May 01 2014

Wengen, Switzerland Maintains its Architectural Traditions, But Why?

In Wengen, Switzerland, nearly all the buildings resemble traditional Swiss chalets. In one of the wealthiest and most advanced countries in the world, the rural architecture has been left in the middle ages. Housing design has not visibly progressed over the last hundred years. Traditional chalets are a common style among mountain villages, which could be seen as promoting stereotypical tourism or, in a more positive light, as a way for the local population to retain their architectural heritage.

Wengen is primarily a tourist-based seasonal town which sells the “Swiss Mountain Experience,” so it makes sense that people here look forward to Swiss clichés like eating fondue and staying in a classic chalet while skiing some of the first downhill slopes on the continent. Obviously, not all the residences are as old as the town, especially since there has been a lot of development in the area over the past ten years; but even new homes are designed in the conventional style. Unlike other ski resorts in Switzerland that adopt modern architectural styles, such as the luxury hotels at Davos, in Wengen, modernity is restricted to the indoors.

A new chalet built in the traditional style, Wengen, Switzerland

Older homes have been very well maintained and upgraded over time, with the oldest hotel in the area presiding as a perfect example of how this region embraces aesthetics from generations ago. The Hotel Bellevue des Alpes was originally built in the 1840s and remains a family run business, retaining the original Victorian style, with elaborate ornamentation and classical elements from the turn if the nineteenth century.

Since 1948, the hotel has undergone a complete reconstruction, room by room, to be rebuilt in the traditional fashion, but with increased quality and updated services. The new finishes look a hundred years old, but are in fact the latest innovations, such as the wall paper, which consists of fabric, so that the building is less rigid and can shift during strong wind storms. People enjoy this old décor and come to experience the lavishness from another time period, just like others relish their traditional Swiss chalets.

Hotel Bellevue des Alpes maintains a victorian style from the 1920's, Wengen, Switzerland

Some surrounding villages in Switzerland have building regulations when it comes to the housing design. Places like Grindelwald, Gimmelwald, and Gstaad are quite adamant about retaining their traditional architecture with some specifying building details down to the colour of window shutters. While conventional chalets are just as ubiquitous in Wengen, they have flourished not from regulations, but instead from the popularity among tourists who welcome stereotypical housing alongside their “authentic” Swiss holiday.

Advertising traditional housing is popular in touristic regions, but is rebuilding historical architecture degrading to its integrity?

Credits: Images by Tara Whelan. Data linked to source.

Tara Whelan

Tara Whelan has recently graduated from a Master's in International Cooperation and Sustainable Emergency Architecture from the International University of Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain and is pursuing a career in humanitarian and social architecture. She is originally from Southern Ontario, where she completed her architectural degree in Toronto and has since gained experience across Canada and internationally, working on sustainable and community-driven projects. Her passion in design is inspired by nature as she promotes natural building and hopes to implement its principles in post crisis reconstruction schemes. An avid reader, traveler and blogger, she is excited to learn about and share architectural issues that affect local communities from wherever she happens to be.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, May 1st, 2014 at 9:16 am and is filed under Architecture, History/Preservation, Housing, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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