I remember feeling vividly – Holy shit, I won a place on this tour. I don’t know that I’ve earned this, but I’m going to embrace it. The Institute invited us to nominate places and projects that we would like to visit and now I need to figure out where I would most want to go. Norway’s not on the travel short list, so Steilneset Memorial is off-menu. Well, there’s still the Shelter for Roman Ruins, and that leaf-looking church and of course Therme Vals, which are all in Switzerland, but we’re supposed to be nominating projects in Zurich. Stuff it, just nominate it. Worst case scenario, I’ll go in my own time.
Peter Zumthor’s architecture is what I’d like to show my students when we talk about genus loci, and architecture of place. His material use considers multiple contexts and conditions and the detail resolution executed in construction is beautiful.
But, you know when you hear so much about something and then the time comes and the thing just doesn’t live up to the expectation? I have a friend who firmly believes that the week leading up to the holiday is better than the holiday itself. Our first stop off on the way to Vals is the Shelter for Roman Ruins. It provided some reassurance that my expect The project was as delicate as the photos and videos suggest, but allowed to age. The greyed exterior was also starting to grow moss. The wildflowers behind the project smelled almost like honey. The bumblebees were so large they were comical. Edwina Brisbane observed that the interior was preserved, the timber wasn’t grey. The purpose of the structure is also evidenced by the structure. Most surprisingly, there were no animals living in the ruins roof structure. I think this disappointed me, but maybe I just miss Australia.
Next stop: the Saint Benedict Chapel. There’s a short walk before you get to the chapel. I wanted to talk about the subtle resolution of the structure, about the ageing timber cladding or that the interior walls are painted ply. I wanted to talk about architectural gesture of the entry. In reality, I just really wanted to go for a hike around the mountains or sit and stare at the snow-capped peaks. I think about how different this is to our landscapes, but the gentle wildflowers littering the streetscape feel a little like home. We’ve seen a lot of objects in the landscape on this tour, and something apparent with the first two projects is that they’re of the landscape. Time for the drive to Vals now.
We arrive at Therme Vals. I sprint to the room, and down to the baths to find the cave-like room that you swim through a tunnel to get to. On the way, memories of exploring caves along the South Coast of New South Wales come back to me. Being led by the light, the architecture subtly directs you where you need to go. Wildflowers peak over the skylights. It’s kind of imperfect, not everything aligns.
Alright, found the hot pool, the ice pool, the flower pool, and finally, the cave pool, again.
The water is more buoyant here, like it has a higher viscosity. You don’t feel that in pictures. Unexpectedly, there’s also a bit of resistance – almost like a light tide. I’m alone, and the room echoes like I had thought it would. Like a sea cave. And in the isolation, the exhaustion of the previous few days and among the discussions we’ve been having as a group, I can’t help but chuckle…
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