Growing old beautifully 2

Some projects are on the Bucket list of all architecture and design fans, and the Therme Vals by Peter Zumthor from 1996 is one of them. Rather than just having a quick ‘taste’ of the room, as is the case with iconic office buildings, schools and houses, in the Therme Vals, you as participant experience the building physically as it was meant. It’s high time to take a look at the building after 22 years, while also looking at the renovation of the 7132 Hotel – the House of Architects – with rooms decorated by Tadao Ando, Kengo Kuma, Thom Mayne from Morphosis, which designed the entrance and lobby, and Peter Zumthor.

Let’s first have a look how the Therme looks after 22 years of splashes of mineral water. It should be noted that the chosen materials – quartzite, concrete and copper – only become more beautiful over time. The calcification on the walls creates a beautiful natural patina. The concrete walls in the rain showers are decorated with stains and stripes that remind of natural stone. The wall fountains in the hallways create beautiful, rust-coloured patterns on the concrete wall and floor, which are consciously left alone and not cleaned, as well as the calcification on the fountain itself that looks like salt crystals.

Vals Quartzite, another material used in the construction of the Therme, is a 50 million year old orthogneiss (type of rock formed by high-grade regional metamorphic processes from pre-existing formations that were originally magmatic rock). The material is extremely strong, compact and frost-proof. Vals Quartzite owes its unique colour and pattern to the ancient formation of the Alps and is a mixture of quartz and feldspar crystals. In the Therme, this material is used everywhere: floors, walls, outer walls, the baths themselves… It appears you’re in a cave – albeit a neatly carved one – and thanks to the growing patina and filled cracks, this illusion only grows stronger.

Then the renovated hotel. Material was definitely the inspiration for the rooms. Four of the new guest suites have been designed by Morphosis, which can be divided into wood– and stone-themed rooms. The ‘wood’ rooms are decorated with oak panels, which come from trees harvested form the nearby Graubünden forests. The two stone rooms feature locally quarried quartzite, the same material as used in the Therme. Ando also designed a room featuring wood, as a homage to Japanese teahouses. The room designed by Kuma, described as an ‘oak cocoon’, utilises wood as well, inspired by Japanese carpentry. The room by Zumthor features walls and a ceiling finished with dark Stucco lustro, a plasterwork technique that dates back to the Italian Renaissance.

Unfortunately, the rooms are stand-alone items that have little to do with the rest of the hotel, including the lobby and restaurant. They are beautiful and luxurious when it comes to materialisation, but they miss the minimalist, timeless, artisan pureness that the Therme and especially the landscape exude.

The plans of Thom Mayne of Morphosis to build a 381-metre-tall mirrored hotel tower in Vals are currently on-hold, because of the rights and protection of mineral springs that are beneath the building location. But the plan is not off the table yet. In a location of 1,000 inhabitants, 1,000 sheep and 1,000 tourists, we hope the mineral springs will prevail.

Photos: Therme Vals / 7132 Hotel / Els Zijlstra