their setting, and the bare form of the space appears inevitable. Beauty can be found in such simple and sturdy construction, and it can be said that this is the strength of architecture that emerges from the confrontation with harsh natural environment.
In Japan, when building in national or semi-national parks, there are often regulations on forms, such as “gabled roofs with a slope of 3/10 to 5/10” and color, such as “no more than two colors out of dark brown, red rust color, or soft brown”. Architecture in Japan uses a timber-frame construction method in which the structure is built with columns and horizontal beams, and roofs are built by adding trusses on top of the structure. In addition, due to Japan’s rainy and typhoon seasons, which bring heavy rainfall, most buildings traditionally have sloped roofs with large eaves. The gabled shape of mountain buildings is a natural form in this respect.
In this article, I would like to introduce some of the mountain architecture like Karasawa hütte, Tateyama mountain villa, Nozawa-Onsen lodge designed by the late Prof. Takamasa Yoshizaka, one of Japan’s leading postwar architects, as well as other architectures in mountainous areas such as Mt.Ontake visitor center, Gokayama Cross Base, Hüt-TENT designed by the author.
Contemporary Nordic architecture is shaped by its relationships with the global architectural practice and its material and cultural ties to the regional context. This essay investigates the specificities of mountain and rural architecture in the Nordic countries over the last two decades, with case studies from Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. Due to their proximity to the Arctic Circle, the living conditions in these territories are very close to those in the Alpine regions, despite the lower elevation.
The essay analyses several factors that are currently at play when it comes to the architectural practice in the North: the relationship between landscape and tourism, the reuse of 20th century rural heritage, the resilience of traditional building techniques, and the clashes between local territories, extractive policies, and colonial power.
The territory of Corsica is an extensive mountain range emerging from the Mediterranean Sea. From the morphological point of view, it is a mountainous region; the flat area coincides with the narrow Tyrrhenian coastal strip of the Aleria plain. With a very low population density, which grows extensively during the summer period, Corsica preserves specific environmental and landscape characteristics that determine the quality of the place; in this respect, it is worth noting that approximately one-third of the territory is a protected natural park. The island’s main economic resources are tourism and the traditional agro-pastoral and wine economy. The essay illustrates four projects, two by the Orma Architettura studio and two by architect Amelia Tavella. All the architectures presented are united by the extreme control of the project, which determines their high design quality in terms of their relationship with the landscape, the built heritage and the local communities.
New architectures for new protagonists: is this what has been happening in inland and mountain Sardinia over the last two decades? And in which direction is modernization going: does it operate on the self-referential level of forms, or is it associated with innovative development paradigms? The paper addresses the awareness of identity as a project, which starts from the discovery of the relationship between constructive cultures, shapes and processes of historical communities and settlements.
In the 1990s, the first results start from the recovery of historic centers, while in the early 2000s the focus shifted to the landscape, transforming a purely conservative approach to places into a proactive one. A new generation of social and institutional leaders – and producers – brings out new clients for projects that re-interpret landscapes, architecture, object design, between continuity and innovation: not through mimetic traditionalisms, but by rediscovering “new ecologies” for transition.
On the basis of a common definition of landscape, which integrates a wide range of cultural approaches and disciplinary themes, contemporary architectures and urban projects can create high-quality landscapes. Especially in non-metropolitan Italian territories, communities of “producers” and “inhabitants” of landscapes work on the renewal of the mosaic of residential, productive and service functions. Not dissimilar is the situation of inland Sicily, where a process of generation of a new landscape seems to have restarted. It integrates aesthetics, architecture, urbanism and ecology and marks the development of a new way of community-developed patronage.
In a personal and non-exhaustive way, the article describes some cases where we prefer new community-based landscapes over the synesthetic perceptions of endless construction sites.
The House of Culture is a public building for recreational events and multimedia productions designed by +tstudio for the small municipality of Aquilonia (AV) in the Campania hinterland. The project intervenes on an existing building used as a nursery school, later decommissioned due to deterioration and structural instability following the 1980 Irpinia earthquake and fire. The project, completed in 2015 and financed as part of the Campania Region’s public works for safe buildings, consisted in the seismic adaptation of the former nursery school and its reuse to meet the local community’s need for flexible spaces for collective use, capable of bringing citizens together around events and demonstrations all over the year, not just seasonally. The essay traces the design process that led to the construction of the House of Culture with a particular emphasis on the role of this building in relation to the community and the territory on which it stands.
The paper looks at marginalization and depopulation of small towns in inland areas by envisaging a possible new Mediterranean spirit in architecture, conceiving the Apennines as a geographical line connecting the Mediterranean to Europe. According to Raffaele Nigro’s thesis, they are a line that establishes links between points, rather than oppositions. A Mediterranean consciousness, which recalls Braudel and Matvejevic, but is also aware of contemporary plagues, from climate change to migration and poly-crisis, and open to a profound knowledge of geographies and contexts, in which architecture and design help to rediscover the dimension of the livability of places, possibly breaking down the perimeters of borders. Grasping this need, the ARÌNT Master’s course has oriented its training in the direction of qualifying a professional figure capable of coordinating regeneration processes, also experimenting with on-field experiences. The course explores regeneration methods starting from certain fixed points: a transdisciplinary outlook, a trans-scalar approach to the study of contexts, weaving of territorial ties, re-appropriation of community spaces in order to build communities, re-use of disused buildings and spaces (contemplating transitory uses), and the triggering of processes.
In October 2018, the three-days storm Vaia flattened 42 million trees to the ground, across a vast area extending from Lombardia to Friuli Venezia Giulia. This extreme weather, which has never been recorded before in Italy, reflects the dramatic nature of climate change. Not only did the storm significantly alter the entire forest area, it also led to the uncontrolled proliferation of the bark beetle, negatively impacting the Italian timber industry. PEFC Italy has set up the ‘Filiera Solidale’ initiative in order to restore the value and importance of timber. In fact, it is aimed at encouraging the purchase of objects and structures made of wood from the storm-damaged areas at a fair price. In this regard, two successful examples are described: The Social Housing Project, inaugurated on 30 May 2022 in Rovereto, and the historic Legnolandia company in Friuli. In both cases, the timber comes from the forests that were devastated by the Vaia storm. In addition, the WOWnature project by Etifor (the spin-off of a project by the University of Padua) offers the chance to get directly involved by adopting a tree in the areas that have been most affected by Vaia and the bark beetle. The care and concern shown for the storm-ravaged forests is an excellent starting point for planning the future of the Alpine territories, focusing on the necessary balance between human and nature.
The contemporary architecture of the Austrian Land of Vorarlberg represents a paradigmatic case of sustainable architecture at the international level. It owes its fame, above all, to the massive use of wood in contemporary architectural production. According to Marie-Hélène Contal, in this region, ecology and sustainability, whether environmental, social or economic, do not simply symbolize a vision or a political programme, but are rooted in the inhabitants’ everyday life and rules of behaviour. The regional architectural culture owes its relevance to various social, cultural and economic factors, including the well-established construction timber industry, which plays a crucial role in generating architectural quality and design in the region. The essay deals with several key issues that, on the one hand, have determined the critical fortune of Vorarlberg architecture and, on the other, shows how the social, cultural, environmental and economic components rooted in the Land have reverberated in architectural quality.
The complex use of the Alps as a settlement area and a sports and leisure environment inevitably lead to the increasing construction of technical and architectural infrastructure to protect against so-called natural hazards. These inevitably have an impact on the landscape and, thus, also on the perception and image of it. The article is dedicated to this nevertheless often neglected part of the alpine infrastructure – the measures and large-scale shoring for the protection against avalanches. Not only the material safety infrastructure is of interest, but also the importance it has for the image and perception of the Alps. The focus is on where the measures for protection against danger not only help to shape the physical landscape but also become part of the cultural construction of the Alps. Three image areas were examined – that of the state institution for avalanche control (Forsttechnischer Dienst für Wildbach- und Lawinenverbauung – WLV), that of marketing, and that of the art system. They show how media intersections are now being found after decades of technical construction and visual communication of the Alps running counter to one another. Today, motifs and image strategies from the field of protection planning are entering the field of advertising images, just as developments and approaches from art and advertising are finding their way into images of security production. Finally, one can assume that advertising images in the Alpine region will appear in the future to feature more frequently elements of safety engineering – to complete the ideal image of the Alps with the construction, in which safety architecture is realized as a cultural resource.
New ideas often come from external influences, different paths that are essential for developing an economic model that’s not based on repeating the past but on three pillars: cultural traditions, natural environment, and new ways of thinking. This happens at MonViso Institute, in the Western Italian Alps, where a group of researchers, designers and entrepreneurs has been involved in place-based research into transitions towards sustainability, regenerative design and architecture, and building a deep relationship with the social, cultural and natural environment. The Institute’s activities involve education in new technologies, climate change, permaculture, the circularity of materials, design with bio-composites, regional economics, which is embedded in outdoor projects in cooperation with European universities and other environment-oriented institutes. Together with the cultural and social realities that have been locally developing during the last decades, MonViso Institute takes part in the regeneration process of the alpine village of Ostana (CN), by representing a significant, concrete programme that can be out-scaled to describe re-inhabitation strategies that may interest several mountain territories.
The essay goes into the prototype project called ‘Ice Stupa’. The project was realised in Ladakh (India), a territory in the Indian part of the Himalayas. Specifically, the project is located in the Indus Valley at an altitude of 3500 metres above sea level. Its location under the monsoon rains, behind the first great Himalayan Mountain range, makes the valley a natural high mountain desert. It is, therefore, scorched with little rainfall. The sun shines for about 360 days. The remaining glaciers provide water for living beings and agriculture. Due to the cold at these altitudes, the glaciers only begin to melt in May and only release sufficient water for cultivated land downstream. However, sowing and the start of growth should occur much earlier because plants grow much more slowly at this altitude. The result is an often poor harvest, which further impacts the already difficult living conditions of the Ladakhi people. The ‘Ice Stupa’ project represents an exciting water management solution when the virtuous management of natural resources is a crucial issue. The Ice Stupa system concretises the interaction between architecture and the environment. The essay also presents some projects realised in the Swiss Grisons.
Over the past two centuries, steel and reinforced concrete have played a predominant role in research and application in civil engineering and materials science, leaving a void in structural wood research. However, the environmental arguments in favour of expanding the possibilities of using renewable wood resources are becoming increasingly evident. in recent years, society’s growing awareness on the urgent need for sustainable building materials has influenced the newfound economic importance of timber construction. Environmental awareness is helping to restore or establish the legitimate use of wood in building our cities on an unprecedented scale. This essay is an interview with Prof. Yves Weinand, in which he briefly explains the experimental activities taking place within the laboratory and how these are changing the way we design and build with timber. On a broader level, the investigations of the IBOlS Group contribute to a deeper understanding of spatial structures in general and set new precedents for the cooperative interaction between architects and engineers who will be analysing such structures.
Due to their geographical, orographic, cultural, and historical characteristics, the Alps can be considered a vast park, representing a reservoir of biological diversity in the centre of Europe; however, such biodiversity is at serious risk. The Alps are breath-taking in their nature, with their peaks, trees, water, animals, insects, people and languages, as well as in their impressing architecture made of the same materials as forests and rocks. On the other hand, the Alps currently count 120 million tourists a year, they are compromised by industries, motorways, cities, consumption, their forests are broken up by ski slopes and ski lifts, their glaciers are disappearing, and the valley floors are exploited down to the last usable metre. In the Alps, the climate crisis is not just any emergency, but the main crisis determining all the others.
In this fragile environment, the Constructive Alps award is an established reality in the panorama of research on contemporary Alpine architecture. Since 2010, Constructive Alps has been investigating environmentally aware contemporary Alpine architecture, the only viable architecture there. Over the years, a large number of the approximately 2000 realized works proposed by designers and clients have proved to be attentive to the dialogue with the natural context and the biodiversity of places.
Those projects can realistically constitute an atlas of virtuous places, a rich catalogue of good practices, and an articulate handbook of solutions and techniques. The essay begins with a glossary that enunciates the concepts of “biodiversity”, “Alps”, “architecture”, and “Constructive Alps” and then recounts four projects selected by the award jury that stand out for their stimulating interpretations of the relationship between architecture and the environment.
The complex territorial operation, carried out by the Zegna family from the 1930s onwards, emerges as one of the most significant infrastructural projects of the Biellese Prealps, linking the fate of this region to the Trivero wool company. The construction of the Panoramica Zegna, along with the development of new facilities and territorial equipment was part of a broader process of programmatic modification of the Alpine territory and its imagery directed at modernizing – and exploiting – its great variety of mountain resources available, from water to land and landscape amenities. Despite the significance of the territorial initiatives implemented and the extent of their effects, the overall event itself is still poorly investigated. Most narratives and research focus on the tourism purpose of the infrastructural development of the mountain region, leaving other trajectories in the background, which– although compared to the former they have never led to tangible results –left an indelible mark on the territory both in terms of legal practices and local development projects. Although still in its embryonic stage, the aim of this work is to systematize some of the procedural circumstances as well as the spatial and territorial effects that this extended history has produced.
The author discusses the concept of “natural environment spatialization” referring to the 18th century Western Alps context. Under the Savoy dynasty, resources began to play a means-ends function, becoming commodities to be extracted and turned into profit according to the Enlightenment’s idea of forest as economic resource, thus losing its role of habitat. The state’s necessity to manage these territories led to the birth of a new legislation that not only did regulate exploitation but also catalogued everything that could constitute an income for the state, e.g., fields, woods, and mines. Such interpretation of nature have characterized the mountain environment of the following centuries, up to the present day. Nowadays, due to the global crisis, the hitherto localized extractions are being stimulated again through a phenomenon of new internal extractive practices that mainly apply to the Alpine territory, and in which forests and minerals are the main resources.
The village of Corte di Cadore created by Edoardo Gellner in the 1950s is the result of different phases in which thinking and acting were skillfully alternated to create a series of landscapes and ever-changing balances between architecture and nature.
In the first phase, the natural element was meant to cooperate with the built element, connecting it to the surrounding natural scenery, thus generating a new “built landscape”; however, the vegetation grew lusher than expected, threatening to compromise the visual relationship conceived by the architect. In the wake of these sudden changes, the architect began to interpret the new landscape as an element to be enhanced and designed to limit its effects on architecture while maintaining its anarchist proliferation. The landscape project for the controlled felling of parts of vegetation had soon to be adapted to the change of management of the site, according to a forest planning approach that often does not take architectural issues into account. The recent events of the Vaia storm and the bark beetle infestation seem to indicate Nature’s desire to regain control and create its own image.
Italian forests cover more than one third of the national territory, yet the amount of timber yearly harvested is considerably limited. Increasing the use of national timber, with a sustainable approach, is a relevant opportunity for our country given the environmental, social and economic benefit it could bring. The prospects are favorable indeed, since the demand for timber has recently increased in many sectors, and the Italian wooden resources are well suited for several and valuable uses.
Proximity supply chains can play a significant role in the forest-wood sector, as some best practices demonstrate and are therefore to be supported at different levels, in terms of system, engaging operators, and attracting investments. In this context, various types of architectural solutions can effectively contribute to promote our national timber by conveying the countless values it would bring to construction. The same applies to the national territory, and in particular for the Alpine area, where wood and its uses are integrated into the local culture.
The concept of Energy Community is currently beginning to be appreciated by non-experts. Until about a decade ago, electricity generation was exclusively centralized and mostly run by fossil fuels. the power produced would then reach people’s homes through high, medium, and low voltage networks. Today, with small-scale plants, energy generation has become increasingly local and clustered near the consumption places, particularly thanks to the spread of photovoltaic systems, which are versatile in their application and have very few limitations in geographical distribution. Recently, other renewable sources small-scale plants have been developed for local and domestic use, greatly reducing losses related to transportation and distribution. In this context, one of the main objectives of the Energy Communities is to maximize and, therefore, stimulate both prompt and proximity self-consumption with appropriate incentives like State and European funding.
The Alps are indicators of climate change. Thanks to their variety of environments and altitudes, these places uncover some of the manifold consequences of global warming. Starting with the analysis of the current situation, 2022 has been an example of what, ever so frequently, may happen in the future: summer temperatures 3 ºC hotter than average has given rise to drought problems, trees and forests loss and a record reduction in glacial mass across the Alps. What lies ahead? What are the prospects for the future according to climate projections? The answer lies in the effectiveness of climate policies that, if unheeded, may result in catastrophic scenarios. The complete failure of the actions planned and implemented would, in fact, lead to climate chaos, inevitably affecting the habitability of the mountain areas. But not all is lost: virtuous practices will make it possible to achieve the 2-degree global warming goal, also thanks to a new way of living in the Alps that, bearing risks in mind, understands the need to divert financial resources to the environment, avoiding the unmanageable and managing the inevitable.
The thesis underpinning the thoughts presented in this issue is the interaction between architectural culture and the environment, between intentional environmental modification brought about by building in the mountains and its conceptualization in the historically-determined forms that have characterised modernity since the late 18th century. The environment is here understood as material – mountains, lakes, forests, climate, air, water, ice, animals – with its countless cultural and scientific modes of conceptualization.
This theme is not only up-to-date, but will be the core issue of the long phase of climate transition that is our future. Thus, it is natural to question the extent to which environmental transformation is redefining how constructive action and the environment relate to and influence each other. In order to look at this interaction in the present and in the near future, it may be essential to interrogate the two-and-a-half centuries of history of modernity within the Alps, with the progressive prevalence of urban technology cultures that will disperse the historical ways of life and the relative building practices as the 21st century advances.
Architecture for production in the Alps
Production buildings and infrastructures, being the man-made marks left on the Alpine landscape, have historically had a different value than they have today. For a short period during modernity, they were used as advertising elements to represent the progress of Alpine territories and were later ignored by the architectural discourse, which failed to understand their cultural, environmental and ecological values. These buildings were often the subject of that “spatial separation” between the energy production and the energy consumption areas which contributed, even in the Alpine territory, to the construction of industrial areas devoid of any character or attractiveness. It is only since the end of the last century that the growing environmental, social, cultural, and political awareness, as well as the emergence of major environmental and climate crises have contributed to the realisation that the quality architectural project is of fundamental importance in the construction of industrial and productive buildings. After a brief introduction, the article illustrates some examples of contemporary architecture for production in the Alps, arranged functionally. There are agricultural buildings, small workshops, facilities for the production and distribution of electrical and thermal energy, waste treatment plants, and office buildings.
Between dust and wounds: the Tassullo study and research center -San Romedio mine in Tassullo
It is sometimes worthwhile to distance oneself from the limitations of modernity and focus on projects that for their impact and clarity have become reference points for their way of relating to contexts and time. Such is the case of the Study and Research Centre, built in the early 2000s by RuattistudioArchitetti for the historic company Tassullo Materiali Spa, now owned by the Miniera San Romedio group.
This project explores and focuses on the issues that characterise places, bringing their original and archaic dimensions back to life. It is based on a coherent and resonating architecture that echoes and is in harmony with the context; the building is rooted in the landscape and offers new viewpoints that allow us to see infinite possible landscapes. Here, more than in other projects, forms and symbols reveal and speak to us about the rural fabric of the valley, creating semantic fields of agricultural and cultural values that connect “text” and context.
A sustainable model for a stable for cattle breeding
New agricultural structures, especially those for cattle farming, have an undeniable impact on the landscape. The main problem is due to the size of the livestock buildings, which depends on the number of animals. The stables of the traditional rural complexes were mostly of limited size and often also integrated, in an almost complementary way, into residential buildings. The number of animals was very small, as they were only intended for family subsistence. Today, a cattle farm requires a much larger number of animals to be sustainable and, consequently, sufficient space for the welfare of the animals and to improve the quality of the final product.
The impact on the landscape becomes a fundamental issue that the project must address consciously, together with the other aspects that increasingly characterize this type of architecture.
The Department of Architecture and Design of the Polytechnic of Turin, the Experimental Zooprophylactic Institute of Piedmont, Liguria, and Valle d’Aosta, with the collaboration of the “La Granda” consortium, conducted a research study aimed to define the characteristics of a stable for Piedmontese cattle breeding by translating the needs of animal welfare, environmental sustainability and integration with the surroundings into an architectural model.
The landscape, product and resource. The experience of Contrada Bricconi in the Orobic Alps
The project of Contrada Bricconi started out as Giacomo Perletti’s dream. Born in 1986, he is a farmer and the symbol of the great passion that has driven the development project of a farm that has existed since 2010, which was when an agreement was signed between the newly founded company and the municipality of Oltressenda Alta. The agreement provided for the concession of some buildings owned by the municipality in Contrada Bricconi, an ancient stone farm settlement dating back to the 15th century and located at around 900 meters above sea level, on the border of the Parco delle Orobie Bergamasche in Val Zurio, a valley situated at the side of the Serio River basin. Since that day, the company has seen a surprising convergence of multiple people, institutions, and initiatives. Over the years, they have contributed to the realization of an ambitious project aimed at reintroducing an agricultural activity in the contrada, which had been in a state of semi-abandonment, redeveloping the existing buildings while preserving the landscape, offering the appropriate catering and hospitality for the mountain context, ensuring the economic sustainability of the new-born company. The history of Contrada Bricconi tries to teach that the landscape is itself the product of a rural society that has shaped the vegetation, topography, infrastructures, and settlements over the centuries. The return of agricultural activities in the mountains, albeit intervening on pre-existing ecological and social balances, is essential to ensure the preservation of the local heritage, which needs people’s presence and work to survive.
Architectures and artifacts for farming
The issue of rural architecture is finally being raised in the architectural debate, especially in the Alps. Even if most large buildings for livestock farming are not considered a kind of architecture today, many remarkable projects were realized in the Alps in the last decades. The scales of the interventions differ greatly, but some elements, like the attention to detail, the merging of different scales, the focus on the cultural context, and construction have often been taken into consideration.
Through a series of projects, we examine the strategies and solutions applied by architects taking into account the local specificities and cultural backgrounds. Perhaps precisely because of their very peculiar needs and functional programs some projects are interesting fields of experimentation we can look at, reflecting on contemporary architecture. Thus, by analysing the architecture for livestock farming in the Alps we may consider some of the emerging topics of our times with great clarity and strength.
Alpine wineries: the case of a “production system” in South Tyrol
Within the context of agricultural production, vinification has peculiar characteristics due to the sort of “sacredness” of wine and its aging process, which takes place in dedicated spaces. Starting from the end of the 20th century, the figure of the architect has been increasingly involved in the design of the wine-making buildings. Whatever the reason driving many companies in this direction, this has had global resonance and even affected the Alps: among the Alpine countries, this phenomenon has been particularly prevalent in Italy and especially in South Tyrol, a territory where contemporary architecture has been gradually emerging and where architectural competitions are more common, contributing to improving the quality of the projects.
The region has put local architects at the center: they have actively participated in this intense work on wine cellars, albeit without denying the pre-existing buildings; thus, they preserved the original production volumes and mainly intervened with extensions. However, an already well-established tourism sector has reduced the depth of this process – which has taken place rapidly and in a geographically limited area – as interventions have often focused on attracting the attention of tourists. In many cases, this approach has led to an excess of shapes, technologies, decorations and colors, creating something that resembles a sort of wine theme park. However, there are some exceptions to this phenomenon that are worth discussing.
Contemporary architectures of production in South Tyrol
When the German-speaking community of South Tyrol regained the ability to manage the provincial territory, action was taken on the economic reprogramming of the area, favoring a widespread development. At the same time, the region’s capital city lost its interest, its economic growth came to a sudden stop and the local productive settlements began to spread across the main valley floors. Instead of having companies of extra-local origin build large industrial complexes in this territory, South Tyrolean administrators wanted to privilege small artisan businesses already present in the territory, which have now become leaders in production and export. Until the 1970s, the local economy mainly relied on subsistence farming; during the last fifty years, however, the manufacturing industry has evolved significantly, and family-run companies have become well-known production centers. Moreover, the agricultural sector and, more widely, the food industry, far from having been abandoned, continue to represent the leading sectors of the South Tyrolean economy.
The architectural language intertwines with the development of the local industrial sector at a time when – perhaps in the wake of design competitions for large provincial public buildings – even private clients have started to understand the importance of making their production sites iconic. Thus, they have become true marketing assets for the brand image of the companies and contribute to building the South Tyrolean landscape as we see it today.
The sheep, the village and the architecture of a possible future
The architecture of the municipality of Vrin has gained considerable notoriety in recent years thanks to a regeneration project supervised by the architect Gion A. Caminada. His goal was to use the existing architecture and reinvent it to create the premises for a rebirth at a socio-working level, thus promoting productivity and self-sufficiency within the municipality. Thus, the reference economies were those of agriculture, sheep farming and crafts – sectors that were also shaped by the communities living in the agglomerations within the municipality. To relocate the production processes into a collective dimension, it was necessary to rethink the spaces in which they could flourish. The idea was that the workspace could live on through a balanced contamination between nature and artifice, relating productivity to other aspects of daily living.
To understand how the buildings used for productive activities could be emblematic with respect to the Lumnezia valley’s landscape, it was sufficient to observe some stables and barns in the villages or the pastures dating back to the 12th century. In terms of materials and design, they represented the activities of agriculture, pastoralism, carpentry, and craftsmanship in a single form. However, such form is not the only reminder of the many activities carried out in this context; it is also and above all their position in the territory that acts as a reminder of this, strengthening the perceivable spatial context. The Mazlaria agricultural complex in Vrin, designed by Caminada, is perhaps among the most emblematic examples of this kind of design. Vrin’s design experience is related to the circular link that can be established between human activities and processes of regeneration and urbanization. This bond strengthens the synergy between work, leisure and sociability, placing these issues within the same physical and abstract context.
To make it even better
The Vorarlberg architect Hermann Kaufmann is a pioneer of the modern timber construction with which his name is inseparably linked. In his pleasant but persistent manner, Hermann Kaufmann has never tired of pointing out the qualities of timber construction and, at the same time, developing it further with his buildings through the use of new modern products and the sounding out of new construction methods in order to make timber construction, as he himself says, even better. He has always been open to new developments. Commercial buildings seem to be a good field for trying out these new developments and new construction methods in timber construction.
As functional and practical as commercial buildings need to be, they also clearly do leave some leeway for trying out new ideas. Clients, architects, and construction companies use such buildings to experiment, to try out new joints, new material combinations and new engineered woods. By looking at a few examples of industrial developments, we can see how timber construction has changed from a traditional to an ultra-modern method, and better understand the advantages that this building material offers and how Hermann Kaufmann prepared this path with his buildings.
This text is an abridged and revised version of an article first published in «Bauband 3: Gewerbebauten in Lehm und Holz», a special edition of the journal DETAIL – Zeitschrift für Architektur + Baudetail.
The gallery is assembled by Cristian Dallere and Matteo Tempestini.
Production in the mountains: new territorial images for the highlands
For a long time, European mountain areas have provided resources according to their environmental specificities. Mines and forests, meadows, pastures and streams have allowed the export of minerals and timber, agricultural and manufacturing products as well as handcrafts to the surrounding plains. Production has brought income to local communities while modifying the landscape. During the 20th century, many mountain areas had to deal with more competitive surrounding areas. More recently, mountains have been rediscovered mainly as places of production of environmental, touristic and cultural ecosystem services.
Looking at the mountain as a place of production allows us to gain a new understanding of its territories, to look at them with an unprecedented gaze. In the last two decades, in fact, the images and analyses built around the mountain have clustered around two opposing poles, from tourism to depopulation and abandonment. Society, governments and the world of research have recently attributed promising and positive values to the mountain territories of production; this could have serious repercussions on their destiny. The present essay questions the origins and meaning of this new interest and deals with the theme of production to highlight changes in approaches and points of view. In mountain areas, in fact, the issue of production raises questions, highlights critical issues, imposes new interpretative categories, brings out perspectives for the definition of a structuring relationship between soil design and sustainable ways of transforming places.
The Alps: a production chain
The secondary sector has played a decisive role in shaping the entity and speed of social and spatial transformations in the Alpine region. Observing the Alps through the lens of production spaces and their related infrastructures allows us to better understand the relationship between human activities and the unique features of mountain territories. The Alps’ central geographical position in Europe, their geomorphological features, and the presence of several natural resources are some of the reasons why the Alps may be considered a unique technical and innovative laboratory. People have constantly called upon to innovate their techniques to control and extract natural resources more effectively so as to make these territories habitable all year round, or simply to cross them safely and ever more quickly. This paper seeks to contribute to a deeper understanding of Alpine spatial awareness and to provide insight into the hypothetical renewal of the economic and settlement systems that could reveal a new habitability of the Alpine region.
Architectures of production in the 21st century Italian mountains
The theme of production seems at odds with the images depicting an idealistic, idyllic daily life of mountain villages and landscapes that appeared in glossy magazines during the pandemic and became imprinted on the collective imagination of urban populations. Production (including industrial production) has deeply altered the life and appearance of mountains in Italy. First during the nineteenth century, with hydroelectric power plants, and then with the gradual relocation of production plants to the plains following the apogee of Fordism in the second half of the twentieth century. Thus, the era of large factories of the 1960s gradually came to an end, evolving towards a period of disruptive “molecular” capitalism and an all-Italian manufacturing system organized in industrial districts. The morphology of production plants evolved too, while products became more and more standardized and were stored in warehouses: in this frenzy of economic growth, the superficiality of capitalism overtook the ancient sector of mountain agriculture, transferring the notion of warehouse into its traditional production facilities, namely barns and stables. Thus, while on the one hand agronomic practices gained new attention, on the other hand the architectural features of production buildings in the mountains continued to seem “out of context”. A renewed attention to the shape of production buildings began to develop even in a climatically and morphologically complex territory such as the mountains. I believe that the features and characters of the new architecture of production will become less authorial and at the same time more explicit in representing the material and cultural relationship with the specificities of the mountain territory and in establishing a dialogue with the cultures that have inhabited these places.
Architectures for the producing mountain
The Alps have been at the center of a long process of proto-industrial development during the entire modern era up until the late nineteenth century. For many historians, in the second half of the nineteenth century the processes of modernization and expansion of the capitalist economy associated with industrial growth disrupted the historical equilibrium, thus radically altering the relationship between mountains and plains to favor the latter.
However, this general interpretation has been critically reviewed in recent years; studies have highlighted that the various Alpine societies have given rise to historical paths that have seen the development of both local and Fordist production models.
After World War II, the historical and traditional industrialization of the Alps experienced a crisis that occurred at the same time as the most dramatic demographic decline – which was especially significant in the Western Alps.
At the dawn of the twentieth century, however, a series of experiences and phenomena began to take place, opening up to the possibility of a self-sufficient and sustainable Alpine production. In this sense, the sector of mountain agriculture is quite emblematic, as it has been at the center of the current phase of rethinking and regeneration of Alpine territories.
Architecture and production in the Alps may effectively interact through the growth of a wood industry aimed at building in the Austrian region of Vorarlberg, which is a particularly relevant issue. In mountain architecture, wood is not used to follow the tradition nor to adhere to a traditional building culture in the mountains, but because this material – as the techniques and savoir-faire needed to work with wood – is the current protagonist of the Alpine production sector.
Shifting the point of view by considering the theme of production also allows us to rethink the themes of ecological transition and climate change.
Oggi più che mai, il tema della montagna “che produce” sembra essere centrale nel quadro di quelle politiche territoriali che lavorano nella definizione del territorio alpino come uno spazio abitativo autonomo, in grado di ridisegnare gli equilibri territoriali e i sistemi di interdipendenza con le grandi aree urbane di fondovalle e di pianura.
Storicamente basato su un’economia di sussistenza, il territorio montano è stato, tra la fine del XIX secolo e gli inizi del XX secolo, uno spazio industriale e produttivo a tutti gli effetti, vero e proprio “giacimento” delle principali risorse (minerale, acqua, legno, ecc.) per le società urbanizzate. A ben vedere una breve parentesi, se la confrontiamo con la lunga durata del passato agrosilvo-pastorale, e con la condizione postmoderna di territorio “scenario” per la monocultura turistica.
Oggi che la questione di una nuova abitabilità dei territori extraurbani è tornata ad essere sulle agende di sempre più numerosi soggetti istituzionali e politici, tale dimensione produttiva della montagna riacquisisce uno spessore ed una centralità inedita.
Tornare a pensare al territorio montano come un luogo presidiato e vissuto significa oggi innanzitutto riscrivere le relazioni di interdipendenza socio-economica con le aree urbanizzate, cercando di garantire delle condizioni di vita e di lavoro sul territorio stesso, e ridare vita ad un sistema di relazioni virtuose con le città, controvertendo l’idea di luogo di consumo monodirezionale (estrattivo, ambientale, paesaggistico, turistico, ecc.) praticato nei decenni scorsi.
Se in alcune aree geografiche già da molti anni il modello di un’economia locale produttiva può considerarsi consolidato (si pensi al Vorarlberg, ai Grigioni o in Sudtirolo), in altri luoghi alpini questo approccio sembra oggi ritagliarsi timidamente uno spazio importante, soprattutto nel panorama di quelle valli che hanno per contro vissuto decenni di abbandono e spopolamento (si pensi ad alcune aree delle alpi occidentali e centrali italiane, piemontesi, lombarde e venete).
Due sembrano essere gli elementi caratterizzanti di questa tendenza. Da un lato un approccio, per usare un termine in voga, “non estrattivo” ma invece basato sul rafforzamento delle filiere locali: allevamento, agricoltura, viticoltura, produzione casearia, silvicoltura ma anche produzione industriale e artigianale basate sulla trasformazione di prodotti e risorse autoctone.
Dall’altro la riattivazione di reti lunghe, non strutturate secondo uno sfruttamento verticale delle risorse ma basate invece su di una “specializzazione orizzontale” che permetta la nascita di economie ed attività innovative capaci di ritagliarsi uno spazio privilegiato all’interno del mondo globale.
Le architetture contemporanee raccolte in questo numero sembrano rispondere in modo proattivo a queste nuove istanze, concorrendo in prima persona alla definizione di nuovi spazi per il lavoro, interpretando le necessità di nuove funzioni inedite per questo contesto e trasformandole in occasioni di innovazione progettuale e linguistica, come nel caso di stabilimenti artigianali e industriali, centri di ricerca e innovazione, poli di servizi.
O anche solo reinterpretando e attualizzando i modelli consolidati delle economie tipiche del mondo alpino come l’allevamento e l’agricoltura, ma sempre in un’ottica di valore d’uso del territorio e dei manufatti, ben oltre le posizioni estetizzanti e immobilistiche della patrimonializzazione dei decenni scorsi.
Today more than ever, the theme of production in the mountain seems to be central in the framework of those territorial policies that define the Alpine territory as an autonomous living space capable of redesigning territorial balances and systems of interdependence with large urban areas, namely valleys and plains.
Historically based on a subsistence economy, between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century the mountain area was an industrial and productive space, an actual reservoir of primary resources (minerals, water, wood, etc.) for urbanized companies. If we look closely, this was a brief parenthesis compared with the long duration of the previous economy based on agriculture, silviculture, and livestock breeding activities and the postmodern condition of a scenic territory for the monoculture of tourism. Now that the issue of a new habitability in extra-urban areas is back on the agendas of a growing number of institutional and political actors,this productive dimension of the mountain regains unprecedented significance and centrality.
Going back to thinking of the mountain territory as an inhabited context today means rewriting the relations of socio-economic interdependence with urbanized areas. It also means trying to guarantee living and working conditions in the territory and revive a system of virtuous relations with the cities, thereby challenging the idea of a place for one-way consumption (extractive, environmental, landscape, tourism, etc.) practised in past decades.
While in some geographical areas the model of a productive local economy can be considered consolidated for many years (think of Vorarlberg, the Grisons or South Tyrol), in other ones this approach seems to be timidly gaining space today. This especially occurs in the context of those valleys that have experienced decades of abandonment and depopulation (think of some areas of the western and central Italian Alps, Piedmont, Lombardy and Veneto).
Two elements in particular seem to characterize this trend. On the one hand, a “non-extractive” approach based on the strengthening of local supply chains such as livestock farming, agriculture, viticulture, dairy production, forestry, but also industrial and artisanal production based on the transformation of indigenous products and resources. On the other hand, the reactivation of extended networks based on a “horizontal specialization” instead of a vertical exploitation of resources allows the emergence of innovative economies and activities capable of claiming a privileged space within the global world.
The contemporary architectures in this issue seem to respond proactively to these new demands. They contribute to the definition of new spaces for production, interpreting the needs for new functions for this context and transforming them into opportunities for design and linguistic innovation, as in the case of artisan and industrial establishments, research and innovation centres, and facilities. Also, they reinterpret the consolidated models of the typical Alpine economic practices such as livestock farming and agriculture, paying attention to the use value of the territory and its artefacts, moving well beyond the aesthetisation and stillness of the capitalization of the past decades.
“Slow practicing”: i progetti di Huang Yinwu nella storica città di Shaxi tra inclusione sociale e cultura materiale
The Shaxi Rehabilitation Project is a comprehensive conservation project in a remote rural area of the Yunnan Province, China. A once important stopover in the mountain area on the ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Trail, Shaxi still has plenty of built heritage. The architect Huang Yinwu, who studied at the Southeast University of Nanjing, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich (ETH) and at the Hong Kong University, worked as a leading project architect in Shaxi for more than 17 years, from 2003. The main topics raised by the case study deal with the local characters and topographical identity in the natural environment, the traditional craftsmanship and the intervention of modern constructions, the design, expressed by identifying and enhancing the value of Shaxi’s cultural heritage and the conservation of cultural legacies into the framework of social and economic development. Shaxi has a strong construction tradition, but it is also very fragile. Unlike the urban area, the traditional rural construction type is a system of experience gradually broadened after ongoing trials and mistakes. This is the reason why it is challenging to have new creations and developments; the same goes for new materials and technologies. For architects like Huang Yinwu, it is necessary to transform the empirical system into a theoretical one, and then provide a reliable construction model that is suitable for local conditions and technologies. In another sense, the key is working with and training local artisans so that they may understand new materials and structures and develop their skills.
Linking, framing, underlining, amplifying: two projects for the public spaces in historic Trentino settlements
The small villages in rural areas of Trentino often share similar settlement principles (of Latin-Romansh origin) and destinies.
Their dense cores suffer from a phenomenon of consistent abandonment that causes the aweakening of the social structure and an increasing obsolescence of the buildings. The two projects of Castelfondo (Municipality of Borgo d’Anaunia) and Bolciana (Municipality of Tre Ville) are to be considered in this general context, in two small villages that felt the need to regenerate the public space to provide new places for social gathering and new facilities to the community. In Castelfondo, the abandonment of a building is the starting point of the project: instead of a decaying building, three small public spaces offer a new gathering place for the community. In Bolciana, the need to have spaces that would improve the quality of the existing places led to a project made of small artifacts in four squares. The two projects try to demonstrate that with a careful approach by the municipalities, the needs and problems of locations that are far from large tourist flows and main infrastructures can become fertile opportunities to reinvent spaces and meet emerging needs.
Heritage and its avatars.
Notes on two recent works in the Canton of Ticino
The text analyses two houses, namely, Cà da Paes in Aurigeno, by Buzzi studio di architettura and Casa Ferretti in Bedretto by Baserga Mozzetti architetti. Although they present different formal outcomes, what they have in common is the contrast between the appearance and reality of the construction system. This reality is finally revealed by the clues prepared by the architects, with an approach that is not intended to dissimulate but rather to slow down the perception of the work, or rather of its constructive character, which is grasped only on closer examination. A reconstruction of the genesis of the two buildings enables us to clarify this observation, showing that they are the result of an attempt to reconcile not only regulatory and budgetary constraints, but also the different conceptions of heritage cultivated by the clients, architects and the municipal and cantonal control commissions. Each of these is reflected in a different image of “heritage”, the result of their different beliefs and convictions. The works discussed here seek to deal with this plurality of interpretations (and the divergent impulses arising from them), by embodying them as a theme of the design, which they interpret by treading with delicate poise (on the verge of ambiguity) the fine line between dissimulation and exhibition: an original path, in the recent architecture of the Canton Ticino, but not without its pitfalls.
In the Alps, the cultural landscape changes with the way people live and act. Social structures and economic conditions shape human needs and define the appearance of the territory and landscape, contributing to the development of specific settlement and housing models, in close relationship with the place.
The local typology and construction technologies, developed throughout the history, thus embody the responses to the particular local housing needs, characterizing the places according to different cultural influences.
These conditions, together with the influences of the environmental and natural context, as well as the cultural aspects linked to the traditions of the local communities, today are still distinctive elements of the characterization of the villages and mountain valleys.
The essay, starting from design experiences conducted personally by the architects in their region of origin – the Grisons – explores the many suggestions that the “legacy” of the different ways of building in the mountains offered for their design work. From space planning to materials, from construction solutions to typology, the architectural projects of Capaul & Blumenthal, both in the case of the recovery of the existing heritage and in the case of new buildings, seem to move from a clever re-interpretation of the complex heritage that combines savoir faire, knowledge, inspirations and materials, to seek careful answers to the current problems of the Alpine world.
How do you design “with history”? Gion A. Caminada and the architectural reconceptualization of historical models
Gion Caminada has left tangible traces of the dialogue with the building tradition of his region, the Grisons. On closer inspection, however, he does not design by following history: he does not take up or add, but reconceptualizes knowledge in new spatial experiences, interpreting what already exists and sometimes combining it with “finds” from other historical sources.
The awareness that nothing interesting can arise from copies faithful to the original leads to the belief that designing “with history” implies a transformation.
Gion Caminada is an architect who interprets the construction traditions of his place very serenely, designing on them and at the same time updating their meanings. Think of the revival of the Strickbau, one of the oldest methods of building with timber in Grisons, which has been reinterpreted in a freer way to create smoother transitions between rooms inside the buildings and generate a refined interaction between open and closed spaces or even create unprecedented relationships between the inside and the outside.
At the same time, the study of his projects reveals other historical references in the field of international art and architecture of the past, an aspect that is clear for example in its similarity to concrete art, neoplasticism, and constructivism, through a strong interest in the creation of plastic and sculptural spaces.
Therefore, designing “with history” does not imply a repetition of what history itself, a place, a memory, or an image “present” to the architect, but a comparison and a further thought.
Vernacular declinations: Alpine architecture in Valais
Since the term ‘vernacular’ has been used to frame an ‘architectural gender’, not a constructed heritage, particularly that of the rural economy in the mountains, reality has been dispossessed, and all the natural elements are, in fact, the result of a natural restoration. This was the case in Valais under the architectural governance of Edmond Giroud and Maurice Zermatten during the Trente Glorieuses. Their belief in a narrow regionalism aspiring to an identity, which they defined as a ‘neo-Valaisan’ style, wiped out modernist aspirations. In order to fight against an outdated censorship, architects react by exalting the modernist cause, which sometimes makes them forget that any new form can also be the result of a critique of the forms established by tradition, or the result of an order that is specific to the architectural project. Alongside the multiple conclusions of the ‘vernacular gender’ – the latter understood narrowly as tradition – a more daring project can be measured across the whole of the Valais and Alpine territory. From the simple dwelling house to the imposing dam, the scale adopted is a territorial measure, an order of thought that internalises a necessity, engaging the author in a work that is less autobiographical and more empirical. On the one hand, there are the virtuosos of the vernacular and, on the other, those who propose a territorial project, such as Jean-Paul Darbellay.
The Giandomenico Belotti’s house in Fogajard
This essay presents the Saccomani family house, designed in the 1960s by Giandomenico Belotti in Fogajard, a cluster of isolated farmsteads near Madonna di Campiglio where, to this day, one may still breathe the farming life atmosphere of the times gone by. The clients developed a particular affection for the place and chose it for their free time. A bond is created and lives through a project that interprets the theme of the refuge in a modern way. Built at the margins of the meadows, at the limit of the woodland, the architecture abstracts the elements of tradition and translates them with today’s language, with no winking or analogies. The dry appearance of the exteriors, made of reinforced concrete walls, timber infills and a cantilevering horizontal roof, is matched by warm and welcoming interiors made of wooden and textile elements. It is through the architect’s coherent approach and his friendship with a passionate client that this work finds its particular shape, giving life to an authentic and honest experience of Alpine dwelling.
Gli «effetti» della tradizione. Trasmutazioni dell’architettura storica nell’opera di Carlo Mollino
As Daniele Vitale wrote, the elements of historical Alpine tradition seem to be, for Mollino, “pretexts” for an exploration and formal manipulation that seeks its ways and directions.
Rural architecture is therefore seen not as the bearer of an “objective rationality”, but as a set of materials that, thanks to the design interpretation, determines unprecedented fields of value. The process that characterizes many of his mountain works rarely follows the linear logic of problem solving but is characterized by a deviation that creates a new value space, a gap that distances it from the outcome considered as a consequential act.
Let us think of the device of recovery and distortion of archetypes and conventional configurations of the historical tradition, which become a pretext for reinterpretations that generate new tectonic and formal meanings. Let us consider also their disassembly and reassembly to understand their constructive relationships, static configurations, tectonic logics, which were reused in the creation of his design devices; or the metamorphic and metasemic transmutations of some constructive figures exasperated to the point that, from being part of a whole, they are amplified and hyperbolized until they coincide with the overall architectural configuration. The essay, by retracing some of Carlo Mollino’s numerous projects developed in the Alpine area and some of his main built works, tries to identify some of the conceptual devices employed in his mountain construction site.
Towards a New Objectivity of the landscape. Edoardo Gellner’s tools and methods
Edoardo Gellner never concealed the fact that he was a self-taught architect, although the references to the pragmatism of the Deutscher Werkbund and the theoretical teachings of the first Bauhaus are evident in his works. Drawing and photography are the tools through which Gellner educates his eye to look at the reality of things objectively and analytically. His method of analysis is based on a careful understanding of the territory and its matrices: from the comparison between military cartography and cadastral maps, Gellner draws a whole series of considerations on the historical, morphological, and social reasons that led to the development of such landscapes, and the study of centurial grids offers Gellner a counterproof to his theories. Thus, understanding the motivations of architecture but above all the origins of a landscape become the themes that Gellner deepens in an extensive series of studies for publications that were never completed that make these menabò real synthetic “or even artistic” visions of the landscape, as a tribute to the most perfect purovisibilist theory.
Observing the transformation of the world. A modern architect in the Alpine pastures
The 20th century marked the beginning of the massive transformation of mountain lifestyles. The architects took this opportunity to extend their experimental territories to the Alps. The French architect Albert Laprade had a very different approach. Having arrived in Haute-Savoie in the mid-1920s to spend his holidays, he gradually bought the Charousse mountain pasture in the village of Les Houches (Haute-Savoie, France). He transformed it into a family resort by including some cottages of modern comfort, focusing on preserving the landscape structures of the place. This article reviews this particular approach in the journey of an architect who, moreover, builds in a “modern” style. By questioning the tools he mobilizes from his pasture, we will see how Albert Laprade implements an active observation of the territory. From photography to the collection of objects, it brings together the traces of changing traditional lifestyles. But without turning into the past, he works to promote on the national architectural scene the achievements that are fully anchored in the present life, the architects who build the “climate stations” in the mountains. Then, the Alps become a timeless setting, an observation post from which the architect seems to be able to withdraw to evaluate the modern world.
Twentieth-century research on the Alpine rural house between the epistemological issue and legitimizing narratives
Throughout the twentieth century, the gazes of observers from different disciplinary fields, ethnologists, geographers, architects have focused on the Alpine rural house. What do scholars seek within the theme of the house and the rural area?
In Switzerland, the pioneering nineteenth-century studies were followed by research, starting from the 1870s, by the philologist Jakob Hunziker. In his analysis, he took into consideration not only exceptional constructions but also widespread building production. Buildings were detected and illustrated through diagrammatic “primarily planimetric” and photographic representations. However, the original data in Hunziker’s work is found above all in the correlation that is established between language and architecture.
In this context, rural architecture is no longer a simple determinist adhesion to the natural and environmental context in which one lives but becomes a historically determined affirmation of a verified and mediated cultural model concerning the local datum.
Alongside the readings of geographers and ethnologists, there is the chapter of the studies on the rural house conducted by architectural culture. The theme of rural architecture will represent a subject of dispute with often ideological overtones between proponents of modernity and those of traditionalism.
Towards the mid-thirties, Pagano’s semantic translation represents the definitive shift, at least by the architects of the modernist front, from a mere question of a more complex theme, capable of considering the multiple aspects of building in the countryside, culminating in the exhibition Architettura rurale Italiana by Pagano and Daniel. The use of the category of functionalism when dealing with the farmer house allows to recognize rural architecture as a discipline and simultaneously allows it to function as a cultural background and a historical validation for rationalism.
Alpine heritage in Swiss publications
Switzerland boasts a wide production of publications dedicated to its architectural heritage that offer an articulated overview of Swiss architecture from the so-called bourgeois to the rural one. Starting from the monumental study by the philologist Jakob Hunziker (1827-1901) on the Swiss house in its landscape and historical development, two series of books have been written, namely Die Bauernhäuser der Schweiz and Das Bürgerhaus in der Schweiz. The peculiarity of these two series is their method and completeness, the result, among other things, of a careful cultural policy capable of finding and organizing the necessary means. In this context, there are some publications with substantially different approaches to those mentioned above. The fundamental difference lies in the fact that the analyses and descriptions are not limited to the single artefacts but investigate their ways of aggregation, relating the building typology with urban morphology. This is one of the characteristics of La costruzione del territorio nel Canton Ticino by Aldo Rossi, Eraldo Consolascio, and Max Bosshard, published in 1979 by the Fondazione Ticino Nostro. In this publication, there is no solution of continuity between the vernacular buildings and the more “noble” ones, often rather ancient and the result of an extraordinary ability to include and combine elements. The example of La costruzione del territorio was followed by other publications that share its same methods and objectives. Among these, two volumes dated 1983 should be noted; they are dedicated to the villages of Avers and Soglio respectively and both were created by the Department of Architecture of the Technical School of Muttenz. In these publications, renouncing the separation between vernacular buildings and bourgeois houses leads to a more accurate reading of the real size of the settlements, as opposed to the idyllic image of the mountain village consisting exclusively of rural artefacts.
The invention of the Swiss house: engineers, ethnographers and artists to the discovery of the Alpine vernacular construction
At the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900, Switzerland presented itself to the world by exhibiting an imaginary synthetic village, making the conflicting features of the various Cantons – which for a few decades gathered under the flag of the Confederation – the founding elements of its national identity. These features were based on the cultural core of the “idem Alpine feeling” defined by the primitive cantons of Alemannic language, Catholic religion, and mountain economy.
Not being able to express an authentic image by drawing on the nation’s historicized heritage, the focus is on popular architecture. The Alpine House has built and nurtured a resilient narrated “myth” which, in its architectural form of “chalet” typical of the Bernese Oberland, has helped feed a generalist image of considerable pro-motional and commercial success for Switzerland and its industry.
In the twentieth century, during the industrial growth of the nation, campaigns of survey and inventory of the rural and bourgeois “heritage” tried to scientifically systematize the heterogeneous disciplinary approaches that had undertaken the interpretation of the Alpine house in the previous century. Social, economic, and cultural functions are the raison d’être of the vernacular construction and are expressed in the lexicon of typological, constructive, and decorative elements.
The specific linguistic and cultural affiliations translate not only into different materials, techniques, and forms of construction but also into different settlement models in the territory. An unwavering mythology has been built and, paradoxically, the national identity has been modelled on the assumption that Germans are “assemblers” of logs, and Latins are “builders” who use stone.
The living Corpus. New design developments of historical Alpine architecture
The Corpus of historical architecture – built by traditional societies in the Alps be-tween the great settlement phase of the twelfth-thirteenth century and the break caused by twentieth-century modernization – represents one of the main references when addressing the topic of building in the mountains.
It is recognized as having authority. It is to it that we appeal – from the nineteenth-century Swiss-German treatises, through Adolf Loos and Giuseppe Pagano, to contemporary designers – to legitimize theories or to support collective images on building in the mountains.
The Corpus of historical Alpine architecture, however, consists not only of the materiality of the buildings and infrastructures, but above all of the dense layering of exegesis and interpretations. The essay highlights how in recent years, however, it seems to be set in motion again through actions of a different nature: on the one hand, the weakening of a patrimonial paradigm that only placed the recognition of historical values and the conservation-enhancement of heritage at the center; on the other hand, the emergence of an unprecedented issue related to the construction of a new habitability in the Alps through projects for the revitalization and re-generation of territories based on the need for spaces that provide social interaction to the community, welfare, and culture production.
This creates a new demand for the construction of “use values” that goes beyond the historical and symbolic values of heritage; thus, an unprecedented way of looking and thinking about things is required to prefigure a new civilization of the mountain in which legacies return to being a living body.”
Il corpus dell’architettura tradizionale storica che ha plasmato il territorio alpino prima della “rottura” novecentesca – approfondito nel saggio introduttivo– è stato in epoca moderna e contemporanea una sorta di passaggio obbligato per tutti coloro che, progettisti e studiosi, si sono occupati in modi differenti di architettura e paesaggio delle Alpi. Trattare gli aspetti legati alla “tradizione” significa inevitabilmente inoltrarsi in un terreno estremamente scivoloso ed ambiguo.
Come di fatto non esista un’architettura alpina intesa come «secrezione naturale del paesaggio e delle genti e nemmeno del contesto montano» (Reichlin,1995), così non si può parlare infatti di una tradizione alpina univoca ed assoluta dalla quale discendono in modo spontaneo le modalità insediative, architettoniche e tecnologiche sviluppate nei secoli passati. Le tradizioni (al plurale) che sono oggetto di questa trattazione sono dunque considerate tali in quanto approcci consolidati di sviluppare soluzioni costruttive ed insediative a partire dalla traduzione sul piano fisico delle condizioni geografiche, sociali, culturali ed economiche di un dato territorio, secondo un processo mai lineare di circolazione di modelli, riferimenti e linguaggi. Allo stesso modo possiamo dire che – dagli approcci più conservatori che si attengono ad un “obbedire alle cose” fino alle trasmutazioni più radicali – l’uso delle tante tradizioni del mondo alpino da parte degli architetti contemporanei non è astratta ed anacronistica riproposizione di tecniche e modelli. Esso è piuttosto ipotesi programmatica, tecnica progettuale, atto compositivo o concettuale, e muove sempre da una reinterpretazione critica della realtà. Non a caso, la questione di una ri-attualizzazione (o reinterpretazione) dei modi e delle tecniche della tradizione è stata uno dei nodi concettuali e tematici più ricchi di spunti e riflessioni nella definizione di un modus operandi progettuale per i moderni sulle Alpi. Ciò continua ad essere un tema attuale anche nella cultura contemporanea nella misura in cui si consideri la rilettura della produzione spontanea alpina materia progettuale attiva e non solo sterile riproposizione di stilemi come avvenuto negli anni del “rustico internazionale”. Superata anche un’interpretazione di carattere funzionalista, che vede l’architettura tradizionale come portatrice di “razionalità oggettiva” – si pensi a Pagano e agli altri studi dei moderni sulla casa ed il mondo rurale – oggi la reinterpretazione del patrimonio apre a nuovi significati e nuovi percorsi fertili di ricerca progettuale. I saggi e i progetti pubblicati in questo numero mostrano come la cultura architettonica di oggi possa attingere a quell’enorme bacino semantico, di approcci, di linguaggi, di figurazioni, di tecniche, per estrapolarne riferimenti insediativi, tettonici, distributivi, tecnologici, utili allo sviluppo del progetto contemporaneo. Se nell’immaginario collettivo, alla storia e alle tradizioni locali – complice anche la cultura patrimonializzante che ha permeato i dibattiti negli ultimi decenni – si associa l’idea di una presunta immobilità e atemporalità, le recenti esperienze di progetto sembrano invece mettere in luce modalità che mostrano nuove flessibilità evolutive, facendole tornare materia vivente.
The corpus of traditional architecture that had shaped the Alpine territory before the 20th-century “rupture” – which is looked further into in the introductory essay – in the modern and contemporary ages has been a basis for designers and scholars who have dealt with different modes of interpreting architecture and the landscape in the Alps. Dealing with aspects linked to “tradition” means stepping into an extremely slippery and ambiguous terrain. Just as there is no Alpine architecture in the sense of a «natural secretion of the landscape and people or even of the mountain context» (Reichlin, 1995), we cannot speak of an absolute Alpine tradition that produced the settlement, architectural and technological methods developed in past centuries. The traditions (in the plural form) discussed here are considered as such because they are consolidated approaches of constructive and settlement solutions. These approaches develop from the physical translation of geographical, social, cultural, and economic conditions of a territory, according to a non-linear circulation of models, references, and languages. In the same way, we can state that – from the more conservative approaches that “obey things” to the most radical transmutations – the use of “tradition” by contemporary architects in the Alps does not lead to an abstract and anachronistic re-proposition of techniques and models. On the contrary, it is a programmatic hypothesis, a design technique, a compositional or conceptual act, and it always arises from a critical re-interpretation of reality. Not surprisingly, the issue of re-actualizing (or re-interpreting) ways and techniques of tradition was one of the key concepts giving rise to countless ideas and considerations when defining a design modus operandi for Moderns in the Alps. This continues to be a relevant theme in contemporary culture, if one considers the re-interpretation of spontaneous Alpine production as an active design material and not only as a sterile re-proposal of stylistic elements as occurred in the years of the “international rustic”. Having overcome a functionalist interpretation that sees traditional architecture as a symbol of “objective rationality” – think of Pagano and other modern studies on the house and the rural world – nowadays the re-interpretation of heritage opens to new meanings and new fertile research and design paths. The essays and projects published in this issue show how today’s architectural culture may be inspired by the enormous array of approaches, languages, figurations, techniques that extrapolate references useful to contemporary projects. If in the collective image history and local traditions – also thanks to a heritage culture that has dominated the debates in the last decades – are associated with an idea of presumed immobility and timelessness, recent project experiences show new flexibility of evolution, making them return to being a living matter.
È dalla nascita della rivista stessa che il comitato editoriale coltiva il desiderio di dedicare un numero alla produzione architettonica contemporanea sulle Alpi occidentali. Vuoi per le difficoltà di comparare questo spazio alpino rispetto a contesti in cui la cultura architettonica ha giocato un ruolo decisivo nello sviluppo dei territori, vuoi per le evidenti disparità in termini anche quantitativi con l’architettura delle Alpi centro-orientali – a cui è peraltro stato dedicato il numero precedente –, non è mai stato tentato un lavoro sistematico di ricognizione estensiva dell’architettura di qualità sulle montagne dell’arco alpino occidentale. Il lavoro costante di osservatorio e di monitoraggio del territorio, delle sue architetture e dei professionisti che lavorano nelle valli, fatto nell’ultimo decennio attraverso le pagine di questa rivista, e con altre ricerche e pubblicazioni dell’Istituto di Architettura Montana, ha sempre messo in luce la frammentarietà, la discontinuità e la mancanza di un’identità riconoscibile della produzione architettonica dell’ovest delle Alpi. Contesti molto diversi che, nonostante la prossimità linguistica e culturale, fortemente caratterizzate dalle matrici latine e dalle lingue occitane e francoprovenzali, hanno vissuto vicende storiche, sociali ed economiche profondamente differenti. Si pensi anche solo alla diversità tra il Vallese svizzero ed uno qualunque dei cinque départements alpini francesi (Alpes-Maritimes, Hautes-Alpes, Isère, Savoie et Haute-Savoie), o ancora al divario tra la Valle d’Aosta, intramontana e a Statuto Speciale, e il Piemonte, in cui nel territorio montano vive solo il 20% circa della popolazione totale della regione. Queste difformità si sono anche tradotte in differenti modalità di gestione del territorio, di perseguimento di politiche urbanistiche ed edilizie, di gestione amministrativa degli apparati pubblici, di formazione professionale, di produzione culturale, di creazione di visioni sociali ed economiche, che nel corso dei decenni hanno prodotto sul piano fisico esiti estremamente vari e diversificati. La sfida di realizzare questo numero è diventata ben presto l’occasione per dare vita innanzitutto ad un nuovo percorso di ricerca transfrontaliera, sul campo, a contatto diretto con referenti di fiducia (studiosi e appassionati) sul territorio, sfogliando le pagine dei portfolio di decine di studi professionali. Il lavoro si è ben presto rivelato una scoperta, la piacevole sorpresa di un evidente segno di cambiamento di rotta sulle Alpi occidentali, che mostra una situazione ben diversa anche solo da un decennio fa, e dove la produzione architettonica odierna si mostra fortemente interconnessa con le trasformazioni sociali, economiche e culturali in atto. L’architettura contemporanea sembra infatti farsi strada con coraggio nelle valli delle Alpi occidentali, e lo fa non attraverso gli accomodanti luoghi comuni del mainstream architettonico internazionale o le facili sicurezze di retoriche consolidate e reiterate, ma rendendosi invece traduttrice di istanze complesse, ritagliandosi piccoli spazi di movimento nelle trame delle realtà socio-economiche locali, portando innovazione nei modi quanto nelle tecniche, interpretando con rigore critico le peculiarità dei territori e dei patrimoni. La selezione delle 34 opere presentate nel volume mette in evidenza alcune tematiche emergenti che caratterizzano la produzione contemporanea e che compongono un racconto corale in cui l’architettura diventa testimonianza “costruita” delle trasformazioni in atto sul territorio montano contemporaneo: dalla produzione della cultura all’abitare, dai servizi all’ambiente e al paesaggio, fino al patrimonio
Working inside things: new architecture in the Western Alps
Since the beginning of ArchAlp’s experience, the editorial committee has been cultivating the desire to dedicate an issue to contemporary architectural production in the Western Alps. Either for the difficulties in comparing this alpine space with those contexts in which architectural culture has played a decisive role in the development of the territories, or for the evident disparities in terms of quantity with the architecture of the Central and Eastern Alps – which is the main theme of the previous issue – a systematic survey of the Western Alps architectural quality was never attempted. A constant work of observation and monitoring of the landscape – with its architecture and the professionals who work in the valleys – has been carried out not only through the pages of this journal but also through other research and publications undertaken by the Institute of Mountain Architecture. This observatory work has always been accomplished by highlighting the fragmentation, the discontinuity, and the lack of a recognisable identity of the architectural production of the Western Alps. Very different contexts which, despite the linguistic and cultural proximity – strongly characterised by Latin roots and the Occitan and Franco-Provençal languages – have experienced profoundly different historical, social, and economic events. Just think of the diversity between the Swiss Valais and any of the five French Alpine départements (Alpes-Maritimes, Hautes-Alpes, Isère, Savoie et Haute-Savoie); or the gap between Aosta Valley, which is a special administrative area fully among the mountains, and Piedmont, where only about 20% of the total population of the region lives in the mountain area. These variations have involved different methods of land management, urban planning and building policies, administrative management of public machinery, professional training, cultural production, creation of social and economic visions. All features which, over the decades, have been producing extremely varied and diversified outcomes from a physical standpoint. What could be a challenge is soon transformed into an opportunity: by leafing through the portfolios of dozens of professional firms, this issue wants to give life to a new cross-border research path, involved in the field and put in direct contact with trusted local representatives (scholars and enthusiasts). This work very soon turned into a discovery: a pleasant surprise of an evident change of path in the Western Alps, which shows an extremely different situation if compared to even just a decade ago. Now the architectural production seems strongly intertwisted with the social, economic, and cultural transformation taking place in these territories. Indeed, contemporary architecture in the Alpine valleys seems to make its way with courage, and it does so not by indulging the accommodating clichés of the international architectural mainstream, or the easy certainties of consolidated and reiterated rhetoric, but instead by becoming a translator of complex instances, carving out small manoeuvring spaces in the plots of local socio-economic realities, bringing innovation in both ways and techniques and interpreting with critical rigour the peculiarities of territories and heritage. The selection of the 34 works presented in this volume highlights some emerging themes which characterise contemporary production. It aims to fabricate a choral story, where architecture becomes a “built” testimony of the transformations taking place in the contemporary mountain territory: from the production of culture to the inhabiting practices, from facilities to landscape and heritage.
Something new on the Western Front
Until a few years ago, the panorama of recent architectural production in the southern Alps seemed merciless. Now the balances have partially balanced themselves out, defining new geographies. If we look at the phenomenon with a certain detachment, we can see that the accumulated delay has not only harmed. In fact, considering the scene of today’s global architecture, the exasperated tension for the morphology, the search for the sensationalism of the image as an essential element of marketing, the authorship and self-referentiality of the gesture seem to finally disappear.
In other words, the new, the novelty – not to be confused with innovation – as ontological values, has, fortunately, lost part of its appeal, in favour of other themes linked to the context, the appropriateness of uses, compatibility, environmental, to the rewriting and reuse of the existing. If we link this to the current socio-economic situation, which sees the reconsideration of inland areas, the crisis of certain models of consumption – including tourism – of the territory and the redistribution of flows, unprecedented opportunities arise for previously marginal geographical realities, if not completely excluded from the circuits and narratives of the glamorous mountain. This gives rise to design opportunities cultivated in understatement, perhaps “suffered” but far from the “performance anxieties” that often connote glossy and designer interventions that we usually see elsewhere.
Architecture for culture. Re-defining the contemporary mountain
Alpine architecture for culture seems to best represent the evolution over time of the very concept of alpine architecture.
By their actual nature, these buildings are configured not only as meeting spaces for the inhabitants but also – and above all – as means of attraction for visitors from the cities, towards which these objects seem to assume the role of real business cards. Thanks to the diffusion of virtuous reference models of contemporary architecture from all over the Alps, operated starting from 1992 by the Neues Bauen in den Alpen / Alpine Contemporary Architecture award, in recent decades Alpine architecture has begun to become an increasingly debated topic. Alpine architecture for culture, therefore, seems to play a particularly significant role in the construction of a new image on the contemporary Alps, and the buildings dedicated to its diffusion seem to succeed especially when they abandon the tourist imaginaries on the traditional and the typical Alpine, often distorted and stereotyped, to embrace a vision that undertakes a reinterpretation of local historical elements in the current context. Proposing cultural alpine buildings which look towards contemporaneity can therefore represent a great contribution in the diffusion of the mountain as a container of current events, as well as heritage and tradition.
For these reasons, cultural architectures located in the mountains should also look to the present in their forms.
Within this issue, are presented three architectures located in France, and three Italian projects, which are located in Priero, in Piedmont, and Estoul and Bard in the Aosta Valley.
Within and against heritage
There are the Alps, the Alpine space, and there is heritage or heritages, depending on the meaning of the term and on the position adopted with regard to the questions raised by this notion. Heritage is not only something that exists and to which we are attached, but it should also be possible to produce it. It is this production that is addressed in these brief reflections on architectural works that attempt to combine heritage and “montagnité”.
As soon as the mountain is built upon, the problem of form and, therefore, of its shaping arises. It is the latter that requires production, i.e. a way of thinking that is capable of thematising both the mountain and the heritage. But what are we talking about when we apply the heritage label to Alpine architecture? Is this what is commonly defined as edilizia rurale (rural housing)? Or is it the architectural work that interprets the edilizia rurale and, in a way, absorbs it?
Assuming that the heritage regime in the mountains is part of the variation and not the fixity of a notion such as that of the monument, and that the notion of heritage informs and conforms every architectural project in the mountains, it is possible to put forward a second hypothesis and to affirm that both the edilizia rurale and the architectural projects that transform it, operating within and against it, are heritage. For the latter, however, the rules that Adolf Loos wrote for those who build in the mountains remain valid.
Architecture in making things
When compared with the central-eastern ones, the Western Alps have experienced a growing marginality in the new century. After all, getting out of the heavy legacy left by twentieth-century modernisation – abandonment of territories and tourism – is not easy.
Today, however, there seems to be some evidence of a radical change in sensitivity, characterised by an awareness of the potential and limits of the contemporary architecture in relation to local dimension.
This is how environment, landscape, history, traditions, heritage are no longer just a “fetish” to be exhibited for the mountain users, but become the threads with which contemporaneity tries to mend the ties interrupted with the territories.
Quality architecture no longer seems to be just a self-referential exercise of composition, but a conscious opportunity to translate the demands, imaginaries, expectations, identities of the territories, in physical projects.
Projects that are within the processes and that necessarily respond to compromises, in which sometimes the aesthetic-formal aspect is only one among all that control the project, that become the result of extremely diversified and contrasting questions.
This working condition, always at the edge of the processes, inevitably also affects the forms of architecture, in which the difficulties and precariousness of the operational context become a prerequisite for the characterisation of the figurative and architectural aspects.
To dwell, dwelling
The verb “to dwell” has seen its meaning gradually expanded beyond the field of housing to cover wider ranges. In its various extensions, the debate on housing today has been mainly developed within the urban environment, while in the mountain (and alpine) context there seems to be a greater interest in matters of expressive language. The echoes of the close coherence between building, living and housing that characterised the Alps of the past are now far away. This contribution investigates how, in light of a point of view on dwelling between housing and territory, architecture can help to develop a project for the home that represents the new vitality that is affecting the Alps and its society. Ethics of the job, meaning of building, response to social questions, relational value of the architectural form and of the “in-between” space are some themes that are introduced as possible tools for a practice on the subject.
Lentius, profundius, suavius, three coordinates of contemporary living
The aphorism lentius, profundius, suavius of Alexander Langer overturns the most famous citius, altius, fortius. It is both a program and a vision to face the most urgent challenges of our time.
Outdoor is the priority action context to design possible ways of reconciliation with the environment, the only way to rediscover the balanced integration with nature that Adriano Olivetti indicated as an antidote to the harmfulness of the urban environment.
Nature plays a decisive role in our society. According to the German philosopher Gernot Böhme, this general reference to nature on the one hand is indicative of a desire to compensate for a lifestyle that is increasingly distant from its rhythms and its essence, on the other it represents a profound and radical removal.
The pandemic has definitively undermined some of the dominant paradigms, leading to the establishment of a new phenomenology of nature based on perception. The health issue has quickly, and perhaps irreversibly, changed our lifestyles and our relationships with nature.
In high-altitude contexts, the archetypes of architecture become the concepts through which architecture redefines its dialogue with the landscape by innovating its grammar and semantic relationships. A complex dialogue that triggers new genealogies and belonging in which design solutions become an opportunity for experimenting and innovating processes, forms and technologies.
The following projects address these issues with respect to two founding themes of architecture: the refuge and the threshold.
Invention as a form of resistance.
Equipment, services and production in the Alps
As Werner Bätzing (2003) points out in his book on Alpine geography, producers who do not emigrate and stay in the Alps do not act from an economic perspective but for social and cultural reasons. To resist the climatic, morphological and settlement difficulties, Alpine producers have always been driven to innovate, experimenting with new models, combining various forms of activity and independently creating the services necessary for their activity and social life. Today, after decades characterised by the abandonment of productive activities in the mountains, inventions as a form of resistance is once again one of the main themes of contemporary Alpine spaces. This chapter explores the issue of innovations in equipment, services and production in the Alps from two points of view. The first is that of a new generation of producers, entrepreneurs and project developers who are changing the way of producing in the mountains, by creating networks, sectors and services in the territory. The second is that of architects who experiment with new typological variations and constructive processes on the theme of production buildings in line with recent developments in ways of producing and working.
Past reasons and present conditions
Traditional Alpine architecture is based on an important set of construction techniques and forms that are waiting to be re-evaluated, so that they can become material for contemporary projects. For this to be possible, new interpretative instruments should be found to overcome the stereotypes that have often reduced tradition to a caricature, counterposing it to innovation. At this particular time, building in the mountains does not exclusively mean responding to certain needs which stem from the expansion of massive tourism phenomena. The projects of Nexus! Associates aim at looking for answers, especially about new ways of living in the valleys and marginal areas. Hence, it is now possible to imagine a new balance between tradition and innovation, past reasons and present conditions, uses and memories, with the understanding that every act of design is always a contemporary construction.
Knowing places, interpreting change
Working in a context with a strong character such as the Alpine territories, but also other locations, leads to dealing face-to-face with the elements that influence the project. Natural morphology, together with anthropic transformations, provide references and opportunities for inspiration which allow us to give significance to the new elements we introduce. In their projects, Weber+Winterle deem it necessary to identify forms and building techniques deeply rooted in the reality in which they are hosted, so that they become essential and indispensable. Besides, they also consider it fundamental to establish a connection with the context: in particular, they develop an awareness of historical events, the evolution of the architectural language and, as a result, the transformations of the landscape. In this sense, the act of “designing in the mountains” represents a sort of “comfort zone” to them. Working on slopes, exploiting the opportunity to define different and articulated access systems; dealing with an ever-present background which, whether enhanced or neglected, becomes part of the project; confronting the different points of view required by a three-dimensional landscape; investigating the building techniques and the settlement modalities passed down through the ages. These are some of the topics that W+W consider familiar, and that are part of their memories, not only professional but also personal, since both of them were born and raised in the mountains.
One of the most important aspects of my approach is the interest in the variations and translations of tradition, in the conviction that the most sensitive part of our life must be satisfied through the search for different ways of interacting with places, in relation to the spaces we inhabit. If these thoughts were shared, then, part of our mountain “habitat” could certainly be rethought in terms of form and substance, according to its specific needs, so that marginal areas are not penalised in both material – and nowadays also digital – exchanges with cities. All this must certainly also condition the shape of the building, from living places/ dwellings to infrastructures. The evolution of the form is the result of a process that planners and designers must be able to identify and develop autonomously, according to the actual needs of the context, making it possible to modify the physical appearance/identity of places that in our perception have never changed. Form is modified as it has always been in the past: when new technologies and different needs of material life call for formal modifications. These concepts recur constantly in my way of conceiving architecture, ranging from the scale of the construction detail to the social significance that form acquires in relation to the community, which produces a wide range of possible variations of traditional forms.
“Unexpected” tiles in an old mosaic
Most of the projects of ES-Arch are geographically located in my hometown of Madesimo, an Alpine village in the province of Sondrio (Italy). The small village, located at 1,550 meters above sea level, has a predominantly touristic vocation, both in the summer and winter seasons. Each of the works of the studio aims at rediscovering the relationship with the context, by developing the architectural design in the light of its being part of a wider framework with blurred boundaries. Every little transformation, every project – however limited in size – turns out to be an act of transformation that is visible in the landscape at different levels. All kinds of interventions, such as the re-functionalisation of existing buildings, small extensions and new small constructions, seem to keep trying to shape the narrative of a different landscape. In most cases, the buildings on which work is carried out are ordinary architectural projects that do not determine the character of the landscape. The Alpine area is not only an idyllic environment, but also a place dense with contradictions, mistakes and inconsistencies. The Alpine landscape is a hybrid melting pot of cultures expressing different needs.
Designing in the mountains
From the architect’s point of view, designing implies the need to develop sensitivity and competence to be able to read the context. This ability allows to transform the environment in continuity with the set of natural, social and cultural aspects that determine the character of a place. In an environment such as the Alps, this process of interpretation acquires even greater significance due to the intensity with which nature and the landscape become determining elements of a project. In an even more evident way, compared to other contexts, Alpine territory and architecture have always been strongly influenced by environmental conditions. This approach to the project requires a phase of analysis of the site in which the territory represents a sort of palimpsest, and the built landscape can be read as a stratification of meanings; each of these meanings is an expression of human needs and aspirations in a given historical moment. The objective underlying this research is to identify the characteristic traits of a context, the ones we might define as absolute and recurrent, so as to make them an integral part of the project and contextualise them with respect to contemporary needs. The works presented here originate from shared themes, developed using an essential architectural language and pursuing the search for harmony between architecture and landscape: paying attention to proportions, details and the choice of materials, and defining the quality of a space, a notion that could be termed “atmosphere”.
The landscape of South Tyrol is characterized by a Baukultur, a building culture of its own, a concept which refers to a recognizable common heritage, capable of having a conscious or unconscious influence on architectural shapes and ideas. Materials, colours, morphology, climate and seasonal changes of this territory are all part of a common legacy and determine human work in a given context. This is a condition meant to last in time, a series of interventions nowadays defined as tradition which strongly unite human work, history and land in a single entity. These expressions constitute a South Tyrolean language, always alive in time yet continuously transforming: authentic expressions from the past are enriched with contemporary interventions. Architecture too is at the same time connected to its past and in evolution. In this sense, it is fair to say that building means to assimilate the history of a certain context to project it towards the future; it means to work with past, present and future to grasp and reveal the identity of the place.
“Driving the winding Big Sur Coast Highway from Los Angeles to San Francisco in the summer of 2002, we observed how different the coniferous trees on one side of the road were from the other: inland, the trees stood upright and grew with symmetrical monumentality, while the windswept trees along the coast were bent over, deformed by the salty ocean spray and clinging to the impervious cliffs with their tangles of exposed roots. This landscape of difference symbolised an important concept for us: the seed, or archetypal idea, is the same for both trees, however, the specific conditions under which each seed grows forces them to adapt – the seeds are transfigured by their destined place of growth. Ideas in architecture are like seeds: they exist a priori, they sprout and flourish in different places and unexpected contexts throughout the centuries and, regardless of their innate sameness, achieve different outcomes”. This inquiry into the transformative nature of architectural ideas – that are both autonomous and conditioned by the environment – gives an insight into the way architects work and shows how stand-alone architectural ideas feed projects and break down their “otherness” in respect of South Tyrol, while at the same time making the Alpine landscapes of this area their own. Three projects (Ponte di Ghiaccio Mountain Lodge, Fischer House, and the St. Andrew School Complex) epitomise this ambiguous relationship with the site, tracing a series of architectural references, both modern and historical, to describe how these projects came into being without being specific to the “context”.
Two buildings, one in the mountains and one in the valley
The Alps consist of mountains and valleys. Phenomenologically and emotionally, the construct of “Alpine architecture” is characterised by the image of a building located in an idyllic mountain setting – regardless of its style. The fact is, however, that architecture in the Alps means primarily building in the valleys. Building in the valleys is usually far less poetic than embedding a building in a complex and idyllic mountain landscape. It entails dealing with scarcity of land, overexploitation and the often-incompatible proximity of transport infrastructures, power lines, residential areas, emission sources and intensive agriculture. These challenges are part of contemporary Alpine architecture. So, what distinguishes Alpine architecture from the rest? In this contribution, the different challenges of building in the Alps are illustrated through two examples from two different locations. The first deals with building in an inner-Alpine side valley and picks up the traces of bygone days that still exist, whereas the second deals with the sustainable management of overexploited territories, characterised by land pressure and conflicts over their use in an inner-Alpine urban area. The two examples show that, although there is no such thing as a homogeneous Alpine architecture, there are specific framework conditions and challenges for building in the Alps that justify the specific categorisation of “Alpine architecture”.
Architectural design: an opportunity to strengthen local communities
The essay describes architectural design as a process to be shared by the local community and highlights the reasons behind this approach. The issue is illustrated by the projects carried out in the village Stara Fužina in Bohinj, and more particularly by the examples of a flat built for a resident and a renovated tourist apartment. The existing village ambiences have taken shape gradually, adapting to the natural environment and to the traditional craftsmanship, skills and values of the local community. In the recent past, Bohinj has changed rapidly to achieve fast development and fulfil new, emerging needs of the community brought about by the tourism industry. The complex procedures that accompany spatial architectural interventions, as well as the emergence of new activities and the changing population structure, have affected the relationship of the community with space significantly. Breaking ties with the environment and the community may cause serious harm to both natural and cultural heritage. At the same time, even the smallest architectural intervention on space may constitute an opportunity to reinforce those ties. We conceive the community as a process (Follett, 1919); any project, therefore, may serve as an opportunity to build and nurture relationships with the local population: a chance not taken is a missed opportunity. Consequently, architectural design can reinforce these ties if it is based on appropriate project solutions and a designing process conceived to spontaneously and informally exchange experiences, knowledge and ideas between architects and the local population. Consequently, an architect’s longterm presence in the local environment of a place facilitates her/his inclusion in the community.
Designing with the genius loci
The essay describes three design projects which aim to interact specifically with the Alpine context, in Switzerland, in contrast to the undifferentiated and non-specific nature of architecture in the age of globalisation. The Jugendwohnheim Mattini project in Brig enhances the surrounding rural landscape by repurposing a castle as a youth home for the housing and education of adolescents in need. The small baroque castle has undergone conservative renovation; the former barn on its side now houses teaching spaces, and a new building on the other side has been added to provide both common rooms and private bedrooms. The surrounding shared outdoor area is ideal for both leisure and educational activities: they provide an opportunity for socialisation and reintegration through work and care of the land, and through the enjoyment of its products, which translate into regeneration and self-care. The project for a new elderly home in Giornico interacts with the natural landscape of the Leventina Valley, which is narrowed by steep slopes and crossed by the river Ticino. The characteristic reference points used by the designers for the development of the final projects of the elderly home are the Romanesque church of St. Nicholas, marked by precise and rigorous stereometric volumes, and the La Congiunta museum, designed by architect Peter Märkli. The square layout of the elderly home frees up space on the sides and creates a dialogue with the surrounding environment. It extends in height, with a portico on the ground floor and a terrace on the top floor covering the entire perimeter of the building. Inside, the common rooms recall the density of villages, while the bedrooms offer domestic intimacy. Pathways and panoramic viewpoints overlook the surrounding landscape, with its natural and cultural values, representing the scenery of everyday life and the memory of the elderly. Thanks to the restoration of the Motto bridge over river Brenno, the infrastructure reconnects to the landscape, linking the village church to the oratory of the cemetery. The bridge re-establishes a continuity between anthropic artefacts, historical values, and the river landscape.
The architecture of Markus Wespi, Jérôme de Meuron and Luca Romeo generally seeks a close connection to its surroundings and the local building culture; the architects look for clues in the existing culture and tradition. They are interested in the combination of traditional and modern elements, which together form a new unity and push the historical development forward. In their projects, they seek to achieve a certain timelessness; the combination of traditional materials with new elements creates a natural self-evidence that integrates the familiar and the new, thus being able to continue to develop and survive in the future. In mountainous and sloping locations, buildings have an enormous impact on the landscape and should therefore be integrated carefully with it in both form and materials, rather than simply benefitting from it thanks to large viewing windows. We like the concept of a new building which seems to have been there for a long time, whose natural materials have developed a patina which makes them even more beautiful. We are particularly fascinated by its atmosphere, light and shadow.
Between regional and personal context: the work of Bernardo Bader
Between regional and personal context: the work of Bernardo Bader The Austrian Bregenzerwald (Bregenz Forest) is a region dear to Bernardo Bader because of both personal and cultural reasons, often used as reference in his work. His familiarity with the region creates an understanding of and a commitment to the needs of the local population and the requirements of everyday life, to which his office provides architectural answers. The Bregenzerwald is well known for its craftsmanship: tried and trusted methods are held in high regard – they convey a sense of tradition, combined with a spirit of experimentation and innovation. In his architecture, Bernardo Bader transforms the impulse to achieve perfect craftsmanship through a methodological and conceptual openness towards workmanship. His is a true “stance”, i.e., an attitude towards people and things. Bernardo Bader’s stance is sincere and authentic. It relates to the regional and personal context – the context of the village, the neighbourhood, the living conditions of the users, the surroundings, – and the underlying cultural, political and economic conditions. At the same time, his stance goes beyond, it dares to take a broader perspective in order to create buildings that are meant to last. The aim of his architectural study is to produce elements for everyday use that are long-lasting, thereby unpretentiously replacing the term “sustainability”, eventually creating an atmosphere, a mood, a form of echo. The aim of Bernardo Bader’s architecture is to produce spaces that create an echo, that inspire our senses – and through our senses, our minds and behaviour. Each decision matches a gesture. These individual decisions are considerate and careful in producing a coherent unity with a lightness that shows in its single elements and as a whole. Working together means that high quality standards are expected, but also that the effort, knowledge and responsibility of many individuals is needed. However, cooperation is also the basis for further development and the establishment of a culture of criticism that is constructive rather than self-serving. Better solutions are created when colleagues exchange ideas: this makes them invaluable and a source of joy for all participants, including clients, users and the overall building culture.
Architecture as an opportunity: rethinking construction
In the Alpine valleys, life is under pressure. Since very few children live in these areas, schools in small towns such as Vrin in the Lumnezia valley (Grisons, Switzerland) are closing, and infrastructures and public life are more and more concentrated in larger centres. Moreover, communities behave differently nowadays: people live and move around the whole valley, and old villages are becoming residential areas. While most of the time architecture in urban areas is driven by the investors’ interest, things are different in the mountains. In the Alps, where statistics and the market are not leading criteria for constructing new buildings, architects can explore new directions and think about innovative and specific solutions that may accompany the development of living societies. The recent works by Gion A. Caminada in Valendas and Almens, the buildings by Capaul & Blumenthal or the architecture projects by Men Duri Arquint in Chur are but a few examples of a different way of looking at the opportunities that architecture may offer to Alpine communities.
Listening to the territory
The recent history of urban development in Italy largely stems from a policy – here intended as a set of actions and strategies of administrators, entrepreneurs and experts – which has been incapable of planning transformations and, therefore, adopting a shared and far-sighted approach to development. The urban regeneration of metropolitan areas and their consequent demographic and economic development (70% of the population and 80% of GDP are concentrated in these areas) have often penalised internal areas such as the Alps and Apennines. Some peculiar experiences, including the regeneration of the village of Ostana (Cuneo), the project carried out in Contrada Bricconi (Bergamo), or even the activities of the association Dolomiti Contemporanee (Belluno) – just to mention a few interesting cases in the Italian Alps, – show that the understanding of and care for a unique territory are the pillars on which any informed political, administrative, architectural or territorial project should be based. This approach is all the more important in the framework of those events envisaging the construction of large infrastructures (such as the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan-Cortina). After these events, such infrastructures are often abandoned because they are useless for the territory, economically unsustainable in the long-term, and not shared with the local community. In this perspective, the work of the association Architetti Arco Alpino (Alpine Arc Architects), whose activities range from architecture awards to photographic surveys, conferences and publications, aims to understand the complexity of mountain areas and to promote architectural quality. In this framework, they have successfully shown how the problems are often the same regardless of geographical and cultural distances. The solution to these problems is to be found primarily in the act of listening to the
Facendo seguito al primo numero della Nuova Serie, che proponeva una riflessione su “Regionalità e produzione architettonica contemporanea” estesa al territorio al- pino europeo a partire da analisi e interpretazioni a base regionale, in questo nume- ro di ArchAlp si approfondiscono alcuni episodi recenti di architettura nelle aree del- le Alpi centrali e orientali (Lombardia, Ticino, Grigioni, Vorarlberg, Tirolo, Sudtirolo, Trentino, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Slovenia), attraverso un racconto basato sull’illustra- zione di progetti realizzati recentemente.
La scelta di concentrarsi sulle Alpi centrali e orientali – tenendo quindi assieme con- testi anche molto diversi dal punto di vista storico, socio-economico e culturale – nasce dalla volontà di raccontare la palingenesi contemporanea di territori in cui la cultura architettonica ha giocato un ruolo di primo piano nello sviluppo locale e re- gionale, e in cui si è verificata una sorta di cortocircuitazione virtuosa tra la produ- zione edilizia ed il rafforzamento culturale e socio-economico dei contesti specifici. Si pensi a ciò che è accaduto ad esempio nei Grigioni, in Sudtirolo o in Trentino, dove l’architettura è diventata uno dei temi chiave attorno a cui si è costruita un’i- dea di sviluppo locale che rimetteva in discussione le tradizionali modalità di inte- razione tra centri urbani e periferie, attraverso la proposizione di modelli “regionali” radicati sul territorio.
A questo si aggiunge inoltre, a partire già dagli anni Novanta, un graduale conso- lidamento di tematiche innovative di carattere tecnologico e ambientale, come ad esempio l’efficientamento energetico degli edifici, che si sono fatti vettori di diffu- sione di un’idea contemporanea di nuova architettura in grado di farsi portatrice di istanze di sostenibilità e di nuovo rapporto con l’ambiente ed il territorio.
In alcuni contesti in cui la cultura architettonica moderna era già piuttosto vigoro- sa, come ad esempio in Ticino o nei Grigioni, grazie alla presenza di “scuole” forti su temi di un rivisitato modernismo critico, vi erano già le basi per un suo concre- to radicamento ed evoluzione. In altri contesti invece, come ad esempio il Vorarl- berg, l’architettura contemporanea si è fatta spazio caratterizzandosi come tassel- lo fondamentale di una filiera produttiva che, come quella del legno, si è tradotta in una ricerca strutturale e figurativo-formale basata sull’impiego costruttivo di mate- riali locali.
In altri luoghi ancora, come sta succedendo recentemente in Slovenia, in Friuli Ve- nezia Giulia o in Lombardia, la contemporaneità si può cogliere nelle pratiche di risi- gnificazione del patrimonio costruito, le quali giocano un ruolo primario nei proces- si di rigenerazione locale e di innovazione sociale, culturale ed economica.
Un aspetto centrale rimane altresì quello della priorità assegnata agli aspetti ma- terici e tettonici dell’architettura. Questa sembra muovere in particolare dalla risco- perta del senso di concretezza e di realismo insito nella natura e nella cultura alpina, attraverso la ricerca di una sobrietà e di un minimalismo basato sull’essenzialità, sulla matericità, sulla reinterpretazione dei luoghi e dei contesti.
Una ricerca della qualità degli interventi che muove dunque dalla loro propensione alla “relazionalità” e che discende, come scritto anche da Peter Zumthor, dalla capa- cità del “nuovo” di instaurare un significativo rapporto di tensione con la preesisten- za. Aspetti che non a caso trovano nella “Stimmung”, più volte citata dai progettisti presenti in questo numero, la naturale reinterpretazione poetica di questa attitudine pragmatica alle sfide poste dall’abitare nel contesto montano.
Ecco allora come approcci e filosofie che muovono dalle tradizioni, dalle culture del passato, dal palinsesto del territorio – e innovazioni introdotte attraverso nuove fi- gurazioni, nuovi materiali, nuove tecniche – trovino nell’architettura contemporanea un luogo di sintesi in cui si manifestano inedite connotazioni formali e costruttive.
Al contempo non va dimenticato che all’afflato innovatore di questa significativa sperimentazione progettuale degli ultimi vent’anni si è affiancata una sistematica azione di ricerca scientifica e di divulgazione, anche attraverso pubblicazioni e ri- viste dedicate (pensiamo ad esempio a Turris Babel), che da un lato ha prodotto una cultura progettuale più attenta alle questioni emergenti del territorio alpino, e dall’altra ha creato occasioni di confronto sempre più serrate sui temi dell’abita- re, coinvolgendo anche amministratori, politici, funzionari di diverse realtà alpine. Pensiamo all’attività di promozione culturale dell’architettura fatta da istituzioni come università, centri di ricerca che hanno tra i loro obiettivi proprio la divulga- zione della cultura costruttiva e insediativa dei contesti locali. Tra questi l’EURAC di Bolzano, il Circolo Trentino per l’Architettura contemporanea CITRAC, l’associa- zione Architetti Arco Alpino, l’associazione ALPES, il Voralberg Architektur Institut – VAI, l’Architektur und Tirol – aut, tutti gli ordini professionali che attraverso le fon- dazioni (come ad esempio la Fondazione Architettura Belluno Dolomiti o la Fon- dazione Architettura Alto Adige per citarne alcune) promuovono nuovi sguardi sul patrimonio costruito di questi territori.
Ruolo centrale hanno inoltre i premi di architettura che, insieme ai concorsi di pro- gettazione di natura pubblica e anche privata, mostrano un importante mutamen- to di sensibilità verso lo spazio costruito, necessario per sviluppare e dare conti- nuità a progetti virtuosi.
Pensiamo al pionieristico «Neues Bauen in den Alpen», riconoscimento promos- so da Sesto Cultura (Val Pusteria, Bolzano) tra il 1992 e il 1999, a «Constructive Alps» che interessa l’intero comprensorio alpino, al premio promosso dall’associa- zione «Architetti Arco Alpino», a quello triennale «Fare Paesaggio» promosso dal- la Step – Scuola per il governo del territorio e del paesaggio e dalla Provincia auto- noma di Trento, ed infine a «Costruire il Trentino» del CITRAC giunto nel 2018 alla sesta edizione.
Ma c’è ancora dell’altro. Quella che presentiamo nelle pagine seguenti non è solo una rassegna di architetture costruite in anni recenti in questi territori, è anche e soprattutto la testimonianza di professionisti che hanno scelto di basare la pro- pria attività nel contesto montano, forti delle reti lunghe della formazione acca- demica e delle esperienze professionali internazionali. Una raccolta di idee di ar- chitettura, di modi di esplorare i luoghi, di studiare le condizioni del passato, di interpretare il cambiamento e le ragioni della contemporaneità.
Gli architetti coinvolti hanno espresso la propria posizione sul significato del co- struire oggi in montagna e nel proprio territorio, senza limitarsi a questioni me- ramente formali ed estetiche, illustrando con parole e opere realizzate il proprio approccio progettuale, sempre attraverso una visione critica, disincantata e con- sapevole, che riflette sulle molteplici contraddizioni del mondo alpino: tradizione e contemporaneità, natura e artificio, abbandono e pressione antropica, rarefazio- ne e densità.
Si toccano così una serie di tematiche che riguardano le ragioni intime delle scel- te progettuali (spaziali, distributive, costruttive, tecniche), l’interazione e la dialet- tica con l’ambiente, il territorio, il paesaggio, la sostenibilità, o ancora le relazioni con la comunità ed il contesto socioeconomico e culturale locale, facendo emer- gere le peculiarità dell’operare architettonico in ambiente alpino (committenze pri- vate, opere pubbliche, concorsi, iniziative di sviluppo locale, mutazioni delle for- me del turismo). Un approccio articolato e riflessivo che ci pare importante per gli anni non facili che ci aspettano
New frontiers for the project in the central and eastern Alps
Following the first issue of the New Series, which proposed a reflection on “Re- gionalism and contemporary architectural production” and also covered the European Alpine territory – starting from region-based analyses and interpre- tations, – this fifth issue analyses some recent architectural projects in the Cen- tral and Eastern Alps (Lombardy, Ticino, Grisons, Vorarlberg, Tyrol and South Tyrol, Trentino, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Slovenia) through a narration illustrating re- cently built architectures.
The choice to focus on Central and Eastern Alps, thus taking into consideration very different historical, socio-economic and cultural contexts, stems from the desire to describe the contemporary palingenesis of territories where architec- tural culture has played a crucial role in the local and regional development, and where a sort of virtuous short circuit has occurred in the relationship between contemporary construction and cultural and socio-economic development.
A good example of this phenomenon may be found in the Grisons, South Tyrol or Trentino, where architecture has become one of the key topics around which an idea of local development has developed: by proposing “regional” models embedded in the territory, it has questioned the traditional modes of interaction between urban centres and peripheries.
Moreover, since the nineties, there has been a gradual strengthening of innova- tive technological and environmental issues, such as energy efficiency in build- ings, which nowadays have promoted the idea of a new kind of architecture which is capable of promoting initiatives for sustainability and a renewed rela- tionship with the environment and the territory.
In some of the contexts where modern architectural culture was already rath- er vigorous, such as in Ticino or the Grisons – where there was a strong school of thought based on a revisited critical modernism, – there was a basis for its tangible taking root and evolving. In other contexts, such as Voralberg, contem- porary architecture has emerged as an essential component of a production process which, like the timber industry, evolved into structural and figurative formal research based on the use of local materials in construction. In other areas, such as Slovenia, Friuli Venezia Giulia, or Lombardy, contemporaneity is visible in the re-signification practices of the built heritage that play a primary role in the processes of local regeneration and of social, cultural and econom- ic innovation.
Prioritising the tectonic and material aspects of architecture continues to be a key element of these processes. This particularly stems from the re-discovery of a sense of concreteness and realism, intrinsic in Alpine nature and culture, through the search for sobriety and minimalism which relies on the essential, on materiality, and on the reinterpretation of places and contexts. Such interest in the quality of the projects is driven by their propensity to relate to each oth- er and derives, as Peter Zumthor also affirmed, from the ability of the “new” to establish a meaningful relationship of tension with the pre-existing. These as- pects may be found in the Stimmung, mentioned several times by some of the architects in this issue, which refers to the natural poetic reinterpretation of their pragmatic attitude in dealing with the challenges of living in the mountains. Therefore, in contemporary architecture, approaches and philosophies that come from traditions, past cultures and the territorial palimpsest (and also from the innovations brought about by new representations, materials and techniques) find an opportunity for convergence in which one can find unprec- edented formal and constructive connotations.
At the same time, it should not be forgotten that the drive for innovation observed during the period of significant experimentation in design of the last twenty years has been accompanied by systematic scientific research and dissemination, also thanks to papers and specialised journals, such as Turris Babel in South Tyrol. This link has been producing, on the one hand, a design culture that is more con- scious of the emerging issues of the Alpine territory and, on the other, it has been creating numerous opportunities for debate on the topic of inhabiting the moun- tains. Such opportunities also involve local administrators, politicians and elect- ed officials of the various Alpine areas.
Several cultural promotion activities connected to architecture have been carried out by universities and research centres, as one of their aims is the dissemination of the building and settlement cultures of their local contexts. Among these enti- ties, we should mention the EURAC in Bolzano, the Circolo Trentino per l’Architet- tura Contemporanea – CITRAC (Trentino Club for Contemporary Architecture), the Architetti Arco Alpino association, the ALPES association, the VAI (Voralberg Ar- chitektur Institut), aut (architektur und tirol), and all the professional associations that promote new perspectives on the built heritage of these territories through foundations (e.g. the Fondazione Architettura Belluno Dolomiti or the Fondazione Architettura Alto Adige, to name but a few).
Architectural prizes and public and private design competitions also play a rele- vant role and show an important increase in the sensibility towards the built space, which is necessary to develop and pursue virtuous projects. Among these awards, we should mention the pioneering “Neues Bauen in den Alpen”, promoted by Sesto Cultura (Puster Valley, Bolzano) between 1992 and 1999, “Constructive Alps” that targets the entire Alpine region, “Fare Paesaggio” promoted every three years by the Scuola per il governo del territorio e del paesaggio – Step (School for the govern- ment of the territory and the landscape) and by the Autonomous Province of Tren- to, and “Costruire il Trentino” by CITRAC, which celebrated its 6th edition in 2018.
That is why the next pages are not merely a collection of architectures built in these territories in recent years, but also and above all the testimony of several professionals who have chosen to carry out their work in the mountain context, drawing on their academic backgrounds and international work experiences. It is a collection of architectural ideas, ways of exploring places, studying past cir- cumstances, interpreting change and the reasons behind contemporaneity.
The architects involved in this issue express their opinion on the meaning of build- ing in mountain areas, which are often also their territory of origin, without focus- ing exclusively on formal and aesthetic issues. Instead, they illustrate their design approach through their ideas and works, by using a critical, disenchanted and in- formed point of view. They reflect on the many contradictions of the Alpine world, on the relationship between traditions and contemporaneity, nature and artifice, abandonment and human pressure, rarefaction and density. A series of topics are addressed, such as the profound reasons behind some design choices (wheth- er spatial, distributive, constructive or technical), and the interaction and dialogue with the environment, territory, landscape, sustainability, or even the relationship with local communities and the socio-economic and cultural context. These topics bring out the peculiarities of designing architectural projects in the Alps (among others, private clients, public works, competitions, local development initiatives, and changes in the forms of tourism are mentioned). Ours is an extensive and thought-out approach that we consider crucial for the challenging times ahead.
Discreet modernity: Loos builds in the mountains
The country house that Adolf Loos designed for Paul Khuner in Payerbach represents one of his most brilliant achievements, complementary to the more famous Villa Müller in Prague. These two buildings, both completed in 1930, constitute a sort of legacy summarizing Loos’ visions and architectural principles. The country house is particularly significant in regard to the apparently contradictory relationship between modernity and tradition. Furthermore, the building reveals a quieter approach to the Raumplan, thanks to the adoption of a clear typological figure: the double-height central space with an upper-level distribution gallery. In this work, Loos applies the principles presented in his seminal text “Architecture”, where he criticized the incapacity of a villa designed by an architect of integrating the idyllic and peaceful character of a mountain valley. In this perspective, the Khuner house was a unique occasion for Loos to build in a completely new context, far away from the typical urban situations where he was accustomed to working. The pitched roof, the wooden construction and the general shape of the building are alien to Loos’ ideas. Nevertheless, they are so carefully defined and their integration in the landscape is so calm that one could have the impression of looking at a traditional mountain building. Upon careful observation, one discovers that many elements do not correspond to a vernacular vocabulary, but rather produce a series of slight dissimilarities that demonstrate how modernity can affirm its values in a discreet way.
The houses of Lois Welzenbacher, devices that reinvent the Alpine space
As an exponent of that “Tyrolean” generation of architects that in the Germanspeaking central-eastern Alps will be decisive in the specific declination of the themes of architectural modernity within the mountain context, Lois Welzenbacher realizes, between the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s, a series of houses and villas that reinvent the relationship between architecture and Alpine environment in completely new and inaugural terms. The Buchroithner house built in 1928-30 in Zell am See, the Rosenbauer house built in 1929-30 in Linz, and the Buchroithner house built in 1932 again in Zell am See establish a new way of relating to the space and to the Alpine landscape: they incorporate the mountain landscape, and at the same time they transform and change in relation to the topographic morphology of the site, giving life to an architecture that builds a relational dialectic with its surroundings in a completely new way. In this respect, the works of Lois Welzenbacher represent a decisive threshold in the conceptualization of the construction in the Alps.
This article examines, on the basis of two residential buildings by Franz Baumann, the status of the postulate of an autochthonous “Tyrolean Modernism”. Often mentioned together, five architects are among the main representatives of classical modernism in the Austrian province of Tyrol: Clemens Holzmeister, Lois Welzenbacher, Theodor Prachensky, Franz Baumann and Sigfried Mazagg. Even if they did not form a close circle because of their life paths, there is a strong link between them, mostly in their artistic background and their way of representing architecture. Architecture was a detour from a first aim to pursue an artistic career for all of them, with the exception of Welzenbacher. Architects like Franz Baumann not only “modernized” well-known typologies, but also regionalized elementary components of internationally widespread building traditions. The “Tyrolean Modernism” was repeatedly regarded as an “autochthonous” movement, even if the regional scene was not detached at all from the international development. The alpine environment, in particular, offered a framework of conditions that challenged the architects to top performance. They were able to plan for locations that were uncharted territory in many respects: exposed in the mountains or high mountain areas. In this context, the architects of “Tyrolean Modernism” benefited from their painterly- trained eye for the morphology of Alpine landscapes.
Wie baue ich mein Haus? Edoardo Gellner and the architect’s dilemma
To be able to resist to the most folkloristic calls of the mountain environment, one must be a cultured architect, and Gellner with his works has certainly proven to be one. In the “Casa Menardi”, his first project, built in Cortina d’Ampezzo in 1947, he proves to be an attentive connoisseur of the valley’s traditional architecture, by defining the way in which the building relates to the land and to the landscape. Later, with the “Palazzo Poste/Telve”, built for the 1956 Winter Olympics, Gellner renewed the tradition of old local houses by instilling them with the language of modernity. To further understand why we should consider Gellner a milestone in the history of alpine architecture, we need to look very closely at “Ca’ del Cembro”, his home and studio, built in Cortina d’Ampezzo in 1951. Inside his home, Gellner seems to be willing to transfer and inculcate all his past experience, his studies on rural architecture and his wish to invent a new alpine architecture. This building becomes the prototype from which he will then develop all of his architecture: the concept of continuous space, the relationship between interior and exterior, the mixture of traditional and modern materials, the concept of integrated furniture generating all the surrounding space. All these experiences will lead the architect, a few years later, to develop the project of the “Villaggio di Borca di Cadore” in which he will be able to realize a work of “total architecture” with the creation of a new inhabited and animated landscape, made of architecture and living spaces.
The rebirth. The work of Bruno Morassutti in San Martino di Castrozza within the fold of his time
The twin houses of San Martino di Castrozza constitute the beginning of an activity that led Bruno Morassutti to engage with the Alpine theme throughout his activity: at the beginning there were the two small, twin houses (1954-1957), then he moved on to a large family holiday home (1957-1958), both with Angelo Mangiarotti, and then he experimented with the “Fontanelle” in the 1960s. The traditional stylistic features in the houses of San Martino find a balance, a grace and an elegance that, over sixty years later, do not cease to convince. The restoration of San Martino is measured in a balanced relationship between empty and full, in continuity with the elements that characterize the alpine architecture and the wise use of the materials offered by the territory: wood and stone. The two buildings, identical but individually distinct, thanks to two simple movements of flanking and staggering, are characterized by a solid stone masonry that draws two L-shaped walls. The masonry, strongly anchored to the ground, is counterbalanced towards the valley by a large window in wood and glass that spreads over two levels and guarantees lighting and direct views of the surrounding landscape from the living area. The link with the rural architecture of the area is well summarized, in addition to the materials, by the typologically relevant elements including the traditional symmetrical pitched roof with the structural warp in fir trunks. The roof, detached from the perimeter walls, is supported by wooden columns and partitions, a refined compositional choice that generates an unusual glass surface.
«But they are also artists». The Clerici house of Asnago and Vender in Chiesa Valmalenco,
This article investigates the critical fortune of the Clerici house, a small building built by the architects Asnago and Vender in Chiesa, in Valmalenco, between 1940 and 1941. Despite its location on the outskirts and its apparent remoteness, this type of architecture immediately found the widespread favor of the public, rightly entering the domain of emblematic modern architectures of that season, as well as of the personal poetic of the authors. The analysis of the house’s project filed for the application for planning permission seeks to investigate the critical judgements expressed by the main critics of Asnago’s and Vender’s work on the one hand, and to verify the possible influence of the debate on the rural and alpine house in the first half on the 20th century and of the technical and specialized public architecture between the 1930s and the 1950s on the other. Finally, the peculiar poetic of the architects, eulogized in the project of the house, is illustrated through the comparison with other styles of architecture and with some furnishings by Asnago and Vender in the years prior to the construction of the Clerici house.
2019 N. 3
The houses of Pietro Lingeri on the Comacina Island
After a long period of neglect, a restoration work completed in 2010 brought the three artist houses on the Comacina Island back to the function for which they were born: to host artists in a charming location, surrounded by nature and silence. In 1917 the island came into possession of the King of Belgium, and then of the Italian State. The houses designed by Pietro Lingeri were built after the failure of more ambitious plans for the creation of an artists’ colony. Born in Bolvedro di Tremezzo, Lingeri graduated from the Academy of Brera, the institution entrusted with the management of the island. Commissioned in the first months of 1933, his original designs for a hotel and seven houses for Italian artists and four for Belgian artists were rejected. Therefore, he conceived three simple small villas combining local materials and traditional construction techniques with a modern vocabulary. The article traces the history of the houses, completed at the end of 1940 by one of the most important architects of Italian Rationalism.
When the Modern puts down roots. Casa Balmelli of Tita Carloni and Luigi Camenisch
The article reconstructs the genesis of Casa Balmelli, designed and built in Rovio (Canton Ticino) in 1956-1957 by Tita Carloni and Luigi Camenisch. Among Carloni’s first works in Ticino after the completion of his studies at the ETH Zurich, Casa Balmelli has often been presented as an example of the current of Organic Architecture that developed in Ticino in the 1950s and saw a particularly flourishing phase in the following decade. However, while the house certainly embodies organic features by aiming at a perfect integration with its surroundings through the use of natural materials and the geometric reinterpretation of the landforms of its setting, its internal spatial qualities have little to do, for instance, with Wrightian models. Rather, the ordering function attributed to geometry is its most notable quality and is a common denominator of the research conducted in Ticino on the organic architecture front: a geometry that relates to the characteristics of the site and seeks a certain degree of formal abstraction.
“Imperfect” geometry: Luigi Vietti, Villa La Roccia in Cannobio
The article reviews the thought and work of Luigi Vietti (leading exponent of Italian Rationalism, then author of numerous domestic architectures, especially in Sardinia and on the Alps), through the presentation of one of his most important projects: the Villa La Roccia in Cannobio on the Lago Maggiore, completed in 1936. This project is based on a previous model, the “Villa su Roccia a Sperone”, designed with a promotional target in mind. The latter was published in 1932 on «Domus Magazine » and was exposed in several Rational Architecture events. Between 1930 and 1936 he develops a new concept of architecture in relation to the site by means of topological reasoning. This article uses critical interpretation to highlight that, in Vietti’s work, his interest in emerging architecture (shown by his participation in major founding events in the period between the Two World Wars) and the link to tradition, both contextual and disciplinary, manage to coexist in an often exemplary way. In Villa La Roccia, the character of the architecture as a whole and its details are remodeled to adapt to the rocky spur of Punta d’Amore. This makes the work better merge and blend with the surroundings. Even the interiors are recalibrated in relation to the site and domestic activities, emphasizing the precious definition of details and devoting particular attention to the perceptive-emotional factors of life within it.
Aim for the landscape. The Cattaneo house by Carlo Mollino on the Agra plateau
In 1952, Carlo Mollino was entrusted by Luigi Cattaneo, an entrepreneur from Milan, with the project of a villa to be built on a huge site on the plateau of Agra, near Luino. The challenge was taken up by the architect, who imagined an extraordinary approach: the architecture had to be anchored to the ground, thanks to a powerful embankment, and then stretched out into the landscape, thanks to an exceptional overhang that allowed it to embrace an extraordinary landscape, made up of the lake with the surrounding mountains. Starting from this intuition, which became evident from the very first sketches of the project, the history of Casa Cattaneo in Agra became the story of a difficult relationship and, often, of the explicit conflicts between an architect who, at all costs, wanted to preserve the wholeness of his original idea, expressed through drawings considered irreplaceable, and a client who, instead, tried to overcome delays and misunderstandings by entrusting the execution of the project to others.
The “ship” that sets sail for the alpine landscape: Villa Borsotti in Balme
The project for Villa Borsotti, whose construction ended in 1932, is the result of a collaboration between the architect Umberto Cuzzi and the artist Gigi Chessa, who built this small house at the edge of the village of Balme in Val d’Ala di Lanzo, in the area surrounding Turin. The essay focuses on the genesis of the project, with reference to the cultural and professional context within which the protagonists have worked. In terms of the relationship between the external aspect and its location in the Alpine context, the building seems to be characterized by the presence of two apparently opposite tendencies. On the one hand, the building looks for a contextualization in the mountain landscape through the declination in local key of a rationalist language, with a modern use of local dialect, composed of “lemmas” from the Alpine building tradition (stone masonry, wooden infill, bipartition between stone basement and wooden upper floor, etc.). At the same time, thanks to the bending configuration of the plan and the ribbon window, the surrounding environment also “enters” the house and becomes an integral part of it. On the other, the house seems to pursue the effect of alienation from the context through the conscious research of a formal autonomy with which the object “lands” in the natural framework of the valley. Another interesting trait of the house is the treatment of interiors according to the idea of configuring a wrap-around environment in which architecture and interior design are strongly intertwined.
The art of mountain living, according to Charlotte Perriand
Passionate about skiing and alpinism, the architect and designer Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999) developed numerous projects for loisirs and the mountain landscape over the course of her career. Her major projects in the years 1960 to 1980, such as her chalet in Méribel and the ski resorts of Les Arcs 1600 and 1800, owe their foundations to the research that she carried out in the 1930s. The designs of this pioneer illustrate a way of living in harmony with nature and demonstrate how advanced her thinking was. Recognized as remarkable contemporary architecture, her designs remain extremely comfortable to live in today.
Houses of Alpine modernity. Inaugural spaces of openness, experimentation, sedimentation
Why the need, in some way the urgency, of a historically retrospective number of «ArchAlp» magazine dedicated to the houses of Alpine modernity? The intent of this issue is to investigate the relationship between twentieth century modernity and contemporaneity in terms of breaks and novelties, of continuity and discontinuity, of shooting, variations and implementations, not just under the formal and linguistic aspect. In other words, are there points of interaction, long lasting red threads between the architectural vision of Lois Welzenbacher, Charlotte Perriand, Carlo Mollino, and that of Peter Zumthor, Gion A. Caminada, Bernardo Bader? It is basically a way to understand the existence of more or less long trajectories in the way architecture has set the critical and cultural field of mountain construction, recognizing differences and specificities. Although these are generally well-known projects, the works published in this issue of «ArchAlp» are not uniformly known in the territories that refer to the Alpine space. Hence the importance of gathering together a series of architectures that have had the potential for prototypes in order to submit them to a general and comparative view. Even in the absence of perhaps direct subsidiaries, the architectures presented in these pages represent an extraordinary patrimony of design moves and strategies which, through the internalization of experiences, deeply influenced the formation and determination of the contemporary architectural research field in the Alpine environment.
Alcuni prototipi abitativi elaborati tra gli anni Venti e gli anni Sessanta del Novecento sono stati fondamentali nel mettere a punto un’idea moderna dell’abitare in montagna e la loro influenza si riverbera fino a oggi. In generale si può affermare che, insieme ad altri temi come gli sporthotel o i sanatori e le colonie, la casa in montagna costituisce uno dei terreni privilegiati per le sperimentazioni della nuova architettura moderna, le quali, nella dialettica con lo spazio alpino, assumono declinazioni al contempo molteplici e specifiche. Come ha scritto lo storico dell’architettura Fulvio Irace, il progetto della casa montana permette innanzitutto l’esaltazione di quella «ricerca sull’oggetto isolato nel paesaggio che costituì momento rilevante dell’intero razionalismo europeo». Già solamente intorno a questo nodo – l’incontro tra le forme geometriche dell’architettura e la morfologia organica e transcalare dell’ambiente alpino – prendono corpo una serie di ipotesi e concettualizzazioni che mostrano la ricchezza e lo spessore delle sperimentazioni.
Ma oltre al tema della dialettica tra oggetto architettonico e paesaggio alpino e tra interno ed esterno, sono molti i terreni attraversati dalla ricerca progettuale sulla casa montana dai moderni: la costruzione, le tecniche, la sperimentazione dei nuovi materiali, i cantieri in condizioni talvolta difficili. Pensiamo inoltre al rapporto con la storia, con le tipologie e le figurazioni tradizionali, o ancora con le tecnologie ed i materiali locali, così come all’introduzione
di nuove modalità di abitare e consumare la montagna. L’obiettivo di questo numero è indagare le forme con cui l’architettura del Novecento prova a reinventare il suo rapporto con i diversi aspetti della montagna, dal paesaggio alpino alle tradizioni locali, dalla natura alle tecniche, dalle nuove forme di turismo ai modelli culturali e sociali.
I saggi contenuti nel volume illustrano alcune architetture conosciute e altre meno conosciute ma comunque fortemente emblematiche del periodo studiato, ricostruendone la contestualizzazione storico-sociale in rapporto al periodo, al costume e alla cultura dell’epoca, il ruolo della committenza, gli immaginari ed i riferimenti culturali dei progettisti. Accanto a queste letture viene inoltre messo l’accento sugli specifici dispositivi progettuali sviluppati, evidenziando per ogni edificio il rapporto tra interno ed esterno, la relazione con il paesaggio, la tettonica, l’assetto distributivo e l’articolazione degli spazi, la morfologia degli involucri e delle coperture, le tecniche costruttive, i materiali, e mettendo in relazione questi aspetti con le ragioni culturali sottese. Gli esempi studiati danno conto della profondità di questo patrimonio di sperimentazioni e di modelli che – attraverso sedimentazioni e stratificazioni – costituisce uno straordinario bacino di segni, linguaggi, atteggiamenti e approcci, che è ancora oggi un riferimento fondamentale per il progetto contemporaneo nel contesto alpino.
Some housing prototypes developed between the 1920s and 1960s have been fundamental in developing a modern idea of living in the mountains; their influence reverberates until today. Along with other topics such as sport hotels, sanatoriums or colonies, we can say that, in general, mountain houses represent one of the privileged grounds
for experimenting with new modern architecture. Experimentations which, in dialectic with the Alpine space, take on multiple and specific declinations. As the architectural historian Fulvio Irace wrote, first of all the project of the
mountain house allows the exaltation of that «research on the isolated object in the landscape that represented an important moment of the whole European rationalism». A series of hypotheses and conceptualizations take shape even just around this one point – the encounter between the geometric forms of architecture and the organic and transcalar morphology of the Alpine environment – showing the richness and depth of these experimentations. However, in addition to the dialectic between architectural object and Alpine landscape and between the inside and outside, the moderns have crossed many lands within the design research on the mountain house: construction, techniques, experimentation with new materials, construction sites in sometimes difficult conditions. We can also mention the connection with history, with traditional typologies and representations, or yet with local technologies and materials, as well as with the introduction of new ways of living and consuming in the mountains. The aim of this issue is to investigate the multiple forms whereby 20th century architecture tries to reinvent its relationship with the different aspects of the mountain: from the alpine landscape to local traditions, from nature to techniques, from new forms of tourism to cultural and social models. The essays in this volume show both well-known and less famous architectures;
however, all of them are strongly emblematic of these years, as they piece together the historical and social context with the time, habits and culture, the role of the client and imaginaries and the cultural references of the designers.
Beside these interpretations, a strong emphasis is also put on the specific design devices developed in this period, highlighting, for every single building, the inside-outside connection, the relationship with landscape, tectonic,
shaping of the space and distribution structure , morphology of envelopes and rooftops, building techniques, materials, and relating all these aspects together with the underlying cultural arguments. The instances analyzed in «ArchAlp» n. 3, show how deeply-rooted is this heritage of experimentations and models which – through a series of layers and
stratifications – constitutes an extraordinary collection of signs, languages, attitudes and approaches that are still considered to be fundamental references for the contemporary project in the Alpine context.
Radical reuse. Soldiers, mermaids, deflagrations
Reuse is a process that deals not only with objects, architectures and territories, but also with images and collective perception. It goes beyond the physical reality and produces a space having less delimited meanings, more difficult to be defined because of its immateriality, although not less necessary. Montage, giving new meanings to images from archives, has been since long an artistic methodology used for movies, photography, visual arts. In this context, some artworks, like the most interesting architectonic reuses, do not re-propose slavishly pre-existing realities. On the contrary, thorough a process of estrangement and montage, they relaunch, open to unexpected outcomes. This text proposes an analysis of some works straddling the beginning of the millennium, by Yervant Gianikian, Angela Ricci Lucchi and Joan Fontcuberta. These authors, by different means, suggest the existence of a common ground, a possible map of the contemporary artistic production dealing with alpine territories. Nitrate ghosts of living beings suspended in a nearly abstract white, digital landscape, mermaids’ skeletons. Images differ greatly from one another and displace the observer. By deconstructing the mechanisms behind communications produced by different systems of power (scientific, political, etc.), they dismantle prejudices and established visions. They do not oppose new realities to existing ones, but with the irruption of the unexpected, of discrepancy and heterogeneity, compared to conventions and to the foreseeable, they activate the observer, bounced out of the comfort zone of the passive spectator.
Effectiveness of art, network strategies and transformative approach to landscape and alpine heritage
Ever since 2011, Dolomiti Contemporanee (DC) has been operating on the contemporary identity of the mountain, and on the state of the Landscape, as well as the cultural, historic, and architectural Heritage inside the region of UNESCO’s Dolomites. Its research takes shape in the reactivation of large, issue-heavy industrial archaeology sites and compounds: former factories, former social villages, iconic architectural creations, with a great historical or aesthetic value, abandoned and underutilized, immersed in the powerful nature of the Dolomitic region. DC works on the redefinition of the mountain’s identity, building re-innovative and thematic critical images. In this sense, we refuse to recognize as an acceptable identity for the Alpine landscape the hotchpotch of stereotypical reductions which deliver a bland and reified vision of it, one that almost always involves plain and simple economic and touristic exploitation of the asset, to the detriment of its real potential’s nourishment. DC’s practice puts at the centre the need for re-enhancement and functional re-use of a few exceptional sites, which must be re-processed and re-activated. It is a responsible necessity of care and an opportunity for the regeneration of extraordinary underdeveloped sources of potential at the same time. Contemporary art, innovation culture, network strategies, those are some of the “techniques” through which such sites, so important in the past and now lifeless, are tackled, and morphed into cultural and artistic production centres, finally operative again, engines able to represent and provide new value to the territory.