The idyllic landscape of the Vals Valley, home to just a thousand local residents, located in the Grisons canton, the largest of the 26 into which Switzerland is divided, has barely altered over the course of the past 700 years, when the town’s very first stone houses were built. If the plans put forward by Remo Stoffel, the owner of the local health spa resort, which accounts for the main economic activity of the area, are given the go ahead, however, it will change forever. And significantly at that.
Stoffel is looking to erect Europe’s tallest building in this green and rugged alpine valley – a 381-metre-high tower with a net internal area of 53,000 square metres housing a hotel that would, in turn, become the tallest in the world.
The building, known as the ‘Femme de Vals’ (Woman of Vals), would be the same height as the Empire State Building, the famous New York skyscraper that, for decades, was the tallest man-made structure in the world, before being substantially surpassed by a number of towering buildings built in cities like Dubai, Shanghai and Mecca.
As part of the complex which features Peter Zumthor’s emblematic underground rock Vals thermal baths construction, plans include the addition of a slender 381-metre-high mirror and glass tower designed by Pritzker Prize-winning American architect Thom Mayne. Reflecting the surrounding mountainous Grisons landscape, and with panoramic views of the Swiss Alps, the 53,000-square-metre hotel consists of three main elements: a podium that links the building with the adjacent spaces; a cantilever housing a restaurant, cafe, spa, bar and ballroom; and the skyscraper that includes 107 rooms and suites. A minimalist building that seeks, with its glass structure, to merge seamlessly into its environment, with the reflections of the mountains and clouds in the tower softening its impact on the landscape.
The environmental groups and the majority of the local population are yet to be convinced of the project’s merits, however, with the power of the final say through a local referendum – a method of consultation often used in Swiss politics, as well as by the cantonal government – and permission being granted for the tower’s construction is by no means guaranteed. The decision whether the Vals landscape should remain that of the last 700 years or whether it will feature the long shadow of a steel and glass skyscraper cast along it each day is, therefore, down to the ballot boxes.