Austria’s lush Vorarlberg region is a pioneer of sustainable design, attracting many architects and curious tourists who find inspiration in its breathtaking buildings. Since the 1960s, communities in the westernmost province of the Alpine country have opted for beauty, comfort and careful use of resources. “Every time I come here, it inspires me a lot. They are 35 years ahead of us,” said deputy mayor of the city of Puy Saint-André and architect on an inspection trip to Vorarlberg. said Pierre Leroy, a member of the French delegation of officials.

Vorarlberg’s sustainable architecture, often referred to as ‘Baukultur’, extends throughout the region, from multi-family housing projects to schools and factories. Local building materials are preferred. White pine and soil are used instead of concrete whenever possible. Vorarlberg’s architecture is defined by its clear, compact and functional design, but without cutting corners on aesthetics.

Architects as well as carpenters and craftsmen from the region have an international reputation and are in high demand. Economy is the guiding principle of the “Vorarlberg School”, which prioritizes energy efficiency and does not hesitate to use off-the-shelf components to reduce costs.

Exterior of the community house in Kulmbach, Vorarlberg.

energy efficiency

Many houses in the area are built to the “passive house” standard, meaning buildings with minimal energy needs due to perfect insulation, specific ventilation, and the installation of solar panels and heat pumps. I’m here. The community house in the village of Kulmbach has huge triple glazing. Also, the local Metzeler cheese factory is made entirely of wood and is nearly self-sufficient with geothermal and solar heat.

Meanwhile, the refurbished Zwischenwasser town hall has cut its heating needs by a quarter. With 400,000 inhabitants and 150 architectural firms, the Vorarlberg region boasts an abundance of timber, hydroelectric power and a thriving economy. People’s ingenuity also plays a big role. They have a reputation for being down-to-earth and proactive.

Residents of Kulmbach readily welcomed the multi-family project as an alternative to the detached houses. “What I am most proud of is that people are united by common sense,” said former Krumbach mayor Arnold Hirschbuhl, who championed the building. He praised the way people “use resources in the most sustainable way possible while staying true to themselves.”

Construction site for the extension of the technical school in Hittisau, Vorarlberg.

not all green

Unlike neighboring Germany, Vorarlberg is not traditionally a Greens stronghold. In the westernmost part of Austria, the majority of people vote conservative. “It’s a very conservative and Catholic area.” says French architect Dominique Gausin-Müller, an expert in wood construction in Vorarlberg. “The people here are practical. They sit “They are ecological because they care about their moral values ​​and the future of their children,” she added.

The state government supports the environmental movement and, since 2001, has heavily subsidized housing based on strict criteria. This includes indoor air quality and the use of environmentally friendly materials, but coal, electrical convectors, and PVC in flooring are prohibited. Some experts suspect that the success seen in Vorarlberg could be replicated elsewhere.

Regional styles have had a great influence on European wooden architecture. Today, most architects working with wood in France come to Vorarlberg for inspiration. His Leroy, his third visit to the area, said: If we do not work together in the climate crisis, we will fail. ”

However, some believe that the model is flawed. Architect Clemens Quillin believes that an economic boom in a largely agricultural state is driving up land prices in low-lying areas, leaving creativity and ecology on the backburner. Quillin, curator at the Vorarlberg Institute for Architecture in Dornbirn, said housing standards have been relaxed in recent years.

“Public buildings are still of high quality, but residential projects have been poor over the last decade. Demand is so high that developers can sell anything.” Bringing back to the center of these projects could help reverse that trend, Quirin said. – AFP

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