Ingenious Wood Design
The Werkraum Bregenzerwald is the meeting point of an innovative, design-oriented group of craftspeople. It is also a place to showcase the local crafts and design culture.
In the Bregenzerwald, everyone agrees: Wood can make dreams come true. Traditional crafts developed in such a way as to leave plenty of room for creativity when it comes to designing living spaces. Architects, craftsmen and builders get both inspiration and materials directly from nature. A combination that is hard to beat.
by Marsa Kindl-Omuse and Katja Guttmann
Wood is everywhere in the Bregenzerwald. As soon as you arrive here, you notice that in the Bregenzerwald, people build and live differently. Ornate, traditional, wooden houses stand right next to modern wooden structures with stylish large glass windows. Private homes, museums and child care centres all have one thing in common: They are made of wood. Often from fir or spruce, elm or beech, always constructed with precision and a love for detail. All this makes you want to walk through the villages and discover them.
Ancient wood crafts are still practised today. Why did this specific way of building with wood develop specifically in the Bregenzerwald the way it did? “Well, in the beginning, poor farmers earned an additional income with woodworking,” explains architect Georg Bechter from Hittisau, who is himself a son of the Bregenzerwald. In the little village of Au, a Baroque building school opened after the 30 Years’ War. Hundreds of professionals who had been trained here went on to work on magnificent Baroque buildings in the Alsace, in Switzerland and Southern Germany. When the demand for these Baroque craftsmen ebbed, the know-how remained here.
Small businesses with a strong sense of honour. The building culture in the region is directly influenced by the personality of the locals. They regard their professions with a pride that is passed on from generation to generation. It is a matter of honour that a craftsman does his job well and with precision so that the region in which he works and lives benefits from it. Businesses are small with five to twenty employees. Financially, craftsmen have traditionally also been on the conservative side. „They grew slowly and with great deliberation, without large loans or bringing in investors,” explains Bechter.
The reputation of wood craftsmen. As an example of the well functioning structures in the Bregenzerwald, Bechter relates an anecdote from his days as a young architect: „The craftsman and I went to the builder to discuss a contract of 70,000 Euro. The builder asked where he should sign the contract. The craftsman replied: "What is there to sign? Here is my hand. I do honest work and the rest is good.” For Bechter, this is a form of self-regulation. If a craftsman does not do good work, word will spread fast in the region. No one can afford a bad reputation.
Word of Mouth. Demand is similarly structured. Over the last 20 years, wood has become not only an alternative, but a matter of principle for many, Bechter knows from his own experience. „When the neighbour does it, and the results are the talk of the community, then the next one does not even think twice about building with wood.”
The design has to blend into the cultural landscape. At the same time, no one aims too high: “What matters is not whether you get the best views, rather, it is important that it fits into the cultural landscape. Which makes wood an ideal material. Then you can easily have bigger windows, and modern living next to beautiful farmhouses becomes a harmonious, instead of a jarring visual experience,” Bechter explains. Architects and craftsmen also collaborate on the same level, which leads to faster and more sustainable progress than elsewhere.
Where does Georg Bechter live? He himself lives in his great-aunts' barn, which he has converted to a loft-like space with a lot of wood. “I love to work with wood that I could embrace in tree-form.” He allowed himself one little eccentricity: A ceiling painting with blue cows.
„In the Bregenzerwald, it is the numerous small gems that make the whole. It is a worthwhile experience to just stroll through a village. There is nothing that sets itself apart - it is just a proper village with proper architecture, proper food, and proper cheese. Everything combined is proper on such a high level that the whole experience is simply exceptional.“
„I love to work with wood that I could embrace as a tree. That grows here.“