It’s not true that if you have seen one Alpine village in Austria, then you’ve seen them all. Alpine architecture is beyond cliché when you visit the mountainous, unspoilt valley lands of Vorarlberg. A state of award-winning architects and craftsmen, Vorarlberg certainly shows off its creativity with innovative architectural design, while respecting tradition.
In the Bregenzerwald region of Austria’s westernmost state of Vorarlberg, this distinct culture of craftsmanship means that longstanding traditions are continued and adapted, while new design seamlessly blends with the old surroundings. Vorarlberg – home of ‘Meadow Championships’, energy efficiency and a backdrop formed of the northern ridges of the Alps – has an extra special visual flair. Perfect for an architecture enthusiast like myself.
My first stop was the village of Mellau, which was my base from which to both access the ski area of Damuls-Mellau and paraglide the Vorarlberg skies. It was also a good starting point for an architecture trail that would lead me through villages such as Egg and Krumbach towards the region of Brandnertal, where artistic trends continue beyond the Bregenzerwald.
The ‘Umgang Bregenzerwald’ Archiecture and Environment Trails
While it is said that pride is taken in the design of all Bregenzerwald’s 22 villages, 12 are noted for their specially marked ‘Umgang Bregenzerwald’ – a mapped trail of houses, commercials structures and public buildings that take between one and four hours to circuit. Mellau is one of them.
While I didn’t find all 10 structures listed, I did find some personal favourites, including the café and some modern alpine house styles (noted for future architectural project reference). The local fire station and cemetery even form part of this visual path and new additions, including the boutique Hotel Bären and its hip cafe, bring a touch of urban cool to the village. Rusty red coloured information columns mark each special structure and when you peer into them, where you’ll find all the information about its significance to the social, historic, cultural or culinary landscape.
Glass and wood are the favoured materials in the modern designs, with wood having always been a core foundation of building materials because of the dense forest surroundings of the Bregenzerwald. Many of the new-builds also incorporate these raw materials as renewable energy resources, such as hotels using wood to heat rooms and water, rather than rely on traditional electricity and oil sources.
It’s all about going back to basics, but with grand designs. It certainly breaks the typical image of rustic farmer houses and triangular roofed huts, although these are still a wonderful sight set within the green valleys and mountainous backdrop.
The Seven Architectural Bus Stop Wonders of Krumbach
By 2014, another ‘Umgang’ architecture trail was established in the village of Krumbach. This Austrian village is now best known for its seven unique bus shelters – ‘Wartehüsle’ – designed by international architects, whose brief was to come and live in the village and then design something that would represent the culture and traditions while being able to mesh with the surrounding environment.
This was quite the fun and quirky design trail, with the designs resembling everything from the natural surroundings of trees and mountains to the way wood is stacked and how furniture is designed.
Who said waiting for the bus was boring?
Preservation and Innovation in Andelsbuch
Innovation in modern craftsmanship has put Vorarlberg’s own artists, designers and architects on an internationally famed level, continuing a long culture of building and family-run trade. In Vorarlberg, craftsmanship and trade are the largest employers of the region and you can see why.
I visited the Werkaumhaus in Andelsbuch to see a whole host of craft works on show. This large glass showroom and exhibition space has been around since 2013, and was designed by internationally renowned architect, Peter Zumthor with the idea for the outside landscape and the interior to have no distinction and separation. I went during the Farb (colour) exhibition where all artists list what colour means for them in their art.
With over 40 designs from carpenters, stonemasons, bricklayers, metal workers, painters, tailors and more, you can not only view and purchase these unique products but see how Vorarlberg is leading the way for the preservation of long-standing traditions and skills, handed down from generation to generation.
Next to this impressive building is the old village train station, preserved in memory, but also still in use, with former train carriages used as venue space. This is the perfect example of design through the ages standing side by-side.
Outside of Bregenzerwald – Modern Craftsmanship Continues…
Taking the train from Bregenz to Bludenz, a short drive brought me to the village of Brand in Vorarlberg’s Brandnertal region. After checking into the boutique design Hotel Walliserhorf, I embarked on a village walk with a local who pointed out some of the main new design features, from private homes and hotels, to the church renovation and the school.
Even if you are stopping in a village for access to a ski area or only have a few hours to spare, make time to explore and see how Vorarlberg communities – especially those in the Bregenzerwald who have marked out their craftsman trails especially – take pride in their unique visual take on alpine living.
Things to Know:
- The ‘Umgang Bregenzerwald’ trails can be found in: Schoppernau, Au, Mellau, Bezau/Reuthe, Bizau, Schwarzenberg, Andelsbuch, Egg, Lingenau, Langenegg, Krumbach, Hittisau. A little box of all 12 maps is available from local tourism offices or you can find them all online here.
- The seven participating architects of the Krumbach Bus Stops came from Russia, Norway, Belgium, Spain, Chile, Japan and China. Find our more about the project on the Krumbach Culture website.
- The Werkaumhaus in Andelsbuch exhibition format takes place each year from October until the end of May and is developed each year by alternating designers. It replaces the previous idea of window displays and offers a thematic approach to showcasing local design. Admission is €7.50 for adults (and €5 for commissions).
- For further information on the Bregenzerwald region of Vorarlberg, visit the region website for holiday planning, alongside cultural, culinary and destination insights.
- Inspiration on travel in Vorarlberg and beyond in Austria can be found on the official site for Austria Tourism.
Exploring the architecture in Vorarlberg was a part of my ‘Year in Austria’ project, as the UK ambassador for the Austrian National Tourist Office. I will be travelling all around the country (from my home base of Vienna) over the course of 12 months and showcasing a variety of destinations and activities. Continue to follow #YearInAustria for all stories.