To start with, the best thing about this project is the passion behind it. “arlberg1800” is more than an art hall. It’s more than a concert hall. It’s a bold venture, driven by love and passion. It’s both, a noble attempt and a declaration of belief, opinion, motive, and intention. It’s Tirol with a cosmopolitan outlook.
Some winter resorts close down almost entirely during off-season; it’s the quiet season with some construction going on, but basically it’s all about preparing for next winter. St. Christoph am Arlberg, situated on top of the pass between the Austrian provinces Tirol and Vorarlberg, could be just one of those sleepy winter resorts during the warmer months. Arlberg Area attracts more than a million visitors every year, but only few visit during low season, before the first snowfall heralds another loud and noisy winter season.
Well into the 1960ies, Arlberg Area was a romanticised summer destination. Only then, winter tourism began in earnest and the area started to market itself as the ‘Birthplace of Alpine Skiing’. “Today we need to break this ‘linking’, says Florian Werner, owner of the Five Star Hospiz Hotel. As far as historic Alpine hotels go, few are more storied than the 600-year-old Arlberg Hospiz Hotel. Its humble origins date back to 1386, when a local farmer built a life-saving refuge for travellers crossing the perilous Arlberg massif. Each owner has put its unique stamp on the medieval lodging property, and for the past three generations that custodian has been the Werner family – who are now taking this legendary retreat into its next, and perhaps most exciting, chapter: Florian Werner was determined to build an art and concert hall in this picture-perfect smattering of traditional hotels and inns in a snow-choked location at an elevation of 1,765 meters.
Art as reaction to a gut feeling that has been suppressed for a long time? Florian Werner, a talented painter himself, is responsible for the newly established place of artistic encounter. In building the “arlberg1800”, Florian Werner continues the art-patronage tradition and artist-in-residence programme that he and the hotel have hosted since 2008. The exhibitions at the hotel were curated by Vienna-based section.a agency; however, they had to acknowledge that the works of art on display did interfere some relaxation-seeking hotel guests. But that’s a story of the past. By the end of November 2015, the new €26m cultural center was unveiled. Sitting at 1,800 meters above sea level it is being billed as the highest-altitude art and concert hall in the Alps. Not surprisingly, the mighty and laudable effort exerted by Florian Werner was repeatedly compared to that of “Fitzcarraldo” in the course of the opening phase. “Fitzcarraldo” is a Werner Herzog directed surreal adventure-drama film, where Klaus Kinski as the title character, a lover of opera, dreams of building an opera house in the Amazon rainforest. A madman’s dream that became true!
The building itself is an exhilarating visual treat and an artwork in its own right. Measuring 250 square meters, the new 213-capacity concert hall is all curved lines with oak panelled walls, united under a huge cantilevered roof that extends onto the forecourt. Designed as a contrast to the traditional buildings of St. Christoph, the sculptural form intends to infuse the place with a contemporary architectural image. Architect Jürgen Kitzmüller designed the curved complex as “a seamless integration of architecture and arts. To me, art is soft, smooth and sensual. In addition, getting around is intuitive with these curves, so the building can do without signs.”
Both, the concert hall and the adjacent exhibition space that is eight meters in height, dubbed ‘cathedral of arts’ by the architect, are located underground with windows sitting above grade. Skiers passing by the sidewalk can peek inside to get a glimpse of the exhibitions on display and of the Steinway piano. The building is something of an architectural iceberg, as Kitzmüller buried the majority of the “arlberg1800” beneath the surface. In the winter, it is as well buried beneath up to four meters of snow.