The rustic village of Vals in the Swiss Alps is one of the country’s most picturesque areas, located at an altitude of 1250 meters above sea level with numerous exceptional projects. The main square is surrounded by original Vals houses roofed with stone tiles made of Vals quartzite. Throughout the years, the village maintained its authentic residential and rural typology, making sure that its agriculture and rural fabric remained intact. Perhaps the most powerful natural resource of the Vals Valley, one that has nurtured its landscape and wilderness, is the water. For millions of years, ice and rain have forged the deeply-cut topography, and provided the village with a 30-degree thermal source, the only one in the Grisons Canton which springs straight from the ground.
One of the most notable architectures in Vals is The Thermal Spa designed by 2009 Pritzker Laureate Peter Zumthor. The secluded structure is built with local quartzite, a stone that blends the elements of water and stone to create “the perfect wellness experience”. Another iconic architecture tucked within the mountains of Vals takes advantage of the local material, structural typology, and topography, a project that leaves the original landscape intact and subtly intervenes to create a one-of-a-kind award-winning vacation home; The Villa Vals.
Designed by architects Bjarne Mastenbroek and Christian Müller of SeARCH and CMA, the house was a life-long vision of the architect, designed as a reenactment of his childhood dream of having an underground den. The local authorities, however, warned the architect that a proposal this unusual might not be well-received by the neighbors, especially since it is mandatory to build a timber model of the building’s structure on site to receive all of the locals’ approval before beginning any construction in Switzerland. But since the project did not impose on any of the village houses or thermal baths, construction moved forward as planned.
As picture-perfect as the site seemed, it came with a prerequisite: keeping the existing traditional agricultural barn. The initial owner of the land, a then-80-year-old farmer, had trouble selling his house because none of the buyers wanted to buy the deteriorating barn with it. The architect, on the other hand, understood the value of the entire plot and the relationship of its features with one another and requested to buy the entire property as it is.
The architect was adamant on maintaining the “locality” of the project, by neither compromising the construction team nor the materials or architecture to respect the town, the villagers, and their dwellings in the serene and secluded area. This resulted in a barely-there structure with quite the architectural impact.
The overall transitional journey of the villa takes visitors from an authentic, primitive barn to a contemporary unobscured, and welcoming house. The architect transformed the barn into the villa’s entrance, leaving its walls, floor, and ceiling in its original state. The contemporary intervention begins with the completely-bare concrete tunnel that leads to the new house, perforated with skylight openings that bring in natural light. At the end of the tunnel, a concave glass facade opens up to the surrounding landscape, framing Vals’ scenery yet harboring the visitors with local quartzite stone. As for the interior, the architect delicately composed the circulation and bedroom placement to make sure every room received its fair share of natural light and panoramic views.
While building the house, the construction workers accidentally struck a well, so the architect decided to make the best of the accident and connect the well to a permanent drinking water source fixed on the villa’s outdoor patio. To avoid imposing contemporary designs on a traditional neighborhood, the architect's decision of tucking away the two-story residence within a concaved ellipse, makes it look as though the house is not there anyway.
This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: Local Materials. Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and projects. Learn more about our monthly topics. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.
This feature is part of an ArchDaily series titled AD Narratives, where we share the story behind a selected project, diving into its particularities. Every month, we explore new constructions from around the world, highlighting their story and how they came to be. We also talk to the architect, builders, and community, seeking to underline their personal experiences. As always, at ArchDaily, we highly appreciate the input of our readers. If you think we should feature a certain project, please submit your suggestions.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on August 25, 2021.