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Careful What you Build For

Careful What you Build For

Born in Mellau, Helmut Dietrich of Dietrich/Untertrifaller Architects speaks about the phenomenon of new architecture in Bregenzerwald.

You’re a proud Bregenzerwald native, what do you think distinguishes architecture here?

Helmut Dietrich: A new architectural style has developed in Bregenzerwald over the last decade, one which identifies strongly with the values and qualities that have developed over the centuries in the form of typical Bregenzerwald architecture without specifically copying it. This style finds expression in a clear, geometrically simple, yet strikingly stylistic idiom, which features the judicious use of timber as a building material. Timber is typical for this region and the Bregenzerwald has the best craftspeople in all of Europe and perhaps also the best timber architects.

There can be little doubt…

Dietrich: This stylistic idiom is also primarily expressed by the construction of new building with respect to the landscape in addition to careful, challenging and thrilling renovation works performed on old farmhouses.The great achievement in my opinion is that Bregenzerwald has succeeded in developing and designing a new, seemingly consistent typology for its modern architecture in harmony with the region’s stylistic idiom.

This new, carefully cultivated modernity is in such harmony with the typology of the traditional Bregenzerwald house and influences the architecture to such a degree that we simply could not have imagined 30 years ago. This phenomenon is without a doubt unique.

What developments have you seen in restaurant and hotel construction in the past years?

Dietrich: Looking back to the 1960s and 70s, Bregenzerwald was dominated by a uniformly rustic style. The “Jumbo Alpine Hut” was like a caricature of a Tyrolean house, which had become popular throughout the entire Alpine Region and is still dominate in many places today. In the 1980s in Bregenzerwald a more introspective and contemplative period began to take hold and concepts were reconsidered favouring a new direction in tourism in more modest dimensions, but that also emphasised better quality. This is expressed by the countless renovation projects and re-purposing of old inns, but also by the successful renovations and additions performed on newer hotels as well.

What is your opinion of current developments?

Dietrich: I am currently quite concerned about the estrangement with certain decades-long-held values and practices with regard to the landscape and village planning, a shift to large-scale hotels in dimensions not typical for villages here but that exist all over the Alpine Region. This trend has the potential to endanger the carefully cultivated image of Bregenzerwald as an award-winning model region for development in Europe. Our sophisticated, sensible land use and our village structures are not fit to integrate such large scale buildings. This lesson was learned the hard way from the architectural sins of the past. Are we currently prepared to throw such insights over board? I hope not.

Interview: Thorsten Bayer