Staying in Zumthor's Swiss Wooden Cabin


45 points | by abhv 377 days ago


  • snickmy 375 days ago
    For the architect / construction engineers out there.

    I'm always a bit concerned where I see those wood projects I really wonder about two aspects:

    1- thermal conductivity. How well isolated can they be when you have full beams of wood with one side outside and one inside.

    2- durability. I really appreciate wood for SOOO many properties, but what is really the realistic durability of woods? from an ecstatic standpoint, from a maintance standpoint (do I need to regularly treat it), and from a functional standpoint (what happen with heavy duty use)?

    Would love some inform opinion

    • whyenot 375 days ago
      Wood structures in Switzerland can last an extremely long time. My relatives own a farm in the Bernese Oberland and the main farmhouse/barn is made almost entirely from wood and is at least 300 years old. There is a neighbor's farm house that has wooden beams in it that, after some investigation, the owner thinks are more than 500 years old. Another family member owns a wooden home (near Mammern) that is about 150 years old.
    • brudgers 375 days ago
      1. In the winter trees don’t freeze solid, and firewood burn rate has an inverse relationship to log diameter.

      2. Wood durability (species and quality being equal) depends on cyclical moisture exposure. Submerged timber can remain intact for centuries. In the rain forest the same wood might rot in a few decades.

      From a construction standpoint, the glass in the house would dominate the conductive heat losses of the wall assembly.

      From a maintenance standpoint, one piece of old wood is fungible with a new piece and two 2x4’s properly nailed together are stronger than a single 4x4…that’s why light frame construction uses double top plates, jack studs, etc.

      Aesthetically the potential for patina is a reason an architect might choose wood finishes.

    • abhv 375 days ago
      1-- First snow of the season occurred our first night. My memory is that the walls never felt cold. We started a fire using that granite cylinder fireplace. You pack it with about 12 logs, light it and then shut the door tightly. It burns the wood efficiently over several hours and then continues to radiate ten+ hours of heat into the house. Overall: very comfortable.

      I think the beams were 6" of solid wood.

      2-- Alpine woods are incredible. The table top in that picture was unfinished. The instructions of the house say that if you spill something, you just wipe it off with a damp rag.

      I was terrified of eating fondue or jam-and-bread with my kids there, thinking we would mess up his table. Fact is: we did have spaghetti and spilled sauce, and the damp rag treatment didn't leave any stains.

      Zumthor also seems to have a big family and there is evidence his grandchildren operate like normal kids in that place.

      My son gave me a wooden box carved from alpine wood, and the maker intentionally kept it unfinished. The maker told me that the oils in the alpine wood provide a natural protection; +1 yr later and that box sits in our kitchen holding salt. It has developed a natural patina despite lots of mid-sautee grabs, opens, and pinches.

      TLDR: like cedar, ipe, and other special woods, I think the wood used to build this house will last a long time in that natural environment.

      • snickmy 375 days ago
        Fascinating. thank you for sharing
    • johnofthesea 375 days ago
      1- Those beams under the roof on the picture are not part of the interior. There is probably some insulation between construction and outside cladding. There is also some in-between construction.

      2- If outside is painted it needs to be repainted at some point. There are also untreated facades or facades treated with fire [0]. Untreated wooden facade must have air gap behind to prevent rot. In case of untreated wood - color and shape is not stable. But in case of facade this is not issue. Structural elements and window/door frames should be treated though.

      [0]: ie:

    • 13of40 375 days ago
      For the first question, not a perfect answer, but my family owns a log cabin in the Pacific Northwest, and the logs retain heat. Go there any time of the year when nobody's been around for a while and it's like stepping into a refrigerator, but if you light a fire and keep it burning all day, the walls heat up and it gets liveable inside. It's a bit of a downer if you just stop by for lunch, but it's great for a 4-day weekend.
  • ggambetta 375 days ago
    Peter Zumthor is one of my favorite architects <3 Therme Vals is just spectacular [0]. Zumthor is all about plain surfaces and 90 degree angles (maybe he used the Wolfenstein 3D editor to make his plans?) but somehow Therme Vals feels like being in an underwater cavern.

    I don't know if I'd live in a house designed by him (although the author of this article seemed to love it). Might be too minimalistic -- thinking of the Kunsthaus in Bregenz for example. Of course this cabin is made of wood, not concrete. But in terms of a house that feels like a home, I'd go with Alvar Aalto; his designs ooze cozyness in a way that Zumthor's don't, and for a famous architect, they feel surprisingly pragmatic and sensible :)


    • CaptainZapp 375 days ago
      The problem with the Felsentherme is that it was sold off to an investor, who intentionally wanted to make it exclusively available to well heeled hotel guests.

      While you can still visit it as a non-guest you need to reserve in advance and prices are 60 francs (~60$) on Monday / Tuesday and 80 francs on other days.

      Even though Switzerland is an expensive country such prices for a spa visit without any extras are beyond the outrageous.

      • lobochrome 375 days ago
        In Switzerland everything is expensive, but it is still worth it even at 60 francs.

        The poster has a point, though, in that after the sale the vibe changed. The connected hotel used to be reasonably priced for their smaller cabins/rooms to stay the night after a soak in the Therme. Now the entire Hotel is focused on Chinese/middle-eastern wealth clients. They even have (or at least used to last time I checked ~2019) free helicopter pickup within Switzerland if you stay there (as if heli traffic in the valleys wasn't annoying enough already).

        I used to go there after hiking in the mountains for a couple of days, and it was a fantastic cap to a short excursion into nature, spent without showers in mountain huts. It's just not possible anymore - and apparently not desired by the new owner.

      • abhv 375 days ago
        -- Indeed, we didn't want to support that hotel, which is why we stayed in Leis. I'll add that to my post.

        -- Like everything in Switzerland, it was easy to reserve spots online. I think we went on a Monday. Therme Vals is a well-designed space, and the spa experience includes ~18 different zones and temperatures. Some of them are gimmicks, but nonetheless delightful play of space, sound, temperature and texture (stone).

        Our family isn't into the pampering-spa experience, but I think all of my children can still describe that place 1yr after---worth it for me.

      • ggambetta 375 days ago
        Hmmm just checked Hürlimann Spa in Zürich and the day pass is CHF 39, so CHF 60 for Therme Vals doesn't look outrageous at all?

        Are we even talking about the same complex? Felsentherme is in Austria, apparently?

    • abhv 375 days ago
      We also visited Therme Vals; that was the point of our trip. While I love the majesty of stone Vals, which have these huge stone slabs that hang above your head with small gaps, his houses in Leis are the human-scale version of his emotional approach to space.
  • cinntaile 375 days ago
    Pricey for a wooden cabin... 3100 CHF ~ 3100 euro for a week during low season for the 2 cheapest cabins.
    • abhv 375 days ago
      low season, long weekend, 1850chf.

      We are a family of 5, and in Switzerland, that means 2 hotel rooms x 3 nights. Staying in Zumthor's cabin is certainly a splurge, but marginal utility of staying in a special place well exceeds marginal costs.

      Also, if you are irrationally nostalgic like me, the renting experience felt like how airbnb felt in 2011...before all the bad experiences which have swamped it in the last 5yrs

  • huhtenberg 375 days ago
    In related news, the Villa Vals featured on Netflix Most Extraordinary Homes series (with a hobbit-like circular facade, dug into the steep slope with an access tunnel) is also available for rent

    Also remote as heck, rented for several days at a time and with pretty much nothing to do there, but eat. Fantastic build though.

  • galfarragem 375 days ago
    Architect here.

    An analogy: staying in an (artist) architect house is like having a meal in a Michelin restaurant.

    • abhv 375 days ago
      +1 even more so, because I could see the small flaws and gaps that Zumthor may tolerate in a personal dwelling, but may not fly in large-scale projects.

      Lesson for me: perfection isn't necessary for the experiences I want from exceptional architecture.

    • googlryas 375 days ago
      Wouldn't it be more like Thomas Keller cooking you whatever he is having on a random Thursday night? Executed with style, but not overbearingly perfect like one might expect from a 3 Michelin star restaurant.
  • dpatru 375 days ago
    The cabin’s webpage is here:

    It shows the floor plan.

  • michaelbenjamin 375 days ago
    beautiful pictures! sounds isolated but that's part of the appeal I guess. interesting that it isn't better known given how famous Zumthor is, thanks for your post!
  • zkdev 377 days ago
    What is there to do in a small Swiss village with no shops?
    • abhv 377 days ago
      Hiking, skiing, exploring. Some people still raise goats, sheep, animals in the high mountain country. They make exquisite local cheese from the milk.
    • lajosbacs 375 days ago
      No shops is a feature.
    • lm28469 375 days ago
      Your version of hell is my version of paradise.
  • cassepipe 375 days ago
    I am disappointed there's no mention of energy management/insulation. Seems even more relevant for a high altitude cabin, living far away from civilization. What's its impact on its environment? For the price of the stay for a week, I would expect something clever on that aspect of the building.
    • ThePadawan 375 days ago
      It might not seem like that to the author.

      This cabin is at ~1500 meters of altitude, in a village with a road and several other buildings. For rural Switzerland, that's not living far away from civilization - that's just living in civilization. I would even assume you get normal postal service like every other place in Switzerland not separated from the outside world by cable car.

      I'm sure it's worth investigating about the architecture of e.g. the huts of the Swiss Alpine Club [0]. These are up there in the ~3000 meters range, only accessible by multi-hour hikes and only seasonally maintained. German-language Wikipedia has a great lot of information and pictures [1].



      • abhv 375 days ago
        I totally agree with you. The hutli experience is also very special for different reasons.
    • galfarragem 375 days ago
      It's a wood plancks cabin with rockwool insulation in the middle of the wall. I believe central heating works via wood burn.