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Vals stone

Decoration and DIY
  • 16 May 2011

Where does it come from, the stone that the well-known Australian designer Marc Newson used in the realization of the First Lounges of the Australian state airline Qantas in Sydney and Melbourne and which, according to the authoritative Archdaily.com : “set an international benchmark in lounge design with the highest levels of comfort, service and luxury”?

Qantas Departure Lounge

From every point of view, it is hard to imagine a greater distance between the most futuristic luxury waiting rooms created in the youngest of continents by a company working in a sector which did not even exist a century ago and the rural Swiss village of Vals in the canton of Graubünden with 1,047 inhabitants.

And it was at Vals that we met last January, looking for inspiration and new materials as part of the ceaseless process to improve and develop the Novoceram range.

Pleasantly surprised by the surrounding context: here the atmosphere of first class lounge and Alpine farm, the personal care typical of a slightly new age health centre and milk straight from the cow, traditional architecture and avant-garde design live side by side in peaceful harmony and are the very essence of the village of Vals which has managed successfully to bring out the best of the two precious resources which make it stand out from the hundreds of other villages dotted among the Alpine valleys: water and stone.

Elements wonderfully condensed by Peter Zumthor in the Vals Spa. It would be simplistic to reduce Zumthor’s architectural choices to such concepts as “modern”, “futuristic” or “design” (a term which has now become a synonym for anything). The construction goes beyond the very concept of building to resemble rather a natural place, a part of nature brought to the surface by eliminating the superfluous all around, a system of caves where you can find an archaic contact with the fundamental elements of nature – not only water and stone, but also light and sound.

Vals Spa

Vals stone is the only material used in the interior and exterior of the building, making a decisive contribution to the emotions it arouses. From a mineralogical point of view, it is a “compact fine-grained micaceous schistose quartzite with thick bands, consisting of slightly bluish green layers, in part rich with augite and mica, alternating with layers of light green to white quartz”.

It is, however, hard to explain the fascination it arouses in the observer. With its dense network of white quartz veins on a cold grey-blue background with golden metallic lights it seems like the very muscle tissue of the mountain. In some slabs, the veining is twisted, evidence of the geological movements that have lifted up these mountains. And it is surprising the effect it has even on those who have never seen Zumther’s spa building and are not therefore conditioned by association of the material with the building, almost as though the material conserved some ancestral memory bound with a double thread to our own evolution.

Vals Spa inside

Opened in 1996 and declared a national monument just two years later, the new spa quickly became a reference point for style and brought architects and designers from all over the world to Vals.

Since then, two equally remarkable phenomena have occurred – on one hand, the village of Vals has become a sort of centre for experimentation in modern architecture in harmony with nature and tradition, with works such as the Villa Vals, a house entirely excavated in the mountain with access through an old barn, or the Dorfbrücke, the new stone bridge.

Villa Vals

Villa Vals inside

Two images of Villa Vals

Dorfbrücke

Dorfbrücke

Two evocative images of the Dorfbrücke

On the other, Vals stone has become a favourite material for major public works and refined private houses, particularly in projects where the modernity of the architecture must harmonise with nature and its fundamental elements, or be linked to them.

Bundesplatz in Bern

Two images of the Bundesplatz in Bern, restructured in 2004 using more than 2,200 sq m of Vals stone in 100×60 cm slabs

Novoceram, French tile manufacturer since 1863, has been fascinated too by the look of this stone and has decided to turn its spirit into Through Colour Porcelain, developing a ceramic tiles collection inspired by its spirit: Cast.

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