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Book – Living in the Alps

The Alps as a place for living has a log tradition as an influential source shaping specific typologies and buildings. The specific conditions of the environment but also the very special atmosphere impact on both the design and the realisation of projects.

Often this used to be very practical and pragmatic, resulting in specific and highly adapted vernacular architecture. Almost each valley over the centuries developed a very typical and very local solution always in tight interdependance to the cultural practice of everyday live, the recoures and the environmental conditions.

Gondo (CH), multi-family house
Image taken from Kunst Merano Arte / Alpine landscape, photo: H. Nägele.

The perfect adaptation was essential for the living in the rough conditions of higher altitude and steeper meadows and long winters. With the introduction of technology and machinery this has changed to some extend and the requirements might have changed. However, the sensation, the intensity and the atmosphere are largely still the same. The mountains are still a special place.

Here the weather is more intense, the light is capable of changing the landscape and the seasons are real. Architecture still reflects this with outstanding projects created for very special conditions to fit with a context of vernacular heritage.

Alps Relief
Image taken from infrastruct, original taken from Wikimedia by Jide / The Alps shown as a relief shaded according to the elevation.

The Birkhauser publication Living in the Alps/Wohnraum Alpen/Abitare le Alpi: Nachhaltiger Wohnbau in den Bergen – zeitgenössische Wohnformen mit Perspektive summarises and documents a touring exhibition on the topic of architecture in the Alps with the same title. THe exhibition and the publication is lead by the Merano Arte institution. The Alps here are really the Alps and not as previous publications might have selected the alps as a the mountainous area of a country. Here the Alps is everything with hills from the French Mediterranean around Nice through Switzerland and Austria all the way to Vienna. A total of eight countries are involved in this area stretching from Monaco to Slovenia.

For each of the differentiated regions of this large area a selection of projects is presented together with an essay describing and characterising the specifics in both culture and architecture. The projects chosen for the exhibition and also documented in the publication are all communal forms of housing. Probably as new interpretation of the older vernacular model of the multigeneration household. It is clearly stated that the single family house is not part of the this publication.

Alps Relief
Image taken from Birkhauser / Kaiserau EA7 Residential Complex in Bozen, Trentino Suedtirol, by Atelier Christoph Mayr Fingerle.

With this clear definition of focus a focus on the communities and the living in the Alps consequently the contributors are also discussion aspects of regional and spatial planning in the different regions. In cities the aspects of planning at different scales is today common practice, in many regions of the Alps this is new.

The publication is in three languages German, Italian and English. It is a large scale catalogue with cute little booklets inside, each containing one of the essays. The photographs are well selected and full page prints bringing the aspects of very specific atmosphere across.

Gondo (CH), multi-family house
Image taken from Kunst Merano Arte / Gondo (CH), multi-family house, hotel, community hall, architects Durrer Linggi and Jürg Schmid, photo: H. Nägele.

Andreas Gottlieb Hempel explains about the publications: “The exhibition catalogue is an important contemporary document of urban planning, architecture, culture and sociological development in the Alpine region. Every South Tyrolean who is interested in the change of our times should have read it in order to better understand the architectural processes in our region.”

Kunst, M. ed., 2010. Living in the Alps/Wohnraum Alpen/Abitare le Alpi: Nachhaltiger Wohnbau in den Bergen – zeitgenössische Wohnformen mit Perspektive, Birkhauser Verlag AG.