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PETER ZUMTHOR, “Idea, Concept, Design for a Hideaway in the Mountains”, a+u 2002/08 No: 383, pp: 82-91 1

Idea, Concept, Design for a Hideaway in the Mountains

Peter Zumthor

Visiting Tschlin, taking a holiday in Tschlin, means discovering one of the great Alpine
landscapes, the Engadine: the light and the expanses of a magnificent valley deep within the
Alps, where the cultures of North and South meet. The town of Tschlin typifies traditional
architecture in the eastern tip of Switzerland at 1,500 meters above sea level. A beautiful village,
compact in structure. A good 100 old buildings, farmhouses with adjoining barn-stables under
the same roof. Engadine houses impressively built into the slopes, facing small squares and
lanes, their facades decorated with Sgraffiti and paintings of the seventeenth, eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries. One is still impressed by the desire and ability of the peasant dwellers of
old to embellish their homes, to allow public spaces to emerge, to lend their village form and
identity. But Tschlin is also a mountain community undergoing change: extensive alpine
farming, empty houses and barns, fewer and fewer people able to make a living in the village.
Tourism that requires holiday housing and large skilifts, tourism that swallows up and changes
the old farming structures: it has not yet reached the lowest, terraced village in the valley. This
was intentional and in part, perhaps, accepted with resignation. It is now the will of the
community to protect their architecturally intact village while also promoting sensible
developments to enhance the life and work of the people. So: a small hotel is to be built here, an
establishment of a special nature. Small and distinguished. For special guests.
The guests we envision for the hotel in Tschlin come from near and far. Attracted by the
unusual offer. They appreciate the quality of simplicity, the privilege of authenticity. They seek,
they treat themselves to experiences of this kind. Occasionally. When the offer is right. They are
cultured and cultivated contemporaries - our guests. People whose daily life includes settling
down with the arts supplement of a good newspaper in the evening, after a strenuous day's work.
People who welcome relaxation, rest and regeneration from time to time, in a good place. Who
value peace and tranquility to gather new strength. Nothing hectic. Preferably paths and trails
PETER ZUMTHOR, “Idea, Concept, Design for a Hideaway in the Mountains”, a+u 2002/08 No: 383, pp: 82-91 2

leading to the neighboring village in the valley or to Alpine pastures above the tree line. Or down
to the banks of the river Inn and over into the Val d'Uina. Or cross-country skiing in winter.
Having found and chosen to visit such a place, they might only do a bit of walking and read
Gottfried Keller at long last. Or write a lecture. Or work out an idea. Or simply do nothing and
see what the day will bring, in good company, if the place is right -and the atmosphere of the
establishment, the quality of the architecture. Our guests are exacting when it comes to taste and
design. They appreciate large rooms, clear lines, beauty and spaciousness. Many of them are
familiar with contemporary architecture and art, enjoy literature, music or films. They love
beautiful objects and good materials. They approach the ancient peasant culture of a region like
the Engadine with respect and joy. The luxury, of which our guests dream, is an offer in which
everything, almost everything, is right and in harmony: the place, the building, the hosts, the
cuisine. No advertising fabricated out of word shells, no marketing magic. A genuine offer of
things and effects that please, that are useful, that may long have been the object of desire.
Cultivation, sincerity, authenticity. True luxury. The new hotel stands at the lop of the village,
below a stand of larch trees. A feathered facade of long sinewy, scaled shingles -split larch wood
- dads the sculpted body of the building. The shaggy stump of a tree, the dark sheen of eagle
feathers. Proudly it stands at the edge of the village, a feathered body of wood almost as tall as
the taller of the two church spires. A compact natural object. Soon to be burnt and weathered by
sun, wind and rain, it is both village-oriented and contemporary, strong and light. Room-sized
panes of glass on the scaly skin of the facade hint at the adaptable, cellular disposal of the
interior, derived from the special act of cell division of the entire body. The allure of the large
shape, the openness and lightness of the building's upward reach impart a trace of sophistication,
of urbanity, like the poised presence of the hotels set in the Alpine countryside in the latter 19th
The body of the hotel, erected on a ground plan no larger than a local farmhouse, is an
assemblage of light membranes, sitting directly on the meadow. It grows out of the mountain
slope, stands there as an object, singular and serene. The landscaping of the surroundings is
minimal. On entering the building, one enters a distinct world, joins a community for the length
of one's stay, perhaps of the kind that emerged in special hotels or ocean voyages across the
Atlantic. Old hospitality, redefined. Once inside the building, all movement reaches upwards.
The sweep of the road winding up the mountain continues on into the, hotel. Softly rising stairs
lead up to the reception area, from room to room, with changing light and view. Picture joins
picture. The red stairs that climb up from the lobby, the Teatrino for special events, the Bar Bleu
with its long terrace, the hotel library in the paneled hearth room, the bright succession of
restaurants: Saletta, Sala d'lmmez and Sala Gronda. Sequences of rooms, a variety of places
inviting rest. An atmosphere that is spacious and refined. Different kinds of wood, native and
foreign, create specific spatial ensembles, establish a rapport with planes of color. Dark
mahogany, shining larch, silvery silk; the crackling of an open fire, port wine crystal glassware,
the scent of a cigar. And everywhere this radiant light that lies on the landscape, that comes from
the landscape. Magnitude and intimacy. A distinct world.
Like the structure of a particular kind of wood or a special stone seen under a microscope, the
interior of the building possesses a special anatomical structure, created for its special use and
special location. In various combinations, tall and low, broad and narrow, inhabitable hollow
spaces permeate the building from facade to facade. The landscape penetrates the interior, flows
through the rooms. Every room is an airy nest, a platform on high. Every room has a special
hollow shape, a cut of its own that has evolved out of the rules governing the cellular structure of
PETER ZUMTHOR, “Idea, Concept, Design for a Hideaway in the Mountains”, a+u 2002/08 No: 383, pp: 82-91 3

the interior. Sculptural configurations in space, one and all. The rooms for the guests on the
upper floors of the building maintain a high degree of individuality. Every room is directly
accessed by elevator. There are no corridors. Guests retire and end up in the aerie that is their
personal realm. The shape of the rooms from facade to facade is active. Staggered, protruding,
angular. Zones with different spatial features, allowing guests to create nests of their own:
looking down into the valley or up at the evening sun on the mountains. The furnishings are
simple and practical. The things one wants are there, and where they ought to be. Plenty of room;
good, lightweight furniture. Table at the window, bathtub with a view and possibly linen
bedclothes. One senses the hint of luxury; the feeling one has when a room welcomes people and
things, makes them look beautiful, and captures the light of the landscape - on a summer
evening, in a November fog, in the snow of New Year's eve.
The kitchen of the mountain hotel uses fresh seasonal produce. It satisfies the most
demanding palate with elegant simplicity. Local products are served: mountain goat and venison,
during the hunting season of course; meat from the Paureria biologica, regional cheeses. Visitors
can choose from select local dishes: tatsch and maluns, capuns and plain in pigna. The wine list
is excellent. A carafe of tap water from the village spring is placed or the table at every meal.
Diners notice the chef's love of simple Tuscan cuisine even when serving local specialties. Plain
tablecloths, white flatware, quiet conversations while dining in the Sala Gronda, the Sala
d'lmmez or the Saletta. The tables an far apart. All of them with a view. Diners meet afterwards
at the Bar Bleu for a digestive, step out onto the terrace to enjoy the last rays of the setting sun
before darkness falls, and the space, open the skies, offers the delights of stargazing.
Occasionally one hears Romansh, or rather the melodic local variant known as Valader, being
spoken by guests or by those who sec to the comfort, by the hotel manager or the restaurant staff.
Only the barkeeper consistently speaks Italian.
A fabulous à la carte breakfast menu. As good as at Greens in San Francisco. A light breakfast
may turn into brunch or lunch, as suits one's fancy, for guests may take their time, sitting at table
as long as they please.
Evenings at nine, a concert: the Fränzlis da Tschlin in the Teatrino. Trumpet and violin,
double bass, virtuoso clarinet, melancholy, velvety sounds and a springy rhythm. A few people
dance. The music from the village speaks of the world. Sounds never heard like that before.
Hotel culture.
Translated from German by Catherine Schelbert.
PETER ZUMTHOR, “Idea, Concept, Design for a Hideaway in the Mountains”, a+u 2002/08 No: 383, pp: 82-91 4
PETER ZUMTHOR, “Idea, Concept, Design for a Hideaway in the Mountains”, a+u 2002/08 No: 383, pp: 82-91 5

White models: (left above) view from the south; (left . below) view
from the northeast; (right above) view from the north; (right below)
view from the east.
PETER ZUMTHOR, “Idea, Concept, Design for a Hideaway in the Mountains”, a+u 2002/08 No: 383, pp: 82-91 6
PETER ZUMTHOR, “Idea, Concept, Design for a Hideaway in the Mountains”, a+u 2002/08 No: 383, pp: 82-91 7

Left, from top: Sala d'lmmez, Sola Gronda, Saletla.

PETER ZUMTHOR, “Idea, Concept, Design for a Hideaway in the Mountains”, a+u 2002/08 No: 383, pp: 82-91 8

Top: Bar Bleu. Bottom: Foyer.

PETER ZUMTHOR, “Idea, Concept, Design for a Hideaway in the Mountains”, a+u 2002/08 No: 383, pp: 82-91 9
PETER ZUMTHOR, “Idea, Concept, Design for a Hideaway in the Mountains”, a+u 2002/08 No: 383, pp: 82-91 10

Outside skin of feathered facade

PETER ZUMTHOR, “Idea, Concept, Design for a Hideaway in the Mountains”, a+u 2002/08 No: 383, pp: 82-91 11

From top: Bellatrix, Spica, and Polhix.

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