Herzog & de Meuron : Schatzalp Tower

Photomontage: Schatzalp Tower at night
© Herzog & de Meuron

Until the end of the 19th century, Schatzalp was nothing but a wonderfully sunny mountain terrace just above the tree line. In the summer, shepherds took their animals up to graze when the grass had grown scarce in the valleys. There, they also collected hay for the coming winter.

In 1900, Willem Holsboer, together with physicians and the young Zürich architects Pfleghardt and Häfeli, erected a tuberculosis sanatorium above the burgeoning city. It was one of the first buildings to be made out of concrete. There were already a number of clinics in the valley but the Schatzalp, with its sun and beautiful views, was unique. At the same time a cable railway was built to transport people and goods, and the clinic installed its own electricity and water supplies.

Schatzalp around 1900

Thanks to the discovery of medication to cure tuberculosis, the clinics in Davos became obsolete after 50 years. The sanatorium remained in the same hands and was converted into a hotel. The operating theatre became the swimming pool; the x-ray department turned into the smoking room. The rooms did not require major remodelling and the deep wooden balconies appealed to the hotel guests as well.

Once a haven for tuberculosis patients, the Schatzalp thus became a popular destination for sports holidays. Mountain railways were constructed up to the Strela Pass, from which skiers were able to reach the region of the Parsenn and even tour as far as Klosters.

Today, another half century later, the building, now 100 years old, can no longer meet the requirements of contemporary, cost-effective hotel accommodation. Given the c. 93 rooms coupled with today's wages, a luxury hotel is no longer feasible, and without such facilities as a wellness centre and conference rooms, it is not possible to fill the hotel to capacity during off-season. Schatzalp is not alone. Other hotels from the same era have planned or already updated their facilities, for example, Hotel Saratz in Pontresina or the Castell in Zuoz: more rooms, new wellness and gastronomy facilities, and flats to cross-finance the hotel rooms. In other places, the attempt to rescue early 20th century monuments of hotel architecture have unfortunately failed, for example, the Chantarella above St. Moritz - presumably due to economic considerations. This proposed expansion of Schatzalp will ride to the rescue of the old hotel.

What shape, then, should such architectural expansion here on the Schatzalp take? And what does it mean for the town of Davos? The proposed design for expanding the Schatzalp is divided into three areas: what will happen in the valley below, what will happen to the existing Hotel Schatzalp and its immediate vicinity, and what will happen to the mountain above with its mountain railways.

In Davos Platz in the valley below, the railway station will be renovated to match the topology of the town around it. A passenger loading and unloading zone will be created, where guests hand over their luggage and their holidays begin. The architectural character of the station should prefigure what guests will encounter at the top four minutes later. The station in the valley and the cabins will no longer speak only the language of hikers and skiers because, with the expansion of the Schatzalp, more day-trippers will be anticipated, for example, as guests at one of the new restaurants.

And how will the Schatzalp be enlarged?  We propose erecting a tower on the site of today's mountain terminus. The choice of this type of building may initially seem surprising and even intrusive. However our studies of all possible building shapes led us to conclude that a development of holiday homes is out of the question. It is imperative not to build a development creating a new “neighbourhood” in Davos; in many valleys and other places in the mountains, 3, 4, or 5 story flats dot the landscape and take up too much space. (Whether this happens in a traditional chalet style or in the style of the new Swiss “Sachlichkeit” is not relevant at this point.) On the other hand, the alternative is not an accumulation of only a few large buildings that might be called “Schatzalp-Ville” or “Davos, Altitude 1860 m.” as found in winter spas in France.

Hence our proposal of just one building: a tower makes economic use of the land, leaves the landscape untouched and precludes the need for long access roads. It will stand in a spot that is already occupied by buildings. The slope above the hotel will remain unchanged: a large playing field with bobsled and skiing slopes. A tower is also ecological architecture. The concentration of volume in one single, compact body minimises surface area and therefore loss of energy. No complicated buildings for electricity and water supplies will be needed nor any new streets. Being close to the existing hotel although not directly attached to it, the tower can be easily accessed and be used by hotel guests.
 
Selecting a tower as a building type means that the hotel rooms and the flats have no front and no back: there are magnificent views from all sides.

Length = Heigth
© Herzog & de Meuron

At this stage in the planning, we can make only a few fundamental statements regarding the shape of the tower and its materials. The building will not be anonymous, prismatic glass architecture. The shell will not appear smooth but will have depth, as in the existing hotel; balconies or other outdoor spaces for the rooms and the flats will play a substantial role in the design but whether they will be constructed of wood or mineral material is still undecided. In our initial experiments with the spatial organisation, we toyed with the concept of a snowflake as a ground plan, which led to interesting spatial effects on the façade when up-ended. We want to build a tower that structurally and visually responds to its location in the mountains, the climate, and its use as a large holiday complex.

The character of the existing hotel will be retained. It would be foolish to eliminate the slightly old-fashioned but charming character of Schatzalp, but a fresh spirit can certainly enhance the atmosphere as has already happened this winter, although this is only a transitional solution, pending an overall concept. We will focus primarily on the ground floor rooms and salons, replace the swimming pool with expanded wellness facilities although the location is not yet defined (in the tower? between the existing hotel and the tower?). The housing for employees, exquisitely situated in the dormer windows under the roof, will be replaced by suites.

The goal will be to modernise the railways above Schatzalp so that they will be up and running by the time the tower is completed. These railways are one of the aspects that will lend a special flavour to visiting the Schatzalp in winter: visitors will be able to ski right up to the entrance of their accommodation despite the remote location. The fact that it is very difficult to run the railway economically is understandable in view of the already gigantic and attractive skiing area of Klosters/Davos. Not only the Schatzalp, but also the railway will be cross-financed by the tower and its utilisation.

Project Strela

The overall concept for the expansion and thus the rescue of Schatzalp is an audacious enterprise -- just as Schatzalp was itself 100 years ago. This will be expressed in the proposed architecture. The tower will also be a new landmark for Davos, demonstrating to a broad public, at least once a year, that this is not simply an idyllic mountain village but actually a mountain city. Moreover, having built its Kirchner Museum in the late 1980s, Davos has demonstrated awareness of the fact that being receptive to extraordinary architecture brings rewards. With the implementation of this project, Davos can and must arouse interest far beyond the borders of Switzerland.

Photomontage: Schatzalp Tower, view from Strelaalp
© Herzog & de Meuron

Photomontage: Schatzalp Tower
© Herzog & de Meuron

 

German Version: Die Zukunft der Schatzalp: Projekt Herzog & de Meuron : Turm Schatzalp


 
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