Bergmeisterwolf Architekten: contemporary architecture that arises from comparing it to the territory

By Andrea Carloni e Carlotta Ferrati

September 2019

The Bergmeisterwolf Architekten studio, based in Bressanone and Rosenheim, was founded by Gerd Bergmeister and Michaela Wolf. Each of their projects begins with a deep analysis of the materials and the morphology of the territory, and once this information has been assimilated, they begin with a series of processes and reflections that lead to accomplishing a contemporary architectural construction.

Gerd Bergmeister and Michaela Wolf

Often in your projects you talk about tradition, but what we see are contemporary buildings. Could you tell us about this?

A natural landscape like the South Tyrolean one with its mountains and valleys must also be moulded and excavated to be habitable, as man has always done throughout history. Man has, in fact always transformed the territory, trying to enhance it to the best of his ability, and it is interesting to note how these transformations determine the overall picture of the landscape, to the point of it being considered not just as a constructed landscape but as a cultural landscape. Certain land construction techniques are assimilated by the human eye as the cultural heritage of a place, to the point of perceiving them as necessary works, such interventions as being so deeply rooted as to appear to be inherent to it. The stone terraces on the vineyard slopes, the presence of the patio, the insertion of the project below ground such as the cellars of old farms, how the project is adapted to fit to the contours are traditional ad hoc solutions for a territory such as the South Tyrolean and are part of our architecture. We think that it is precisely the comparison with the morphology of the territory that brings us so closer to the tradition that also determines the form, the colours and the materials. After identifying the type of intervention that is most suitable for the site, we then try out various distortions of the project, which we often summarise in a succinct title: emerging, cutting, extending and folding are all operations and ideas that we apply to the project that guide us towards a contemporary architecture.

Bergmeisterwolf Architekten – Sloping structures – Villa p – 2013 – Photo: Gustav Willeit

What is your relationship with the materials?

Even the use of local materials contributes to making a building appear more “natural”, integrating the structure in the territory, favouring the development of an intervention that arises spontaneously from the ground, from the modelling of the resources that the territory itself offers. Combining different materials, through the use of interstices, means summarising the complexity of the environment, its nuances, its nature, but at the same time it gives rise to new connotations through new functional uses. Specifically, the grain and colour of the plaster of the walls of the old farmsteads, the essences of the wood and the various materials used both inside and outside these buildings are for us a great example of the use of different textures and colours. These materials are not subjected to any kind of treatment but are used naturally because in doing so they age with the passing of time, thus becoming one with the setting. Using traditional materials makes it possible to establish a harmonious relationship with the territory, a relationship that at the same time alters with the changing of the seasons: from winter to spring, from summer to autumn, the environment undergoes a clear transformation that is destined to modify the space perceived to the point of revealing very different images with very different chromatic contrasts. Also, the results of the construction details are closely related to the choice of the material and draw from the past to then be reconsidered and adapted to the project. Only in this way is it possible to find a continuity and create a balance between the past, the present and the future.

Bergmeisterwolf Architekten  – Block wood carving workshop – 2012 – Photo: Gustav Willeit

Where does your project start?

The design act begins with a clearly defined goal: building means working with the past, the present and the future in order to understand and reveal the identity of the site. For this reason, it is necessary to reconstruct the space within which we operate. The physical model has the same function as the design sketch for us because it allows us to identify, using the simple actions – cutting, prolonging, distorting, digging etc. – the most suitable type of intervention for that territory.

Bergmeisterwolf Architekten –  Villa b – 2018 – Photo: Gustav Willeit

In the development of your projects you place great importance on the use of physical models. At what stage do you start building them?

South Tyrol is a territory with a complex morphology and with very different areas. To understand these sites, we always build models in different scales, to perceive the space. This architecture is very attentive to how it fits into the land, how it can be excavated and how the structure emerges from it. We think that cardboard is the most suitable material to operate this study because it can be cut, engraved and modified with great ease, thus lending itself to immediate design intervention.

Bergmeisterwolf Architekten – Block wood carving workshop – 2012 – Photo: Gustav Willeit

Now we have a question that we have asked not only you, but also other architectural studios. Why is it possible to find high-quality architectural studios more easily in areas of northern Italy that border Austria and Switzerland, and particularly in the Trentino-Alto Adige region than in the rest of the country?

For several years the Alto Adige has been developing a widespread fabric of quality that has transformed a region with an agricultural-pastoral vocation into a tourism-oriented vocation. We have repeatedly asked ourselves about the reasons for this development. We believe that here there isn’t a school but a meeting point where architects operating in this area are influenced by both the Italian, the Austrian and the Swiss worlds. What these architects have in common is the terrain in which they operate. The South Tyrolean landscape is in fact characterised by its own baukultur or building culture. This concept refers to the link that, as the word itself says, exists between culture and construction. In other words, for baukultur we mean the architecture in a specific context, the alpine one, which is distinguished by a strong sensitivity regarding the distinctive features of the land. To this we add the great craftsmanship that exists in these territories which is an essential tool to move traditional architecture towards the contemporary.

Bergmeisterwolf Architekten – Emergere – Pacherhof new cellar – 2018 – Photo: Gustav Willeit

Do you have any authors of reference?

The main reference remains for us the landscape and all that is historically perceived as part of it. To this we add references and artistic partnerships that often appear in many of our projects.

Bergmeisterwolf Architekten – Piegato – Villa b – 2018 – Photo: Gustav Willeit
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