Entwurf Herbstsemester 2013

Davos – City of the Alps

As the officially highest city of the Alps, Davos is historically and etymologically characterized by an existential dichotomy between city and landscape. This is exemplarily reflected in place names such as Davos Square, Davos Village or Landscape Davos.

Even if the urban character of Davos in not negatable, it is hard to grasp: During four days of the year, Davos serves as the center of the global economy; during four months it represents the regional hotspot for winter sports tourism. For the rest of the year, Davos struggles against its fall into oblivion throughout the off-season. In this context, and accelerated through new political provisions, the question about Davos’ future development in the transition between city and landscape arises.

The Semester in Davos is part of the design series Process Carthograpy, which addresses design scenarios for medium size inner-alpine cities in the context of spatial, societal and economic concerns.


Medium-sized Alpine Towns

The medium-sized Alpine town is a urban type, with its specific functional and spatial peculiarities. It does not rely on tourism and the presence of snow; it has a population between 20,000 and 50,000 inhabitants; it occupies the bottom of a glacial valley and sits at an altitude between 200 and 800 meters above sea level. There are many examples: in Italy Aosta (population 35.000, altitude 600 masl), in Switzerland Bellinzona (p. 18.000, a. 250), in Austria Lienz (p. 12.000, a. 700), in France Gap (p. 41.000, a. 735), in Slovenia Kranj (p. 37.000, a. 400), in Germany Garmisch-Partenkirchen (p. 26.000, a. 708).

What do medium-sized Alpine towns have in common? Firstly, they all sit on or near a river (or sometimes a lake), implying the presence of a bridge; engineering works – bridges, embankments, tunnels, and dams – play important roles. Secondly, the constant presence of military praesidia and barracks; these are often empty and their eventual conversion shall have to confront the fact that most medium-sized Alpine towns have a declining population. Thirdly, the presence of a municipal market square, with a fountain and porticoes.

Compared to the metropolitan areas forming a galaxy around the Alps, medium-sized Alpine towns present a contrast. Typically, the functions of medium-sized Alpine towns range from health to culture, from education to recreation, from transport to craft, from water to energy management, from year-round tourism to periodical conventions.

Most towns also offer mementos of pre-tourism days, when the Alps were exploited as a mining and quarrying area: granite, basalt, gneiss, sand, lime, iron, and even gold. Some old industrial areas survive, some have been submerged by the advance of nature, and some have become tourist attractions. One could say that medium-sized Alpine towns convey the melancholy of the in-between; they compete, on opposite fronts, against a handful of multi-purpose Alpine towns (Bolzano, Innsbruck, Grenoble, Luzern, Villach) and against a myriad of picturesque villages dependent on tourism.