the rock
by Adeline Seidel
Aug 21, 2015

The Swiss are masters of camouflage. You don’t believe it? Well, here’s what you do: On your next hiking trip in the Swiss countryside try knocking on the walls of one of those many chalets. You may find that the structure you have in front of you is not what you thought it was from a distance: as in, not some idyllic Heidi house adorning your typical Swiss postcard but – a military facility! The reason: In a move to disguise their whereabouts, as of World War II the Swiss Army began to design its bunkers in the architectural style of the region it which they were built. The results are highly artistic and reveal much love for detail, as the photographer Christian Schwager ably demonstrates in his picture book “Falsche Chalets” (Faux chalets). Studying those photos you will suddenly glimpse a gun barrel protruding from a cowshed, and behind what you thought was a simple wooden door you will find a concealed artillery post. A look through the supposed “window” will bring you face to face with – fair-faced concrete; fake flowers draped on the windowsill simply serve to keep up appearances. Isn’t it preposterous that nowadays the Swiss dote on a simple box made of exposed concrete and featuring a panoramic window as their most coveted dream home? Making the job of camouflaging a military base today decidedly easier on the set designers.

“Antoine” is likewise about camouflage and about ways in which to safeguard the appearance of the cultural landscape. Both of these are instincts deeply ingrained in the Swiss mindset, if you will. From the outside “Antoine” simply looks like a rock, like some giant boulder scattered between other boulders in a meadow. The thing is: Their “false friend” is hollow on the inside. For its belly accommodates a narrow space clad in bright wood complete with a tiny window, a stove, a table and a fold-out bench – providing shelter and seclusion for anyone seeking it. The brains behind it at Bureau A explain their reasoning as follows: The place has been designed in memory of Swiss author Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz and his novel “Derborence”. After a rock slide, the main character (whose name is Antoine!) is buried under a heap of rocks for seven weeks and struggles to survive before he is finally able to return to his village. So much for the plot.

The concrete shelter (concrete is the ideal material to emulate the structure and coloring of the rocks) is located at an altitude of 2,300 meters in the village of Verbier in western Switzerland, precisely in the “3D Sculpture Park” run by the 3-D Foundation. Blending superbly with the surrounding landscape it makes for the perfect shady spot; mind you, if you are this high up in the mountains for much of the year you will be more likely to seek protection from storms, rain and cold – and less so from the sun. That said, as we all know, solar radiation is rising. Just think of Urs Augstburger’s science-fiction novel “Wasserwässer”, which gives an impressive account of how global warming could soon impact on the alpine landscape: Zurich will be exposed to the scalding heat of the Sahara and only in the higher altitudes, tucked in among mountain peaks, will people find relief from the scorch. In other words: A cool spot in the shade may soon be one of the most sought-after hot spots.

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Antoine looks like a rock, but it is a shelter - made of concrete, of course, we are in Switzerland. All photos © Dylan Perrenoud
The inside offers a warm fire place and a bench for a nap.
The stone rolls - not down the mountain, but to its destination. Film © Bureau A
A table and benches turn the little hut into a cozy place.
All furniture can be folded back into the walls, so that the space also provides protection for more person.
Just one question remains: Does it make sense to have a shelter, you hardly recognize from afar?