In green Vorarlberg, architecture is inspired by nature

Austria’s verdant Vorarlberg region is a pioneer in sustainable design, attracting legions of architects and curious visitors who are inspired by its breathtaking buildings.

Communities in the Alpine country’s westernmost state have embraced beauty, comfort and careful use of resources since the 1960s.

“Every time I come here, I take a big kick out of it. They are 35 years ahead of us,” said Pierre Leroy, deputy mayor of Puy-Saint-André and member of a French delegation. of architects and civil servants on a study trip to Vorarlberg.

Vorarlberg’s sustainable architecture is often referred to as “Baukultur” and can be found throughout the region – from collective housing projects to schools and factories.

Local building materials are preferred: white pine and earth replace concrete whenever possible.

Vorarlberg’s architecture is defined by its clear, compact and functional design, but it does not skimp on aesthetics.

In addition to architects, carpenters and craftsmen in the region enjoy great international recognition and are highly sought after.

Economy is a guiding principle of the “School of Vorarlberg”, which does not hesitate to use prefabricated elements to reduce costs and favors energy efficiency.

Many houses in the region are built according to “passive house” standards, which designate buildings with minimum energy needs thanks to perfect insulation, specific ventilation and the installation of solar panels and heat pumps.

There is a preference for local building materials: white pine and earth replace concrete wherever possible

KERTIN JOENSSON

A community house in the village of Krumbach uses massive triple glazing, while the local Metzler cheese dairy was built entirely of wood and is almost self-sufficient thanks to its geothermal and solar heating.

The renovated town hall of Zwischenwasser has reduced its heating needs by four.

The Vorarlberg region, with its 400,000 inhabitants and 150 architectural offices, benefits from an abundance of timber, hydropower and a thriving economy.

The ingenuity of its employees also plays a big role – they have a reputation for being down-to-earth and proactive.

The inhabitants of Krumbach also welcomed without resistance the collective housing projects instead of individual houses.

“What I’m most proud of is that people are united by common sense,” said Arnold Hirschbuehl, a former Krumbach mayor who championed architecture.

He praised the way people are using “resources in the most sustainable way possible, while staying true to themselves”.

Unlike neighboring Germany, Vorarlberg is not traditionally a stronghold of the Greens: the majority of people in Austria’s westernmost region vote Conservative.

“It’s a very conservative and Catholic region. People here are pragmatic: they sit down and do things,” said French architect Dominique Gauzin-Mueller, a specialist in wooden architecture from Vorarlberg.

“They are eco-friendly because of their moral values ​​and because they care about the future of their children,” she added.

The state government has supported the green movement, with considerable housing subsidies based on strict criteria since 2001.

These include indoor air quality and the use of environmentally friendly materials, while banning coal, electric heaters and PVC in flooring.

Some experts wonder whether the successes seen in Vorarlberg can be repeated elsewhere.

The regional style had a huge influence on wooden architecture in Europe.

Most woodworking architects in France today have visited Vorarlberg for inspiration.

Leroy, who is on his third trip to the region, said: “It’s about working together. If we don’t cooperate in the midst of the climate crisis, we will fail.”

But there are those who see flaws in the model.

Architect Clemens Quirin believes the economic boom in this largely agricultural state has driven up lowland land prices to the point that creativity and ecology have taken a backseat.

Quirin, curator at the Vorarlberg Institute of Architecture in Dornbirn, said housing standards had been relaxed in recent years.

“Public buildings are still of good quality, but housing projects have been poor for 10 years: demand is so high that developers can sell anything.”

But the current energy crisis in Europe could help reverse this trend by putting ecology back at the center of these projects, Quirin said.

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