"The city is being swept away by the metropolis. This action does not just replace one noun with another, but radically turns one state of affairs into a state of perpetual motion. As a collective action -- a verb more than a noun -- the metropolis destabilizes our concepts of time and place. With the dissolution of the city into the forever- emerging metropolis, our existence slides into permanent mobility." - L. Lerup, in After the City


forty-point-five. CH, mobile marketing, Zumthor, and the landscape of hay.
tiny, tidy Switzerland
packed a three day punch, sandwiched between incoming and outgoing Milan. Zumthor’s baths, 3 hours from Milan, were too good to pass up. i found myself the unlikely overnight marketing agent for Sixti rental car company which, if you’re willing to drive a car-sized moving ad, will let you go on 5 Euro a day. forgive me, principles – a case-study called. conspicuously, the ad plastered to the vehicle was pretty much the only advertising i saw during those 72 hours.

the baths are in the canton of Graubunden, Italianate to the south, Germanic to the north, and god only knows the transition probably happens at an elevation of 11,000 feet in a tiny village dotted with hay-drying barns. these structures, which adorn the mountains of Vals and surrounding towns like a smattering of rough pearls, are seemingly nestled into the grassy vertical topography without rhyme or reason. the quilted pattern of green however, and a quick peek inside will reveal that they are spaced in accordance with the hay-accumulation needs of the owner. unmortared walls of sombre gray stone provide breathable supports whose main purpose is to wield a stone roof which keeps the rain off the grass drying beneath. the mounds of verdant storage are rumored to make an unforgettable napping spot, as well, which would be a remarkable treat for anyone who is foot traveling in the mountains. the trails are everywhere, and in contrast to ‘backpacking’ in the U.S. the mountain foot-trails truly function like miniature roads, with copious signage, generous proportions, inter-connectivity and proximity to the built. a healthy daypack seems to suffice most walkers, who hop from town to town just in time for a cooked meal and a soft bed. the boundary between wilderness and civilization is thus rendered paper thin, irrelevant. it is difficult to have hard feelings about the commitment to rules and ‘doing things right’; when you’re living in such a landscape the complete awareness of one’s physical footprint was nothing short of inspiring (ex: roadside sound-barriers turned solar panels...). moreover, the potential idyllicization is rendered sophisticated by the ever-presence of everything in 3 languages, and the subtle attention paid to memorable design details (china tea cups with mega espresso machine? the dichotomy funny and warding off the precious...)

driving to Vals was perhaps more remarkable than the baths themselves, save for the serendipitous run-in with Ravee of all people...the world of architecture is small indeed. the mountain roads in Switzerland are an exercise in sublime engineering, with numerous & generous pull-outs, curve radii that never stimulate a sweat, and these breathtaking half-open ‘tunnels’ that protect the road from rockslides. covered in grass, the mountain simply sweeps down onto these structures, which are dayl-lit and supported by rhythmic pillars to their outer edge. at one point i saw two men walking on top of one, and envied them. at other times the smart car veered on happy detours off the main road to follow a sign which led over a bridge over a pristine river to end at a gravel path which led to a church of such humble and silent material weight.

this experience of getting to the baths informs their architecture more than the building itself, if that makes any sense. the play of mass, void, and moisture is borrowed directly from the landscape, and the most remarkable part of the building is not any bath but the saunas, which read like a womb, and whose primary materials are steam and soft light. as if in a dream people wander about, unclad, breathing the heavy heat, mere shadows in a dense, stone-lined cave of steam. i’ll remember the experience for years to come.

1 comment:

BWM said...

Very humorous imagining you driving an ad-laden rental car through Switzerland!