Agricultural economies are increasingly unable to survive as a consequence of environmental problems, intensified competition due to globalisation and changes in agricultural policy. On European scale this leads to drastically changing agricultural land-use on places with bad climate, soil, water and infrastructure conditions. The farming village of Vrin, situated in the Swiss Alps, is an example of such a place. Its mountainous landscape makes industrialising agriculture not cost effective and since there is no basis for tourism as in surrounding Alpine villages like Vals, Vrin has to question its right to exist.
ETH Studio Basel concluded in 2005 therefore that no longer farming, but subsidy of urban areas finance the infrastructure that makes Alpine living possible. They advocate for cutting investment in the shrinking zones and change them into “Alpine fallow lands”. The spatial expression of this process of metropolisation of the landscape, is a polarised regional development where landscape is becoming a resource adapted to the interests and values of an urban population. As a result, country life is increasingly detached from its connection with nature, resulting in qualifications as consumption- and production-landscape.
In my project I started looking for a reciprocal relationship between city and country, between consumption and production, and ultimately between man and nature, where visitors not only consume a landscape but also add value to it. By letting visitors participate in the production of a typical local product, Bergkäse, tourism and industry enrich each other, and dairy production is made profitable again for local farmers. Cows can be milked again at the Alpine meadows and mountainous fields can be maintained by deploying the labour of visitors.
In order to achieve this, I am proposing three interventions. First is the transformation of the vacant traditional ‘strickbau’ stables, in previous times used for hay storage and threshing, into hotel rooms for a ‘Dorfhotel’. Secondly, the already existing modern stables are transformed from suckler cattle husbandry to dairy farms, and will be extended after scaling up the cheese production.
Finally, a cheese factory is introduced on the edge of the village, connected to the existing community centre and vacant primary school. Here visitors and the local population are making cheese together. The atmosphere of the factory is characterised by abstinence and freeing from everyday distractions. Therefore, the design of the factory is derived from a monastery. The monastery provided the first instance of time management and is simply an extrusion of the ritual activities taken place within, which we encountered later in the Taylorist factory. By exploiting the fundamental rule of the Benedictine monastery, Ora et Labora, pray and work, the cheese factory becomes a place both for contemplation as production and seeks to restore a lost relation between man and nature.