23 Jul 2017
Tradition meets modernity
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Timber is a key feature of the architecture at the ADLER resorts, particularly the ADLER Mountain Lodge, which was predominantly constructed from local trees.

At the ADLER Dolomiti in Ortisei, wood is present in the impressive beams above the hotel entrance and the enormous staircase dating from 1927, which was designed by the ‘star architect’ of the day, Clemens Holzmeister. This is a creation that is as powerful as it is elegant. The lobby of the neighbouring ADLER Balance is dominated by mysterious room partitions, every element of which is suggestive of the trees from which they came. The lobby and bar of the ADLER Thermae in Tuscany gleam with wall panelling inspired by the Siena Cathedral. There is a constant alternation between darkness and light that is simply bewitching. In the case of the Mountain Lodge, almost the entire building is constructed from this versatile material.

Wood, wood, everywhere wood. It occupies a central role in the architecture of all ADLER Resorts. Without doubt, this is because of the valley that the Sanoner family calls home, where its main hotel is situated. Just like the Ruhr valley has its coal, Val Gardena has the forest. It is the region’s treasure. The foundation of its traditions, art and commerce. Val Gardena’s wood carvings, the beginnings of which can be traced back to the 17th century, have brought the region worldwide acclaim. Its Madonnas and stations of the cross were highly sought after by churches on every continent. Its toys were extremely popular all over Europe; Val Gardena’s peg wooden dolls even made it as far as England’s royal court, where they were known as ‘Dutch dolls’. Today, artists such as Aron Demetz from Selva and Walter Moroder from Ortisei are still making waves with wood right across the globe.

But it is not just about history. The reason why timber features so highly in the ADLER Resorts is also connected to a philosophy that is best explained by the architects Hanspeter and Hugo Demetz. The two brothers grew up in Val Gardena at a time when every alleyway still had a carpenter’s and several wood carving workshops. When you couldn’t walk down the street without hearing the sound of circular saws or the pounding of hammers.

‘We grew up with wood’, states Hanspeter Demetz. ‘You carry that with you throughout your whole life’. The two Demetz brothers helped create the ADLER Dolomiti, planned the ADLERBalance and ADLER Thermae together with Andreas and Klaus Sanoner, and were responsible for designing the ADLER Mountain Lodge. Their fondness for ‘vernacular architecture’, as they call it, is visible in all of them. What they mean by this is a traditional building style that is dictated by local materials, the functional nature of the building and the environmental conditions. ‘Everything comesfrom the place and from what grows out of it. Nothing is thought up by experts in a vacuum’, explains Hanspeter Demetz.

As he points out, in the past farmers did not use architects, but despite this they ultimately succeeded in creating architecturally balanced farmhouses and barns. Hanspeter and Hugo Demetz are sitting in the bar of the ADLER Dolomiti as they talk. Old timber surrounds them, creating a dignified atmosphere. The bar’s wooden ceilings and beams date back to the plans drafted by Clemens Holzmeister, a Tyrolean architect who, from 1927 to 1928, linked the main ADLER hotel to the first new building constructed in 1905. Holzmeister was Austria’s most prominent exponent of the Bauhaus movement that so popular at the time. It was in this vein that he set to work. For him, it was important to do without unnecessary embellishments and instead introduce clear structures and bright, airy rooms. He also valued architecture that dovetailed sensitively and organically into the surrounding natural environment. The idea was to build using common sense instead of fancy yet nonsensical ideas. And yet, to nevertheless create something modern and visionary. Likewise, this was the maxim followed by the Demetz brothers when designing the ADLER Mountain Lodge. The main requirement was that as much of the lodge as possible should be made from wood.

‘Using local raw materials’, says Hanspeter Demetz, ‘employed in as authentic a way as possible and incorporated into this amazing panorama on the Alpe di Siusi’. Accordingly, only timber grown on the Alpe di Siusi or close by would be considered for the build, with preference given to spruce, larch or stone pine. The trees in this part of the world are extraordinary. They stand on coral dolostone, volcanic rock, marl and clays, all of which provide the roots with rich nutrients, even at great altitudes. The spruces, for example, do not form a spiral grain, because gales from the north are held off by the Alpine mountain chain. Instead, during the daytime they are caressed by mountain sun. They grow slowly and evenly, developing small branches to avoid heavy snow loads. Wood from these spruces has always been coveted by instrument makers, which is why it is also known as ‘singing wood’.

Wooden houses have been fashionable far beyond South Tyrol for centuries. But timber alone does not make a building extraordinary. In the words of Hugo Demetz: ‘Sure, we could have imitated a traditional alpine hut and modelled the interior on a classic Tyrolean farmhouse with a coffered ceiling. But the Sanoners didn’t want that, and neither did we’. Hanspeter Demetz adds: ‘Nor did we want any canopies or balconies with carvings that look like wedding cakes’.For him, the crucial questions was: ‘Form or function? Form can be very problematic, since anything that follows the zeitgeist quickly becomes obsolete’. When you drive up from Compaccio, you have to look closely so as not to miss the lodge and its twelve chalets, blending as harmoniously as they do into the hillside and the landscape. When you step inside, you are immediately struck by the warmth, charm and versatility of the timber materials.

‘We were given a lot of creative freedom’, say the architects. And as with their previous work on the ADLER Dolomiti and ADLER Balance in Ortisei, they were assisted by artist Marco Delago from Val Gardena, who created the eagle heads on the pillars of the veranda at the Mountain Lodge. In the stairwell, the splendid totem figure by sculptor Adolf Vallazza dominates the space. For the lobby and restaurant, the brothers came up with something particularly special: printing on the wall panels. This was a world first. A sensation. The South Tyrolean company Durst had developed the printer for tiles, and the pattern designed by Hugo Demetz was inspired by a rug. Anyone who spends long periods at the lodge and takes a good look around will keep discovering new details. The ceiling in the lobby is punctuated by a series of graduated reliefs throughout. In the adjoining lounge, jagged recesses are set against a black background; in the restaurant, it is the printed fabric. And so it continues. In the corridors. In therooms. Everywhere, wood catches the eye. For example, the view from the sauna over the Alpine pastures and mountains is admired through a beguiling horizontal slatted screen.

‘We have never done anything like this before’, says Elmar Bernardi, ‘so it was a new experience for us.’ Bernardi’s joinery firm was one of the four that carried out the woodwork on the lodge. Every board was planed by hand. Most finished to an extremely sophisticated standard. The boards for the wooden ceiling in the lodge, for instance, were hacked with a small axe and subsequently brushed to achieve more effective contours and bring out the softer growth rings. For the same reason, ‘on other boards we deliberately planed in the wrong direction so that the wood collapsed, or we roughened the surface slightly with an angle grinder and
then brushed it again’, explains Bernardi. ‘Consciously playing with the material’, as Hugo Demetz describes it, has a profound effect on the lodge’s atmosphere. Two thousand square metres of timber were processed and used for the interior fittings. An average football pitch measures 7,000 square metres. In the words of Hugo Demetz: ‘We repeatedly tried new things, we tinkered and tested. It was a thoroughly exciting process that was a lot of fun for everyone involved’.

This includes the third architect who was able to contribute his expertise to the project on Alpe di Siusi. Rudolf Perathoner was responsible for designing the chalets, where the same motto was repeated: wood, wood, everywhere wood. As with the main lodge building, concrete was only used in the load-bearing components set against the slope. Frame construction methods were chosen for the chalets, and no ridge beams are used,
which is a building technique that was once widely employed in Alpine huts and barns. ‘The idea was that the ADLER Mountain Lodge experience should be utterly unique’, says Perathoner. ‘There is no other high mountain pasture or collection of buildings like it anywhere in Europe’. This surely also applies to the view from the windows, which all look out across the natural landscape. And to the lighting.

The Sanoner family specifically requested that the lodge not be too brightly lit. ‘Dim light results in deeper relaxation, and people instantly lower their voices’, say Andreas and Klaus Sanoner. However, ‘it has to be good light, properly used’. Combined with the omnipresent wood in the ADLER Mountain Lodge, it creates an incredibly relaxing atmosphere.

‘We cannot allow anything fake to enter what we do’, states Hanspeter Demetz. ‘Everything that the guests touch has to be real. We do not feign anything; we work with our heritage and with traditional materials. And yet we also employ new tools and techniques to carry tradition into modernity’.

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