Bürchen's small plaza designed by the Spanish architect is one of the finalists at the World Architecture Festival, competing with big projects such as those by Turenscape.
The lack of economic activity as well as unemployment are the main reasons for abandoning villages, whether in Spain or in Switzerland. To prevent its disappearance, Bürchen, a village of 750 inhabitants, located in the Swiss Alps, decided to seek a strategy for its economic recovery. To this end, in 2013, the City Council launched an international competition that sought to select an economical conversion strategy which would allow the winter ski tourism could be completed with a summer offer, based on nature tourism. Fernando Menis got the assignment after beating Diller & Scofidio + Renfro from New York and Coop Himmelblau from Austria, with his entry entitled "Bürchen Mystik". It proposed an infrastructure made of a hotel that looks like a forest, because it is fully integrated into the landscape and which the architect calls it "the inhabited forest", a market built in the historic barns, the temple of water and meditation and a public plaza linking the two parts of the village.
Traditionally, Bürchen's economy was based on something that is currently banned - the construction of second homes - made with wood, processed at the local sawmill. For the sawmill, this law change led to a serious crisis. Menis’s design takes this crisis as an opportunity, giving the wood a leading role: the benches in the square become a showcase for the technical possibilities of wood, reinterpreting traditional geometries and the plastic qualities of wood to create a new type of sustainable urban furniture which can be extrapolated to other places. The small square is conceived as a multipurpose space, with benches that work an amphitheatre and its design outcome has been collectively discussed and decided by the village community. The geometry of each bank recalls the steep topography of the place and the lighting saves energy through an interactive game with passersby, lights varying from flashing in winter to soft in summer.
The next stage of the project, currently under development, is the hotel. Its design gives special prominence to the landscape, a brand style of Fernando Menis's work. It reformulates the meadow, gently sloping, facing Mount Bietschjorn, by a continuous plane, green in summer and snow covered in winter. As required by the Swiss democratic tradition, the design process incorporated opinions collected from Bürchen's public bodies and citizens who were all called for discussing the project. New leisure areas, which would increase the tourism potential of the city, were added, according to the inhabitants’ suggestions and without forgetting the history of the village. Thus, although the hotel is a private investment, its design can be judged as "public", since the City Council argued this infrastructure should change the future of the village while keeping its environment harmony. The hotel proposes to create magical rooms that allow stargazing, as well as spaces for reflection and meditation.
Bürchen's plaza was already a finalist at the European Prize for Urban Public Space 2016. This new success shows the merit of a small project, whose virtues do not rely on its square meters but on its resourcefulness and its ability to adapt to the will and needs of a community. The World Architecture Festival, organizer of the WAF Awards, is world’s largest global architectural festival; it is the meeting place of the architecture community and critics of the world. In its 7th edition it will take place at the Arena Berlin, in Germany between 16-18 November 2016 when the winners will be announced. Fernando Menis was already a winner at several editions of the WAF; in 2012, he got the Director's Award and the Award for Old & New category. In this edition he is also a finalist within the Culture category with his recently completed Culture and Congress Centre - CKK Jordanki.
Title: Public Square in Bürchen
Location: Zenhäusern 21, 3935, Bürchen, Switzerland
Cost: 107.970 €
Cost/m2 : 177 €/m2
Built area: 610 m2
Completion date: 11/10/2015
Architect: Fernando Menis
Collaboratos: Zuzana Tomeckova, Luca Spitoni, Beatriz Inglés (bioclimatic architecture), José Antonio Franco – Martínez Segovia y Asociados (structure), Herbert Resch - Zumtobel Group Lightning SE (lighting), Elektro Zenhäusern Leander (electricity), Forstbetrieb Visp und Umgebung; Andrés Pedreño (quantities survey)
Client: Bürchen Town Hall
Construction: Holzbau AG
Finalists WAF 2016, Landscape category: