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“High up in the mountains, far from here, there lives a little boy just like you,” wrote Selina Chönz as the first line in her children’s book published in 1945, A Bell for Ursli. The Engadin house, with massive stone walls from its entrance gate to the foyer, funnel-shaped windows, bay windows and sgraffito-style decorations which the artist Alois Carigiet immortalized as a real-life copy in Guarda, is echoed in the Chasa Plazetta in Ardez. At 1467 m above sea level, Ardez is located only 200 m below the 1975 winner of the Wakker Prize and neighboring municipality of Guarda. The same year, Ardez was selected as a pilot community for the European Monument Conservation for the exemplary restoration of the typical Engadin houses.
As a restorer, Steivan Liun Könz, son of the author of A Bell for Ursli, has devoted himself to some of the characteristic sgraffito decor in Ardez. Although younger, fellow artist Not Vital gained recognition earlier and has since established a foundation for print collections from the 17th and 18th centuries in a Romansh library in Ardez. Their home – the “von Planta” estate, built in 1642 with a floor added in 1757 – underwent a gentle renovation at the hands of Not’s brother Duri Vital in 2005.
Remodeled in 2006 and refurbished in 2012, Chasa Plazetta continues to weave its cultural and historical threads. It is an exemplary use of original building material dating back to 1624. Similarly to the house Duri Vital renovated, the history of this house that began in the 15th and 16th centuries continues to lives on.
As for the Engadin house, it is in fact a unique conglomerate of various structural elements of a farm, formerly placed in isolation from one another, because it not only combine a house for living, a storehouse, a stable and a barn; it also integrates a gazebo and courtyard under one roof. These former outdoor areas that were likely originally used within the stone exterior also function as internal streets, in turn leading to the entrances of the economic part of the building.
Vital opened these internal streets - or bowers, to some extent - back out along the exterior space, where he made use of the traditional separation between the living and working quarters in order to improve the supply of natural light. He demolished the massive wall to the barn. Designed as a vault and equipped with electrically operated sliding glass doors, hallways now lead into the partially bridged airspace, which had originally been left out for a pulley, pictured here in the images below.
He had sections cut out of the opposing wooden wall in the barn that would not only let light fall in but would also frame panoramic views. The white epoxy-coated hardwood on the second floor also has an effect that improves lighting and focuses on the contrast of old and new. On the other hand, Vital left the original wooden planks in the foyer, the former passageway to the barn, where the warping of the wood can be seen, and bridged them only with a “catwalk” made of pine.
He analogically came up with a geothermal heating unit and preserved it with blackened soot parts from the kitchen, which contrasts the stainless steel countertop and the white fronts of the built-in furniture.
In the same way Vital treated architecture, the owners Marcus Bühler and Regula Ernst treated the interior, namely with a combination of historic furniture and modern design classics. The buffet, which was sold to the Lower Engadin Museum in Scuol 70 years ago and which can now again be found in its original location in the living room, is one of the traditional highlights. These are joined by, among other things, a few Stabellen, chairs with cut-out, carved backs which replaced the stool as a seat in the 16th century. The modern design comes into play with Le Corbusier Seating, lamps by Ingo Maurer (Table Light Birdie's Busch) and Poul Henningsen (ceiling lamp) – as well as sideboards from the USM Haller modular furniture system.
Just like the renovation, these pieces contrast wherever they are placed, insofar as to create the “industrial appearance” of the steel sheets juxtaposed with the rustic ambiance from the stable and foyer. A light touch adds orange to “warm the wood” and a shade of brown to the wooden beams. It corresponds to the spirit of traditional design as well as the skill of the art of carpentry.
Like the stone cladding of the house, the steel plate of the piece of furniture offers a receptacle that invites a variety of presentations in its interior. The sophisticated, alternative Stabelle joining technique invented in the canton of Grisons, which dispensed with the “crutch” of a dovetail key to install the leg, matches the structural elegance of the USM Haller modular furniture system nodes patented in 1965.
And finally, the orange USM Haller sideboard lures the eye by association towards the drawing of the bell from A Bell for Ursli, as it hangs in the alpine hut...
Text: Rahel Hartmann Schweizer, Photos: Bruno Augsberger, Architect: Duri Vital