Villa Vals – Vals, Switzerland

Off the grid. Escaping the compliant, complacent, commercial lifestyle of everyday Western living has long been a fantasy of mine. In a hill. Living inside a hill, or under one, or under a waterfall, or over a stream – that has been another life long dream to build a unique home, completely enveloped in natural surroundings.  Today I came across Villa Vals, a beautiful postmodern home, built into a large hill in Vals, Switzerland.  There,  the home is located near the famous thermal springs of Therme Vals – a hotel/spa complex that is built directly over the natural hot springs.

Completed after two years, in 2009, the home is a a joint-venture between Christian Müller Architects and SeARCH, Amsterdam.  Built as a holiday getaway for a very lucky private client, the home slices into the mountain in a way to draw no attention away from the beautiful mountain surroundings and breathtaking vistas.  The unusual cut into the hill, a rounded slice into a large living yard, is stunning and unique. The building itself may seem a bit bunker-like with its cement walls and linear flow, but the earthy elements of rough rock, warm woods and many large windows opening to that amazing view of the mountains all tie the design back to the natural theme of the conceptual design.

The concept question posed by its architects, SeARCH, was: “Shouldn’t it be possible to conceal a house in an Alpine slope while still exploiting the wonderful views and allowing light to enter the building?

Surprised that it was permissible to construct a pair of dwellings so close to the world famous thermal bath of Vals, the client seized the opportunity to develop the site, without disturbing the bath’s expansive views. The introduction of a central patio into the steep incline creates a large facade with considerable potential for window openings. The viewing angle from the building is slightly inclined, giving an even more dramatic view of the strikingly beautiful mountains on the opposite side of the narrow valley.

The local authority’s well intentioned caution, that unusual modern proposals were generally not favoured, proved unfounded. The planners were pleased that the proposal did not appear ‘residential’ or impose on the adjacent bath building. The scheme was not perceived as a typical structure but rather an example of pragmatic unobtrusive development in a sensitive location. The placing of the entrance via an old Graubunder barn and an underground tunnel further convinced them that the concept, while slightly absurd, could still be permitted.

Switzerland’s planning laws dictate that it is only possible to grant a definitive planning permission after a timber model of the building’s volume has first been constructed on site. This can then be accurately appraised by the local community and objected to if considered unsuitable. For this proposal, logic prevailed and this part of the process was deemed to be unnecessary.”

For more information on Villa Vals, for more photos, information on the design and construction, or if you would like to arrange a stay there, you can access more information on their amazing website here.

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