Pedevilla Architects: the use of matter as decoration
By Carlotta Ferrati & Andrea Carloni
Pedevilla Architects is a studio has won numerous awards including the Best Architects Award and the German Design Award.
Their architecture is characterized by the use of a few materials often treated in a simple way but capable of becoming decorations. Examples are the large rock of the Bad Schörgau Cooking Academy, or the concrete of the Versciaco Fire Station and the wood weaving of the Bad Schörgau Bath.
Alexander and Armin Pedevilla – photo: Mads Mogensen
Many of your architecture are situated within fascinating mountain landscapes. What does it mean to build here?
In a flat territory, only tall buildings can be seen from far, on the contrary, in the mountains, even a small building can be seen from a long distance. This characteristic of the mountain landscape pushed us to experiment with colors creating with the landscape analogies and contrasts. This peculiarity allows our projects to be readable and interesting not only from close distance where the materiality and the details are visible, but also from far. Our designs are often monochrome in order to strengthen even more their visibility and to enhance their plastic appearance.
An example of use of color as ´analogy´ is the Bühelwirt Hotel. In fact, even though the black wooden exterior cladding seams on paper a bold decision, in reality this allows the building to reflect the very dark color of the surrounding forests and to blend with its surrounding.
Another example, where instead we wanted to create a strong contrast with the surrounding is the fire station in Vierschach in red exposed concrete. This chromatic choice, also apparently bold is inspired by the beautiful mountains of red phorphir stone of Südtirol that create with the forests and the blue sky typical of the mountain areas a beautiful chromatic contrast.
Pedevilla Architects – Bühelwirt- St. Jakob, Südtirol – Italy – 2016-2017 – photo: Gustav Willeit
Could you tell us in broad terms how your project is born?
Our projects often develop starting from a peculiar quality that we want to give to a building. For example, in the design of the Bühelwirt Hotel, impressed by the beauty of the surrounding panorama we focused on how this view could be maximized in the interior of our hotel extension. With this goal in mind we developed the peculiar bow-window that characterize so strongly the project.
In order to get a result that satisfy us, we normally do many different options and many models. However, we do not work with compositions of volumes, but we rather start with a single volume and we add or subtract parts.
For us architecture is a building that is elementary in its materiality, form and functionality. For this reason, in the design process we always ask ourselves if every element and function is really necessary or not.
From these conclusions we manage to expel the superfluous and enhance the essential, creating projects with a made-to-measure fit for a specific place and function.
This approach results in a contemporary architectonic language that is expression of our time but also in continuity with the tradition.
If I think of many of your projects like Bad Schörgau, Kochakademie Schörgau, and even the fire stations there is a strong focus on surfaces. What is your relationship with the materials? Are there any favorites?
For our architectonic approach the materiality and its aesthetic qualities are very important. We do not have a favorite material, however, for every project we try to understand which material would be the best one and we try to work with it by following its constructive rules in order to take advantage of its qualities and giving always great attention to how the materials evolve in time.
For this reason, when we decided to work with wood, we tried to take advantage of its malleability, using it not only as constructive material but also as decorative one. Its peculiarity of been easily curved and cut in small pieces gave us the possibility to create a precious ceiling like the one of the cooking academy Schörgau.
On the other hand, when we decided to work with concrete, we enhanced its monolithic appearance and we added fragments of local stone as aggregates making it shine like the stone of our mountains.
Pedevilla Architects – Fire station in Versciaco ; Tirol, Province of Bolzano – South Tyrol, Italy – 2016 – photo: Gustav Willeit
During your career you have participated in various architectural competitions, which one do you think is the best? I give an example: restricted or open, single or multi-stage.
For us, an interesting solution is a two-phase-competition. Here, in the first “more-open” phase there is a pre-selection of the candidates based on a portfolio of references.
In this way the jury can decide if the work of an office is what they are looking for. Without asking to the architecture offices to invest a great amount of energy and working hours, but at the same time without excluding many possible candidates.
In the ´proper´ competition phase in which a concept design is envisioned there should be a numerical proportion between the size of the design task and the number of the participants to it in a way that the offices are made in the position to invest the necessary time to create a proper proposal.
Furthermore, in our opinion, one of the most important aspects for a competition, is a good composition of the jury. A competent jury is in fact very important for achieving a good finals result, and this aspect is sometime underestimated.
Pedevilla Architects – Bad Schörgau – The Badl; Sarentino / South Tyrol, Italy – 2016-2017 – photo: Gustav Willeit
Now, a question that I will ask also to some other studios. Why do you think in the Northern part of Italy, at the borders with Austria and Switzerland, it is easier to find a high-quality architecture?
I would say that there are both economical and cultural reasons.
From the economical point of view, the alpine territory thanks to the boom of mountain tourism and their enogastronomic products, mix with a great entrepreneurial spirit of the local population that was able to take advantage of this new interest. It has been transformed from a land that fifty years ago was very poor in a region rich in opportunities and jobs where the construction industry is increasing much more than in other areas of Italy.
From the cultural point of view, in the Alps the importance of land preservation has always been present. Our territory is not made by large urban areas, but rather by small towns and villages surrounded by nature. This creates in the population a strong sense of ownership for their land and this has surely a positive influence on the quality of the architectural production of the region.
At the same time, in the Alps there are beautiful villages and castle but surely there isn’t the rich and complex architecture tradition present in most of Italy. This situation is often an advantage rather than a disadvantage because makes us more free to experiment and at the same time more motivated to create beauty with a new architecture.