Blending buildings with stunning natural surroundings is a challenge which many architects embrace with open arms and the snow blanketed surrounds of the Alps throw dynamic design into stark relief.
Aesthetic styles in the earliest ski resorts developed naturally from the agricultural buildings and rural homes which had kept livestock and residents safe and warm for generations. Created from organic materials like stone and wood and constructed in clever ways that made them weatherproof, these chalet-style creations still form the classic blueprint for so-called chocolate box ski resorts.
But as time progressed, modernist designers applied their futuristic vision to this pristine terrain, so you’ll also find Brutalist and Bauhaus influences.
Let’s take a look at how Alpine architecture has evolved with flair and functionality over the years.
The instantly recognisable, iconic chalet style you’ll be familiar with in French and Swiss Alpine villages has its roots in rustic farmhouses, with sloped roofs that provide drainage but also hold a layer of snow for long enough to provide natural insulation.
Interiors also follow a formula that’s functional and ambient, with bedrooms and bathrooms usually set off from large living rooms with open fires serving as cosy centrepieces. They can extend to several storeys, which provides more flexibility to the layout, often include mod cons like steam rooms and communal spaces typically capitalise on natural light and maximise scenic views.
You’ll find plenty of classic chalets in traditional resort Morzine, as well as Val d’Isere, and you’ll even spot it in the town centres of more modernist resorts, often in public buildings like post offices and community halls.
Tip:this Morzine Mountain House by designers Squire and Partners is a terrific contemporary chalet design.
Purpose-built Avoriaz is a fine example of a resort peppered with the type of architecture that wouldn’t look out of place in a sci-fi film of yore.
It first opened its doors in 1966 and it was designed by 1960 Olympic Downhill champion Jean Vuarnet and investor Gerard Bremond, a jazz and film fan with an aesthete’s discerning eye.
The resort’s modernist hotels and apartment blocks were designed to integrate with the natural surroundings and while they still polarise opinion and are a step too far for traditionalists, they’re certainly striking.
Interestingly, Avoriaz hosted a horror and fantasy film festival between 1973 and 1993 which attracted luminaries like David Lynch and its unique buildings provided the perfect backdrop.
Tip: ski experts NUCO Travel can arrange a customised Avoriaz break for skiers with a passion for design.
Most tourists visit the Alps for action and adventure, but it’s evident that it’s also home to diverse design ̶ which is great news for architecture fans who also happen to love carving up the slopes and indulging in a spot of après-ski.
What’s your favourite Alpine architectural style? Share your thoughts in the comments section