Legendary, prize-winning architect, Peter Zumthor, has been a neighbour in Switzerland’s close knit Vals for nearly 20 years, and his iconic Therme Vals has had visitors flocking since its opening in 1996. But whereas Zumthor’s Therme Vals was once owned by the Vals community by way of a social project, it has since been bought by a large property developer, and in the architect’s own words, “destroyed.”
By way of a social experiment, this may be so, but Therme Vals still remains a striking and resonant piece of Swiss architecture, that in our eyes, will always be worth a visit. Built over the only thermal springs in the Graubünden Canton, Therme Vals is built right into the hillside, giving off designer cave-like vibes with a grass roof and beautiful striped walls made from quarried quartzite stone.
“Mountain, stone, water – building in the stone, building with the stone, into the mountain, building out of the mountain, being inside the mountain – how can the implications and the sensuality of the association of these words be interpreted, architecturally?” - Peter Zumthor
This respectful and symbiotic relationship with its natural mountain surroundings reflects the beating heart of Therme Vals’ existence - as the healing mineral waters pour up and out its elegantly curved bronze tubes, giving purpose to both the build and those who flock there.
A stylish rabbit warren of towering ceilings, linear lines and smooth passages, it plays with a comforting contrast of shadow and light, creating an ambience of utter calm, in which the bather can become lost and wander – even momentarily – in their own experience.
Built as an echo of the great Roman baths, whose influence once permeated much of Europe, Therme Vals succeeded as a social experiment for nearly 20 years. While this concept may now have waned, the now-heritage architecture still stands as an ode to the original idea, and also of course, as another striking example of Peter Zumthor’s incredible architectural design.
A 25-minute drive from Therme Vals sits a quieter feat of Switzerland's architectural and stylistic brilliance, the boutique Brücke 49 guesthouse, full of Scandi design luxury and simple Alpine cool. A design residence right in the heart of Grison's famous Vals ski resort, Brücke 49 gives you the best of both worlds – energetic skiing followed by relaxed bathing, all followed by a rest in true, unadulterated style.
For more on all things architecture peek in our Travel Journal at Austria’s Bregenz Opera and while there, peek at Peter Zumthor’s Kunsthaus Bregenz; have a look at Renzo Piano’s Muse on Lake Garda; Fendi’s new base in Rome; Lisbon’s MAAT; Lake Lucerne’s Swiss bathhouse of luxe design and Zaha Hadid’s Messner Mountain Museum and Cilento Seascape, as well as many more.