Author: Walter Chramosta
Published: Book “Just! Architecture from Austria”, 2006


Walter Chramosta (born in 1956) studied architecture, civil engineering and philosophy. In 1988 he founded the interdisciplinary planning group, Pontifex Partnership. In addition to designing and constructing a number of industrial and residential buildings in Austria he is also active in international communication in the fields of architecture, engineering and landscape design and works as an architecture critic for national and foreign daily newspapers and specialist journals. He is, additionally, involved in the design and production of the Austrian architecture publications Bauforum and UmBau. He is chairman of the Austrian Society for Architecture – ÖGfA and consultant to the architects’ section of the Chamber of Architects and Consultant Engineers for Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland.

Das neue Schulhaus / The New Schoolhouse, Springer, Vienna 1996; Helmut Richter (monograph), Birkhäuser Verlag, 2000; Positionen. Beiträge zur Modernen Architektur im Burgenland, Österreichischer Kunst- und Kulturverlag, 1993.

Just! Architecture from Austria
ISBN 3-901174-61-3
Verlag Haus der Architektur Graz
2006/148 pages
price: € 28,90
To order: Haus der Architektur Graz 
or Amazon


Philip Lutz

A Board Game in the “Heimatschutz” Region. Utopian Concepts of Tourism in Lech

Architecture: Philip Lutz und Allmeinde

Exemplary architect/client configurations in Alpine areas of Vorarlberg

Lech am Arlberg: a premium ski destination, a seasonal value-creation machine that is also meant to be “home”. Lech officially aspires to be a “quality leader” and aims to become “the top skiing village in the Alps”. Since the fifties, the population has doubled and the number of overnight stays has increased tenfold. The 2001 census put the number of inhabitants at 1,466; in the peak season, there are up to 14,000 people staying in Lech. There are bed places for 9,000 visitors and about one million overnight stays per year. The tax revenue taken in by the municipality is five times higher per capita than the average in Vorarlberg. At the municipal elections in 2005 the Citizens’ List (Bürgerliste) Lech-Zürs received 70%, the list Zukunft Lech / mitdenken – umdenken won 30%.

The clearing of the Tannberg mountain produced the high-montane pass landscape that for centuries provided farmers with a meagre existence and then turned out to be predestined as a skiing terrain. The carefully tended terrain is, so to speak, Lech’s “personal capital”. Tourism on Arlberg triggered an irreversible face change: from the Walser village to today’s diffuse collection of architecturally insignificant commercial buildings. There is no evidence of a regional building tradition, nothing innovative or original; undiversified rusticality predominates. The buildings are Lech’s “outside capital”.

A century of growing tourism has raised existential questions. The first political objective in the Guidelines for Planning and Development 2000 is: “Lech should remain a village.” People long for a Heimatschutz [homeland conservation] district, even though an industrial area has long predominated, something which is at odds both with the expectations of the inhabitants with regard to their place of residence, and those of visitors with regard to their holiday location. Stereotyped, unoriginal, Alpidic architectural forms have given the village an appearance that derives from the lowest common denominator: not radical enough to be revolutionary and, especially under snow, too compact to disturb business.

Lech has kept its distance from the phenomenon of “architecture in Vorarlberg” that has existed for three decades now. Many of those in power in Lech consider that as a success. Because of a “certain restraint with regard to fashionably ‘decorative’ details, Lech as a whole has an attractive and convincing appearance with few big ‘architectural sins’,” say the Guidelines. And the aim is to be open and “not prevent any buildings that deviate from what has been ‘previously familiar’, but to make sure that they are optimally integrated into the existing architecture.”

But the intentions of the municipal authorities are restrictive as far as building is concerned. In 2003, the development plan was made subject to rules on design that made the concept of harmony the benchmark for integration. The state of the art is to avoid such public doctrines, which are at risk of being arbitrarily applied and contradict the very nature of architecture. “The structure, materials and colours used in all building projects are to be such that they refer to and harmonise with the surrounding architecture. The main body must be plain, without any additional fashionable design elements. The roofs must be built as saddle roofs or pent roofs. (…) The size of the canopies must be at least (…).”

This ordinance goes even further than the Vorarlberg building law, in which the standards are more liberal: “Buildings (…) must be designed in such a way that they fit into the surroundings in which they appear, or do justice to their surroundings in a different way.” It was apparently prompted by the design of the ski lodge “Schneggarei”, finished in 2002, in the heart of the après-ski business area in Lech. It is a restaurant belonging to the old-established Schneider family. This family successfully runs the “Almhof”, the top hotel in the village square, because its youngest generation pursues a utopian concept of quality tourism that goes beyond the standards imposed by the local authorities, a concept that includes not only service, but also the space in which it is given, both private and public.

As mentor of the family involved in the planning, Gerold Schneider has a straightforward attitude: “If the site and function of a new building suggest rusticality as a design principle, then this rusticality has to be interpreted, with due respect to the regional traditions of architecture, in a bold and modern way, not timidly or in merely imitative fashion.” With their controversial ski lodge, the Schneider family has given an answer to questions about public welfare and the attitude to public space that the community council has until now not dared to address.

The timber-post construction, covered with waney-edged boards, seems to fit well into its surroundings. But it angered the local authorities because it departed from the unspoken convention of being average. It was treated as a commercial building before the district administration in Bludenz, and the mayor was unable to prevent its construction when it was given the official go-ahead by the province. But this “defeat” of the community council in this “board game” can also be seen as a victory of the community on the important path to a new self-image for Lech.

The most important thing would be to accept the manifest trends towards the segregation of economic, living and natural spaces and learn to guide them. This can be done by taking the figure of redemption, the village, now more a political term than a recognizable characteristic of the Lech community, and either filling it with content or abandoning it in favour of an urban model divided according to function. Industrial areas could be differentiated from residential areas, more degrees of density allowed, the variety of design and quality of planning could be officially guaranteed and Lech be given a recognized centre. Anyone who wants to hold on to the harmony of the precarious status quo risks losing everything: the mockery of the Arlberg idyll represented by the meaningless façades in Zürs is a portent.