The Villa Vals in Switzerland is a pair of dwellings built into a hillside with the intention of remaining concealed and unobtrusive to the natural beauty surrounding it. Set within walking distance to the famous thermal springs of Therme Vals; a hotel/spa complex that is built directly over the natural springs. Villa Vals is certainly one of the coolest and unique designs I’ve come across, a joint-venture between SeARCH and Christian Muller Architects
Shouldn’t it be possible to conceal a house in an Alpine slope while still exploiting the wonderful views and allowing light to enter the building?
Surprised that it was permissible to construct a pair of dwellings so close to the world famous thermal bath of Vals, the client seized the opportunity to develop the site, without disturbing the bath’s expansive views. The introduction of a central patio into the steep incline creates a large facade with considerable potential for window openings. The viewing angle from the building is slightly inclined, giving an even more dramatic view of the strikingly beautiful mountains on the opposite side of the narrow valley.
The local authority’s well intentioned caution, that unusual modern proposals were generally not favoured, proved unfounded. The planners were pleased that the proposal did not appear ‘residential’ or impose on the adjacent bath building. The scheme was not perceived as a typical structure but rather an example of pragmatic unobtrusive development in a sensitive location. The placing of the entrance via an old Graubunder barn and an underground tunnel further convinced them that the concept, while slightly absurd, could still be permitted.
Switzerland’s planning laws dictate that it is only possible to grant a definitive planning permission after a timber model of the building’s volume has first been constructed on site. This can then be accurately appraised by the local community and objected to if considered unsuitable. For this proposal, logic prevailed and this part of the process was deemed to be unnecessary.
VILLA VALS DESCRIPTION by CHRISTIAN MULLER ARCHITECTS
The Swiss village of Vals, well known for its world famous thermal spa designed by architect Peter Zumthor, is getting a new building, a project initialized by Bjarne Mastenbroek and Christian Müller.
Surprised that it was allowed to build so close to the famous bath, the question that immediately rose was ‘how’. The intension was an unobstructed development of a structure that does not look residential. The villa is fully embedded in the landscape. Access is provided via an existing wooden barn, located on a lower level of the mountain.
An underground tunnel, slightly absurd, will lead to the main programme situated in a circular cut made in the mountain slope. The presence of the villa in the landscape is thus limited to minimum. The view from the villa looks over the narrow mount valley of Vals and its dramatic surrounding scenery.
The villa is developed with the support of the local authority and is being realized with local manpower. With the ability, experience and technique deriving from a remote mountain village. Hardly any details are being drawn in advance. The design of the building and the realization of it as a simultaneous happening.
Therme Vals is the hotel/spa complex in Vals, built over the only thermal springs in the Graubünden canton in Switzerland. In the 1960s a German property developer, Karl Kurt Vorlop, built a hotel complex with over 1,000 beds to take advantage of the naturally occurring thermal springs and the source, which provides the water for Valser mineral water, sold throughout Switzerland.
After the developer went bankrupt, the village of Vals bought up the five hotels in the development in 1983 and resolved to commission a hydrotherapy centre at the centre of the five hotels, at the source of the thermal springs. Today the Hotel und Thermalbad AG (Hoteba) company is 100% owned by the Vals community.
The barn is the entrance to this wonderful place – Photograph by Iwan Baan
PROJECT VITALS Location: Vals, Switzerland Project: Holiday Villa in the Swiss Alps Start realization: 2007 Completion: 2008 Client: Private client Architect: a joint-venture between Christian Müller Architects and SeARCH, Amsterdam Structure: Conzett, Bronzini, Gartmann AG, Chur Ingenieurbüro Kilchmann AG, Schluein