Wednesday, September 29, 2010

VALS, Switzerland

Poverty and austerity, grey slate rooftops, the village of 1000 inhabitants is deeply embanked in green hills, sprinkled by tiny rustic wood shelters; at first, I am stunned by the roughness and the beauty of this surprisingly narrow valley, which looks like the Cévennes, by the shredded clouds clinging to the hills, to the rocks, to the rooftops, to the crucifix... and then I learn the story of its river, of its water, of its rock (the quartz) and I realize that the village is metaphorical, that its inhabitants are Catholic and Alemanic (as opposed to the nearby Protestant Romansh population), that they have a tradition of direct democracy, of collective initiative, of organization, of struggle against the powerful (they won against USB when the Union of the Swiss Banks bought the Thermal Bath and tried to sell it for an extravagant price), of bravery against the elements, of risk-taking and of furious labor, of modernist deliberate choices. After buying the Thermal Bath for 25% of the price originally claimed by the USB, they contacted the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor to build a most elegant and avant-garde new Thermal Bath, as well as Jürg Conzett to conceive the new futurist bridge on the Valser Rhine. Their own strength has been acquired by a succession of ordeals: fighting the floods and exploitating the mineral water; coming from the Piz Azul, a glacier 3.121 m altitude, it gets into the ground, springs out at 1000 meters and at more than 30°C after a 25 years journey. The water, which for centuries had been the fiercest enemy of the population has been cleverly tamed (with the dam of Zervreila at 1.864 m), cleverly managed (with astute home delivery of mineral water), cleverly turned into kind and warm and healing water in the Thermal Bath, cleverly crossed over by a model of avant-garde piece of architecture made of local quartz. With this magnificent bridge, does not Jürg Conzett become a "bridger", as I defined it earlier?

"The universal is the local less the walls", Miguel Torga
"The impression done by the bridge arch is strong and muscular, ... this bridge exists only in Vals, it is made for the place." Peter Zumthor