The culture of building and living is everywhere you look in the Bregenzerwald. The locals have been appreciating the artisan production methods employed in small and medium-sized enterprises since way back when. Reliability, sound finishing and a good design mean that craftsmanship and trade are the largest employers in the Bregenzerwald.
Nowhere else in Europe will you find such a comparable density of workshops. Work performed in the Werkraum has an international presence, and the innovative craftspeople are in demand both at home and abroad. The Handwerk+Form competition, held every three years for over 25 years now, shows the public how experts from all areas of design cooperate with craftsmen from the Bregenzerwald in order to develop useful objects which do justice to their material and shape. The latest developments arising from this competition have been on view in the Werkraum Haus since 2015.
A house dedicated to craftsmanship
The building designed by Peter Zumthor, the internationally renowned architect with an outstanding affiliation with craftsmanship, was opened in 2013. His visionary design for the Werkraum Haus is based on two basic ideas: on the one hand, the building serves as a meeting place. On the other hand, it is a large showcase for the culture of craftsmanship in the Bregenzerwald. This idea finds expression in a protruding roof made from wood and a facade made from glass. There is no distinction between inside and outside - the landscape flows through the building. In the shop windows works of Werkraum members are exhibited all year round. House builders, architects and interested parties get impressions and individual counsel concerning the works of the craftmen of the Werkraum association. An open and flexible hall of 700 m² offers room for exhibitions, events, a shop and a restaurant.
Since its establishment in 1999, the Bregenzerwald Werkraum, organised as an association, has been providing a platform for innovative craftsmanship in the Bregenzerwald. It currently comprises 85 innovative firms, mainly involved in wood processing, such as joiners and carpenters, but there is also a handful of locksmiths, stonemasons, bricklayers, fitters, electricians, painters, upholsterers, textile processors and cobblers through to the exotic such as coppers and wood carvers. Most of the firms have up to around five employees, some of them are one-man workshops, and only a few have ten or more employees.
Qualities of craftsmanship
Work on site, consideration of special cases, direct commissioning, closeness to customers and flexibility are quality standards of this craftsmanship, specialised skills and a creative instinct are needed, acquired in a highly developed culture of craftsmanship and naturally handed down to the next generation. This store of knowledge and skills is maintained and continually extended: raw materials – such as the silver fir – are cultivated to their most exquisite form, small batches in the field of furniture construction open up new markets, the pre-production of construction elements in the field of hotel construction, for example, is making progress. The latest manufacturing technologies such as CAM and CNC have been introduced, the finish of coatings is expanded, for example: craftsmanship meets omnipresent engineering. Hence, it comes as no surprise that you can find kitchens from Hittisau in Athens, that the furnishings of a hall of residence in Massachusetts come from Schwarzenberg or that, in 2008, a living unit from Reuthe was visible on the roof of the MoMa in New York.
Public relations work, advertising, marketing – the Werkraum provides all those advantages which industry has over trade. Yet without a huge budget: instead, it has capital typical to craftsmen – brains and ability, a network, links. And so an interested public in Vienna, Munich and Paris, for example.
A regular topicin the specialist press, the Werkraum has been described as the “landscape of knowledge”. Yet that is not all: the Werkraum has always been involved at a local level, such as in training, in schools, in specific construction projects, in dealing with historical building stock. It is a contribution towards the structural change of the region, and an example of social competence.