Just like energy, space is not created. It is something that already exists but can be transformed. As architects, it is our job to create a sense of place from an existing environment. Nowhere is this more evident than in Wengen, Switzerland, where designers must work with the existing housing stock due to the building ban; the result is new living spaces within old places. New homes are carved from old structures where an architect’s main work lies in internal transformation.
Wengen is a traditional Swiss village among a rustic pristine landscape. Due to the building ban, everything – at least from the exterior – remains historical. Upon entering these old homes, the threshold brings you back to modernity with newly updated interiors that accommodate present day needs. The spatial organization has also changed since the chalets were originally built. Traditionally a Swiss home was built for two families, split right down the middle providing two mirrored units. Nowadays the older homes have been transformed to divide horizontally, allowing each level to provide a new, single unit open-plan layout. These aged structures have been rotated within their frames to better suit modern ideas of living.
Because of the building ban on second homes in Wengen, architects are left to work with existing structures, chopping them up and redesigning interiors. They must get creative with old spaces to make the most out of the predefined areas and configurations. Renovations can be more sustainable to the environment as they reuse existing materials and space, instead of discarding the old and building new. It also preserves the natural resources and scenery. Efficient design, paired with the latest innovations, can save energy with the shared semi-detached style of housing.
Opposite to the interiors of these old homes, which are always changing, the exterior only varies with nature. Exterior changes occur exclusively with the changing season - since the built environment is static. Instead of designing from the inside out, new designs never reach the outside and remain private. This hides much of people’s wealth and keeps a traditional feeling which is rare for a ski resort. This creates a more humble environment, leaving interiors as the only space for modernity. The use of these old places to create new living spaces is up to the architect.
What other situations might bring similar internal spatial transformations?
Credits: Images by Tara Whelan and Clare Regez. Data linked to sources.