by Amarjeet Singh TomarMay 03, 2023
Salvaged larch and pine wood dress this Italian dwelling from inside out, rising imperceptibly from a gently rolling hill next to a thermal spring in South Tyrol’s St. Vigil. Designed by Pedevilla Architects, the CiAsa Aqua Bad Cortina teems with promise and simplicity and alludes to the archaic form of a house, where no distinction can be found between its roof and façade. "The client has a spiritual appreciation towards nature, so the challenge was to translate the associated aspiration into architecture and to treat nature, people and materials as respectfully and sustainably as possible – overall, the house is about the consequent use of natural materials in their original state and applying it with regional knowledge," the Italian firm says, summarising the core of the trapezoidal home.
ciAsa is Rhaeto-Romanic for 'house', where the capital A resembles the most commonly perceived shape of a home, across regions and cultures. The architectural language of the CiAsa Aqua Bad Cortina house finds roots within the traditional valleys of the alpine region it sits within. “The client, during the process, spoke fondly of his emotional impressions of the space from various chapels and the sense of shelter he felt. We read the trapezoid as a typological translation of two protective hands, with a sacral component that takes account of the spiritual attitude, but still shows that this is a high-alpine family home. We believe that projects with consistency, not only in the use and processing of materials but also in the formal language used, develop a special power that moves people and leads them to identify with the buildings. As a result, buildings are happily cared for and maintained, which in turn leads to a high level of sustainability and longevity,” relays Armin Pedevilla, co-founder, Pedevilla Architects.
Surrounded by the Dolomites of Val Badia in Italy, the all-wooden high alpine family residence has garnered awards and recognition for its purist approach to materiality and a minimal environmental impact - most impressively, its three floors above the ground made entirely of wood retrieved from forest trees that fell during Storm Vaja in October 2018, presenting ciAsa Aqua Bad Cortina as an embodiment of Pedevilla Architects’ approach to sustainable design. Massive spruce wood was employed sans significant use of adhesives, plastics or resins for the exterior as well as the interior walls, the Italian architects reveal. “Even within the prefabricated building components, the planks were laid in the same way as the tree had grown - from bottom to top,” they add.
The ciAsa is home to the Alberti-Mutschlechner family, owners of the Hotel Aqua Bad Cortina. Work began on an overall concept to supplement their hotel estate, the Aqua Bad Cortina, back in April 2018, comprising an expansion to the existing hotel and restaurant, a new building in which thermal baths would be housed, and the family's private house. The latter was the first to be realised.
"For this project, the aspect of sustainability was given high priority. The majority of the used materials are local and natural. Almost no synthetic materials had to be used. Not only is the wood of the house strictly local, the stone for the floors and bathrooms were also cut from dolomite boulders from the valley," shares Pedevilla. The white concrete that makes up the basement also consists of dolomite rock from the nearby creek, enriched with the property's own thermal water.
Hand-split larch shingles protectively drape the roof and façade as well as the rooms, like a dress, in a scale-like laying that resembles pine cones, as a logical continuation of the implementation of wood. Surfaces for the pared-back interior design consist of solid and hand-planed stone pine wood, dressing all the prefabricated walls. The connections for windows and doors were rebated into these special surface wall elements. The entirety of the wooden architecture makes possible pleasant patterns and hues of beige to take over, as well as the characteristic smell of timber, which perfumes the home with well-being and warmth. Witnessed in local tradition for centuries, stone pine has also been used as the interior lining of the parlour as well as other floorings.
The 36 cm thick walls are ample enough to ensure that the dwelling achieves optimal thermal values, which is why, additional insulation was deemed redundant, making the subtle design even more impressive. "The building is connected to the existing district heating network but built as an absolute low-energy house. It is also the first all-wooden house in South Tyrol without insulation that still meets the strict new construction standards of our time. Therefore, further, than relying on experience, we were able to do pioneering work, to build a prototype,” says Pedevilla.
The sustainable factor of the project’s reigning material, reclaimed wood, was enhanced by next to no need of material transportation, employing craftsmen from the village who already have experience with it, and extracting and processing it on site, which basically outlines the splendid, humble process of how the dwelling came about. Because no adhesives or resins were used, the components can be recycled or upcycled at the end of the building’s life.
Trapezoid windows and apertures adorn this Italian architecture of mass timber, and becomes a recurring shape outlining and imbuing CiAsa Aqua Bad Cortina, giving the house its distinct look, down to the door and closet handles. Trapezoidal dormers help illuminate the unadorned interiors along with skylights, which channel the sun inside qua its cone-like shape. The subtly rising form of the roof makes the residential design visible from afar, while the low eaves lines provide protection.
Upon entering the ciAsa from the east side, one is immediately entrenched in a soothing scent of fair wood. A naturally-lit staircase begins from the entrance, while the living area along with a protecting loggia takes up half of the ground floor plan. The kitchen and dining area are fitted with a traditional stove, the area oriented towards the south and west as the core of the stoic residential architecture. The first floor becomes host to four absolutely symmetrical rooms for children, while the master bedroom and personal space for relaxation are situated on the attic floor. Each pocket of ciAsa was developed to foster a deep connection towards the surrounding mountain peaks and scenic valley. "The client once said that he and his family now live like a woodpecker in a tree. The exceptional atmosphere results from the form and its orientation, but also from the strong materialisation,” the Italian architect shares.
The material palette was formulated and carefully laid out based on their aesthetic, apart from their qualities of resistance and durability. For instance, larch wood employed on the façade is weather-resistant, with no need of any added treatment. Over time, the solid wood attains a patina that augments its charm and character, making the house brim with soul. “With the construction of the ciAsa, the life cycle of the materials and resources has been extended in a meaningful way. Environmental impact and costs are thus reduced in the long term,” says the Pedevilla design team, who display with CiAsa Aqua Bad Cortina, a consistent continuation of their architectural approach, considering its reduction and simplicity.
Pedevilla goes on to share that the social and cultural aspects of sustainable architecture were deemed of highest priority, as is the case for all their projects. Only craftsmen from the valley were involved, who enriched the project with their expertise in local construction methods. The architects also relay that perpetuating local traditions in modern ways is also a way to respect local culture and preserve millennia-old knowledge, which is endangered, due to high-tech developments and the increasing standardisation of new buildings.
“We build with local materials, local craftsmen and the personalities of South Tyrol’s locals. It is not so much an intellectual matter as it is an emotional one: we want to give our projects the opportunity to age with dignity. We are looking at the cycles of the materials used, their durability and longevity, but also at traditional craftsmanship methods that have been handed down, at the knowledge that was thought to be lost – above all, we want to arouse materials to life. For us, the integration of a building into existing local structures is just as crucial as responding to the particular temperature and climate influences or the selection of natural building materials. None of the projects we develop is like any other, each is special and unique for the location and the task. We are known for keeping our projects simple, often monochrome. For example, we decide on a colour or a material that we formulate precisely. This gives the buildings a down-to-earth feel and sculptural component – present – yet sensual,” says Pedevilla.