The society Parc Adula was founded with the goal of establishing a Charta and a new national park, where nature should be protected, as well as the professions and unique way of life in the mountains. Under the label Parc Adula a sustainable development of the region would be prioritised. The label also provides a platform for advertising the produce from the mountain regions.
The concept of a national park that also protects the people’s way of live is unique in Switzerland. Our task was it to find a new typology for a visitors’ centre that would represent the park and its philosophy. The building should reflect on the local tradition and materials.
The visitors’ centre should not be just an information booth akin to the entrance of a museum but also a space, where visitors and locals meet up to learn about local crafts, or where an artist is invited to work in the serenity of the lonely valleys.
Equally far away from the next bigger metropolitan areas Milano and Zurich, the mountain valleys around Piz Adula were never densely populated. Farming on the steeps slopes is difficult, requires special techniques and most of the time cannot compete with the bigger farms from flatter areas. Nowadays people either work in one of the few local businesses, often related to tourism, or face a long commute. The population in the valleys is declining rapidly.
One of the loneliest valleys around Piz Adula is the Safiental. Only about 900 people populate the area. In the centre of Safien, the largest village in the valley, an empty plot provides the ideal site for the visitors centre. A few metres up the hill, passes the main road. A small creek runs alongside the plot and the slightly elevated position provides a wonderful view of the impressive mountains that surround the valley.
The building consists of two rooms. The larger room – the workspace – is where the artist or craftsmen work and greet the visitors. The space is mostly empty to accommodate for different kinds of work, exhibitions and events. The upper windows provide enough light, while preventing that too much direct sunlight falls in the workspace. On the eye level, only a few small windows provide a visible connection to the outside.
A large stone oven provides heating for the main room. Visitors can gather around the oven and warm up quickly during the long and cold winter season.
The second room serves as break room. It contains the bathroom and small kitchen. Here the craftsmen and visitors can gather around the table and drink some tea, while gazing at the view of the valley, framed by the large window.
In Safien and the surrounding valleys the traditional building technique is log construction. Therefore this is the obvious choice for the project. Trees from local forests can be used to build the visitors’ centre.
Since every single log has to be fixed by a corner joint for the building to be stable, this kind of construction usually does not allow for rows of large windows, which typically results in small rooms with only one window per wall. To construct the row of windows in the workspace, a special construction had to be found. The solution was to design the truss beams as small walls, holding the fragments of wall between the windows.
Inlays of hardwood prevent the single logs in the truss walls to move relative to each other, binding them together as one beam and preventing them from sagging under their own weight.
The truss construction is a balance between static requirements and openness. It seeks the limit of log construction and therefore serves as well as a display of local workers’ craftsmanship.