Architecture, Alps and Attention to sustainability: these are the 3 “A”s of the Constructive Alps project. A contest that awards eco-friendly buildings not only from the environment’s perspective, but also from the social one… is this the new frontier of sustainability?

Panorama sulle Alpi
Alps, Jonas Verstuyft via Unsplash

What is “Constructive Alps”?

Here’s our firts “A”: Architecture. Constructive Alps is literally the International Prize for sustainable constructions and renovations in the Alps. It is announced every two years by Liechtenstein and Switzerland and it’s opened to all countries in the Alpine regions:  Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Italy, Monaco and France. Newly built projects or recently renovated buildings in these countries can take part in the competition.

But in order to understand how this contest works, we first have to ask ourselves why it is called like that. Constructive Alps means Alps that have the potential to build and create something useful. In fact, the contest does not aim at celebrating the most beautiful architectures and neither the most extravagant ones. What the project creators want is to go beyond this idea of architecture and find the one integrated in daily life of the Alps and of the locals living in the mountains.

Mostra Alpi Costruttive, architettura
Itinerant exhibition Constructive Alps 2015, constructivealps.net

Constructive Alps evaluates the projects according to the 4 golden rules of the third “A”, the one of Attention to the environment:

  • Ecology, because building materials should respect the environment (…but this doesn’t merely mean wood) and the overall building should be energy-efficient, as well as accessible with public transportation;
  • Economy, because energy and money-sparing should help architecture integrate in the surroundings;
  • Culture, because local history should be always taken into consideration and the project should represent it in the best way possible;
  • Social dimension, because buildings should not only be symbols for architectural innovation, but also something useful for those who live close to it.

The Alps that construct look for the architecture that is able to deeply understand the landscape where it is located.

Constructive Alps 2017: here’s who stepped on the podium

Mostra Constructive Alps a Bled, in Slovenia
Constructive Alps Exhibition in Bled, Slovenia – photo by Emma Trevisan

For the 2017 edition, the jury awarded 4 different alpine buildings, two of them with a bronze medal. Let’s discover together what does it make them so special to be the winners!

1° Prize: a school complex in Austria

The elementary school and kindergarten in Brand, Austria, won the highest step of the podium thanks to the social importance of this structure. In fact, this is a meeting point for childen, parents and associations, which replaced the older kindergarten of the small town. The building is mainly made out of wood and reflects the typical architectural style of the Voralberg region.

2° Prize: a cheese factory in Austria

Bronze medal for the Kaslab’n cheese factory in Radenthein, Austria. Even this building plays a major social role, especially for farmers and cheese makers living and working in the surrounding area. Thanks to this new meeting point, they have a shared space available, where to transform their milk into delicious cheese and then sell their products. The huge glass walls allow guests of every age to discover how this fascinating process from raw materials to final product works.

Joint 2° Prize, an Austrian supermarket

If the contest’s aim is to value integration on the social level, the MPreis Supermarket, in St. Martin im Tennengau in Austria, has surely got it right. In such a small municipality as St. Martin, a big supermarket of this kind can also be a meeting point for the locals’ everyday life… in fact, they also built a cafeteria on the inside! This wooden beam building shows how even a big chain supermarket can be an interesting and beautiful architectural element.

3° Prize: a social house in Italy

Silver medal for Casa sociale in Caltron, Cles, in the Italian region of Trentino. This “social house” is exclusively made for the community to use it during many different occasions, from Carnival to local festivals. From the Casa Sociale you can admire the spectacular view on the Val di Non and its apple plantations. Spaces are open and welcoming, tables and kitchen are for everyone to use and the whole structure depends on the energy supply of the solar panels on the rooftop.

Sustainability: not just environmental, but also social

Montagna e sociale
Mountain hamlet, photo by Tran Mau Tri Tam via unsplash

The greatest challenge for alpine architecture is the one of collective memory. As big cities keep growing, small mountain towns get emptier. This is exactly why we should really be careful not to forget: collective memory should always be kept alive! Those participating to the Constructive Alps contest always keep in mind that, to build something in the mountains, architectural beauty and innovation aren’t enough. Buildings first need to integrate with centuries of history and changes experienced in that territory, and finally reflect this evolution. This is why we talk of social sustainability!

Whether the building is new, or renovated, the main idea is always the same: it should be an opportunity to improve and enhance the territory and lives of citizens.

Montagna, architettura e sociale
Photo by Badder Manaouch, via unsplash

What can we learn from Constructive Alps? That sustainability does not only mean caring for nature, but also attention for the social role of the environment and the history that this brings along!

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