“From Mellau to Schoppernau I walked, my feet hurt and hurt and hurt…,” goes the song by Vorarlberg band “HMBC” – which three years ago scored a top-ten hit in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. That the lyrics were penned in the local dialect in Bregenz and therefore pretty hard even for most Germans to understand did not seem so important (“Vo Mello bis ge Schoppornou bean I gloufo, d'Füaß himmor weh tau...”). Such minor details are simply part of mountain life, where the bus doesn’t come simply because you’re desperately waiting for it.
The incident dovetails nicely with what has been happening in the small village of Krumbach, which boasts some 1,000 inhabitants and is located just down the road from Mellau and Schoppernau, not to forget the other neighboring communities of Dornbirn and Feldkirch. Here, some of the crème-de-la-crème in international architecture are currently designing new bus shelters for the community. A charming, indeed “crazy idea”, as one of the participants, Smiljan Radic from Chile, describes it. Just about crazy and charming enough to kindle the interest of the following architectural talents: Sou Fujimoto from Japan, Alexander Brodsky from Russia, Rintala Eggertsson from Norway, Wang Shu from China, Ensemble Studio from Spain and DVVT from Belgium. Intrigued by the opportunity to design the perfect “Wartehüsle”, they made their way to the small village and put their ideas to the test.
This spring, the participants came together in Krumbach for a first tour of the region; they walked the route, talked to the locals, browsed ideas with the tradespeople. You should know that the Vorarlberg is not just any old region, indeed, you may have heard of places like Lech and Damüls, which have catapulted the area into the ranks of the top winter sports resorts in the Alps. It is here that in the course of the last three decades traditional Alpine architecture has spawned its own vernacular of contemporary building design known as the “Vorarlberger Schule”. Names typically associated with this trend include Baumschlager/Eberle, Dietrich/Untertrifaller, and more recently Marte/Marte as well as Cukrowicz/Nachbaur, who are today represented by the “Vai” institute. Their output attracts some 30,000 architecture aficionados each year. Kunsthaus Bregenz by Peter Zumthor and the recently inaugurated annex to the Vorarlberg Museum by Cukrowicz/Nachbaur have likewise added to this local architectural idiom. Dietmar Steiner, Director of the Vienna Architecture Center curated this project and selected the participants with utmost care. So we can expect that the new Krumbach bus shelters will add magnificent spots to the map in Vorarlberg’s architectural landscape, spots where you’ll just as much want to get off the bus as on it.
That the architects hail from a most diverse spectrum of cultures is manifested in their designs, some of which go far beyond our common perceptions of a bus shelter. As things stand, the first “Bus:Stop” by Smiljan Radic, which was showcased to the public in Kunsthaus Bregenz in early October, comes closest to what we would normally expect to find in a bus stop. A rigid cuboid structure, which makes a congenial nod to the local tradition in the form of its seating of wooden chairs (the kind you will typically find in tavern interiors) and the coffered timber ceiling complete with a bird house at its top.
Undeniably, the other architects, too, have spent time exploring local customs, looking into the Vorarlberg wood-building tradition, and studying the natural surroundings their creations will in due course adorn. Nonetheless, these bus stops have a conceptual air about them; in fact you could be forgiven thinking of them as installations.
Wang Shu, last year’s Pritzker laureate and probably the most prestigious member of the congregation, positioned a shell that readily emulates a “camera obsura” between a valley and a mountain such that a section of the landscape is destined to arrest the spectator’s gaze. There is poetry in this, and quiet contemplation; on aggregate it reveals the typical signature of Wang Shu.
Rinitala Eggertsson’s design, on the other hand, stands out like an icon with its traditional wood shingles and a platform overlooking a nearby tennis court. The design by Ensemble Studio likewise evidences the architects’ deep discussion with wood, even though the material has the appearance of fragile layers of rock. By contrast, Alexander Brodsky’s design, perched like a hunter’s hide on a slope in the middle of the landscape, falls somewhat short of expectations. His designs have definitely been more inspired in the past.
The three Belgians from DVVT opted for a no-frills approach par excellence as they stopped over in Krumbach on their return journey from the Milan Furniture Fair this spring – and delved into the mountain massif in search of inspiration. The result: A standalone that is both elegant and functional. The bus stop by Japanese designer Sou Fujmoto, on the other hand, is destined to amaze beholders with delicate poles that rekindle associations with the pavilion he built for London’s Serpentine Gallery. Visitors waiting inside the fragile construct are taken to higher spheres to glimpse a better view of the landscape – a striking contrast to the roughness of the Vorarlberg countryside.
The bus stations are scheduled for completion next spring. Right now local architects and craftspeople are busy building them. “Think global, work local” – the slogan for once attests to a wonderful and very hands-on idea to nurture cultural understanding, an invitation to join forces in working together and exchanging ideas. It is for this reason that “Bus:Stop Krumbach” is so much more than an exciting coup to attract architecture aficionados from the world over. Indeed, the project is destined to build bridges. Mind you, for the members of HMBC and the Vorarlbergers it is simply seven bus stops whose experimental design will in the future help them while away the time waiting for that bus.
More on STYLEPARK:
Villa in Kitzbühel by Splendid Architecture
(25 October 2011)