| St. Moritz | Switzerland |
The Chesa Futura apartment building in the Engadin Valley fuses state-of-the-art computer design tools and traditional, indigenous building techniques to create environmentally sensitive building. Although its form is novel, it utilises timber construction – one of the oldest, most environmentally benign and sustainable forms of building.
The building consists of three storeys of apartments and two underground levels for car parking. Its bubble-like form is a response to the site and local weather conditions. The site is located on the edge of a slope, looking down over the village towards a lake. The building is lifted above the ground on eight pilotis to ensure that all three storeys benefit from the views of the Engadin Valley and the lake of St. Moritz. Raised buildings have a long architectural tradition in Switzerland, where snow lies on the ground for many months of the year. Each floor has been widened to achieve the desired overall floor area, because there is a height restriction on the site and the ground level is not being utilized. To avoid a bulky appearance and in order to maintain views up and down the slope under and around the building, its form has been softened into curves.
The form has been refined using a specially written computer programme that has fused the building’s plan and section to create a three-dimensional volume. The digital information can also be directly exported to cutting tools to build physical models and ultimately to the machines that will make the timber building components.
In Switzerland, building in timber makes environmental sense for a number of reasons. It reflects local architectural traditions, and it contributes to the established ecology of felling older trees to facilitate forest regeneration.
The frame is constructed from glue-laminated timber beams – consisting of thin sections of wood glued together – in pre-assembled panels of 6-7 metres in length. A steel undercarriage supports the timber frame. The larch shingles that make up the building’s skin will respond to weather, change colour over time, and appear as an organic part of the landscape. They are cut by hand by a family that has practised the craft for generations. The shingles were cut from trees at the same altitude as the construction site during the winter when the wood is dry, contains no sap and so will not shrink. The roof is made from copper, a traditional local material sufficiently malleable to be formed on site when temperatures drop well below freezing.
The curved form allows windows to wrap around the façade, providing panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains. The building has balconies to the south which benefit from sunlight. It is closed at the back facing the mountains and the coldest weather, providing insulation through its thermal mass.