The story is already hidden in the name. Vorarlberg is located in front of the Arlberg. The Arlberg Mountain Range lies between Vorarlberg and the rest of Austria. The inhabitants of Vorarlberg themselves call their beautiful country “Ländle” which means small region. This is no coincidence, because in the small, most-western part of Austria, many things work out better than in other parts of the world. For example, a cultural life exists there, which flourishes in a fascinating variety off large urban structures: where tradition and innovation, old handicraft and new design, and traditional wood structures and modern architecture meet.
Traditional wood construction is being transformed into contemporary architecture with energy awareness. The smallest Austrian province, or “Ländle“, is a pioneer; sustainable planning and craftsmanship go hand in hand. How come?
The image of Vorarlberg architecture does not stop at the Arlberg: their unique building culture is well known even in Vienna, Graz or Linz. The formerly conservative, provincial air of the Alemannian folk behind the Arlberg has long ago turned into a progressive, open-minded spirit. Nowadays the combination of innovation and creative power in this largely semi-urban area makes high-quality building culture a matter of fact. Change happens where it finds many supporters.
How come? The explanation for the “architectural wonder” of Vorarlberg probably lies exactly where no-one would suspect it: in the consciousness of tradition. Visitors to Vorarlberg will probably be surprised. Where is the magic of feigned mountain huts and rustic-style experience worlds? Where are the elsewhere typical Alp-style facades? Instead of the cheap yellow firewood kitsch, you frequently encounter the simple elegance of natural larch or silver fir. In other words: if architecture is “frozen music”, as Schopenhauer once put it, then Vorarlberg has no antennas for beer garden music. Builders remain loyal to the grey, naturally weathered shingle facades, and old traditions have never been replaced by exchangeable cracker-barrel philosophy. New buildings translate these traditional lines into modern contexts with high architectonic quality and self-confident contrasts emerge. Novel, clear-cut forms, functionality and self-confidence in architecture also stand for a sensitive approach to the landscape and the environment. The houses merge into the surrounding landscape, the untreated wood used here over the centuries can breathe, like a tree exposed to the sun and wind. Sooner or later it just turns grey.
In the past 40 years, Vorarlberg has developed a building culture based on an intensive interplay of architecture and craftsmanship, two disciplines that mutually inspire one another. Not only architects, but also craftsmen are making unusual things. Training with an architect or craftsman from Vorarlberg is about as significant as having learned to cook with Paul Bocuse. It is as if the “Ländle” was among those rare places where a famous saying of Le Corbusier is taken to heart: “Rather than a profession, architecture is a state of mind”.
Modern projects are developed by the industry, tourism, communities, and home owners alike. From the dairy to the kindergarten, from the mountain hotel to the arts centre, the range of spectacular and intelligently designed buildings from the last decades is wide. “Vorarlberg is, and remains, a different continent in the architectural landscape, especially because most mayors in the “Ländle” have grown into architecture experts,” wrote architecture critic Ute Woltron in the Standard. And he quotes architect Much Untertrifaller who explains the reasons for the positive development: “Architecture itself is not questioned here, the mayors do not run a risk when building in a contemporary manner, for nobody gripes about modern architecture.” A region has strengthened its identity through architectural design and culture!
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