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I recently traveled to Vals, Switzerland, a remote village located in a valley high in the Alps. Vals has an interesting story: the village owned a failing 1960's hotel/spa complex built over the only thermal springs in the region, and in the early 90's, invited local architect Peter Zumthor to design the new thermal spa. Vals, still a tiny, distant place, is now an epicenter for architects from all over the world. Much has been said of the architecture: its uncompromising rigor of materiality and craft, the sensory richness of the thermal bathing experience. Most essential is Zumthor's decision to site the building into the hillside; combined with the remoteness of the village, there's a mysterious, primal aura that affected my mindset for the entire trip. While traveling in the region, I was struck by the unparalleled quality of the buildings we visited, so clearly modern yet respectful of tradition, so pure in concept and execution. (how do they do it?!) I felt honored to visit a place where architecture is held in such serious and high regard.
Below are some snapshots of places visited. In case you are wondering, photographs of the baths is prohibited.
Above: One of Zumthor's timber vacation houses in Lies, a hamlet of just 20 inhabitants, just above Vals.
(you can now rent these houses!)
Above: Zumthor's Saint Benedict Chapel in Sumvitg, this intimate wood structure is like stepping into a model.
Above: Zumthor's Kunsthaus Bregenz, an exercise in glass and clever daylighting.
Above: Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, a gorgeous black concrete shell contrasting with its clean white interiors.
Above: MFO Park in Zurich, a vertical urban park designed as a reflection of its industrial neighborhood