Modern architecture started in the Alps. We might immediately think of wooden chalets but the impulse for a glass architecture of light and transparency began in the mountains when German architect Bruno Taut (1880-1938) sketched out his visions for “Alpine Architecture” in 1917. In a visceral reaction to the first world war battlefields, Taut sketched glass palaces and castles atop snow-covered mountains. This was a new idea of architecture as crystal, a mineral outcrop from the peaks.
Half-dream and half-manifesto, Taut’s expressionist drawings and poems were instrumental in the genesis of modernist architecture yet his visionary plans seemed to languish for a century. It’s only the high-altitude mountain refuges built in the past few years that have come close to realising Taut’s fantasy. Pitted against the extreme weather and dramatic scenery of the highest peaks, they seem to have broken free of the conservatism of the resorts themselves, where kitsch, cosy chalets still dominate.
Take the Monte Rosa hut above Zermatt in Switzerland. At 2,883m, it sits imperiously atop its ridge yet its shiny steel cladding reflects snow, rock and sky so that, despite its geological form, it seems to meld into the mountains. Designed by architecture students at Zurich’s ETH school and completed in 2009, its cragginess feels a little industrial — an aesthetic that emerges from cheap but robust materials more likely to be seen cladding factories than atop the Alps. […]