That buzzing noise you hear? It’s coming from the rooftop flower garden. Employees and customers of Werner Bentele’s new sales and operations building in Alberschwende aren’t the only ones thrilled with the gorgeous timber-clad building. The bees love it too. In addition to the green spaces around the building, the building’s roof is a sparse meadow designed by natural garden planner Eugen Sturmlechner from Bregenz. Two centimetres of lawn set upon angular gravel are sufficient to allow numerous species of flowers to flourish. Meanwhile, Bentele and his beekeeper apprentices maintain the bee colonies. And the bees? They’re busy pollinating the many blossoming flowers throughout the property. Their labours result in a delicious aromatic-flower honey.
Creating a real buzz
Silver fir, spruce, glass and concrete are all sourced from the region and combined by regional craftsmen in the building culture of Vorarlberg with an open, attentive eye for nature. The result: the new location for Werner Bentele’s fabulous distillery, beekeeping and salesroom in Alberschwende:
Having started out as a hobby, beekeeping has long since become Bentele’s passion and profession. As part of a European LEADER project and with the support of the State of Vorarlberg, he trains eight beekeepers every year, combining tried-and-tested beekeeping methods with scientific findings to preserve this key species, which is so important for our ecosystem. Bees are a matter close to Werner Bentele’s heart. Though he may lack a scientific or business background, he tackles topics that captivate him. His latest project, located along the main road in Alberschwende, has created a real buzz. It all started at his parent’s farm in Egg. The former mechanical engineer and automation technician gave up his day job in order to transform his hobby into his profession. The results have been sweet. In no time at all, bus loads of interested visitors began to arrive. Unfortunately, the added hustle and bustle quickly led to trouble in the small Bregenzerwald community where the farm was located. But where there’s conflict, there’s often opportunity. Bentele opted to move his operation to his current property in Alberschwende, where he’s managed to bring his many ideas under one roof: distilling schnapps, beekeeping and the sale of selected culinary niche products from Austria and Italy.
But the possibilities offered by the new location don’t stop at the gift shop: there are guided tours for travel groups and school classes, courses, and even a seminar room made available to a local yoga group or clubs. Though Werner Bentele describes his way of thinking as regional, in a networked and sustainable way, he also strives to be uncomplicated. Small wonder that he brought on board his childhood friend, master builder Rupert Hammerer. Further support was provided by select regional craftsmen. Naturally, the success of such a project has many fathers. In collaborating with partners, there was no haggling. Instead, ‘honest work for honest pay’ has been the maxim. Benteles’ many years of experience and a number of new ideas led to a dense catalogue of tasks and precise ideas for the new house. The result: A large, communicative sales room, a distillery with all the trimmings, packaging and dispatch rooms and space for training courses and events. The whole building was built from durable materials with the needs of the bees in mind. It’s all topped off by a roof-top beekeeping facility. Rupert Hammerer’s selection of a contemporary architectural style should come as no surprise. After all, modern designs are now the epitome of Bregenzerwald architecture. For Werner Bentele, however, architecture itself is less important than the fact that the actual building created was the product of local design expertise and craftsmanship. From a historical perspective, some elements may contradict traditional norms. But this building also showcases just how influential the development of architecture in Vorarlberg has been over the last fifty years. It reflects a broad understanding of local culture, which has itself become a tradition, a contemporary local tradition, so to say. The foundation is solid concrete. These days, even the use of a heat pump with deep drilling as well as underfloor heating beneath polished flooring could be considered as “traditional” as the use of wooden beams with shingle cladding. As for Werner Bentele, he considers shingles to be extraneous. Wood on the outside of his building, which is made of exposed concrete, is okay as long as its not done for purely fashionable reasons. Standing, strong cross-sectioned slats, which form the basis for buildings elsewhere, were instead strung together in a pattern of five different lengths to form a vivid, sculptural facade. The wood is untreated, but strong enough to withstand the elements for a lifetime.
The rooms are clearly laid out: The fermentation cellar and building services are located beneath ground while the impressive sales room, the height of which is derived from the size of the distillery, faces the street. The production and dispatch areas are located out back. In addition to deliveries made to proprietary sales outlets in Feldkirch and Bregenz, over 10,000 packages are dispatched from the online shop. Bentele’s services also includes direct marketing, which is targeted at the consumers themselves. The building’s interior communicates space. The generous proportions are a reminder that the structure itself was not created to be exact down to the very last centimetre. Instead, there is room for future developments, for things to run their course without complication. An attractive staircase leads to the upper floor. The airy, open centre of the building provides an overview of the sales floor. All other areas are grouped around this centre in a spatially interesting way.
The beehives at the beekeeping school are located on a terrace, which features flowering vegetation. Meanwhile, the administration areas can be found behind a surface of continuous glazing. Because the boss likes to be in the centre of it all, there is no executive office. Adjacent to administration is a small tea kitchen and a large shared lunch table with an exit to the terrace. Opposite is a lounge area with kitchenette and wet rooms for seminar guests and event visitors. Rather than conveying a detail-driven approach, the building instead conveys a feeling of uncomplicated roominess and consequent decision making. Although based on contemporary ideas and solutions, the overall design is free from superfluous details. What distinguishes Vorarlberg’s building culture and Bregenzerwald in particular is that common sense and craftsmanship are open to the ambitions of architecture, but at the same time not dependent on them. But regardless of what the critics may say, the bees sure love it!
Author: Robert Fabach
Issue: Bregenzerwald Travel Magazine – Summer 2020