Silent transformations : study on alpine architecture

Patrick Giromini, architect Dr. EPFL, defended Ph.D (2021)

This thesis addresses the question of abandonment in architecture, not in its negative sense of desertion, but as a possibility offered to buildings which have lost their original purpose, which is to say those buildings from social and economic contexts which no longer exist. In particular, this study focusses on rural Alpine architecture, which has been considered in light of the findings of a case study on the Hérens valley in Valais.

Although scholarship exists on abandonment, it has not yet been the subject of a specific investigation and is often used as a simple heuristic tool to read the phenomena which characterise mountainous regions.
The objective is to understand rural architecture of the Alpine region and to guide future interventions on this area of research. This is accomplished by putting aside rhetorical readings, especially those which apply a notion of the vernacular without analysing the real scope of this term and its relevance when it is used in the description of the context which is treated here.

A bipartite methodology corresponds to the two parts of this thesis, which were produced in parallel throughout the research process. On one side, a series of key words that are habitually associated with rural architecture are analysed. Existing discourses are deconstructed, with the aim of reconstructing a new discourse that is capable of taking specificity into account on many levels, notably in relation to architectural plans. On the other side, there is fieldwork and the survey of the chosen locale, the Hérens valley, in order to test the formulated hypotheses, and to bring them to life through drafting tools.

This has made it possible to invent an interpretative grid and a novel operating tool, which, relying on the analysis and knowledge of the original reasons for rural architecture in the Alpine region, will guide future interventions. As such, abandonment becomes a place of materialisation in the construction of the Alpine territory, giving it a horizon of meaning, which is to say that it is a limit case which directs and retains.