Defying Gravity

What is gravity? We may think we know it, but some, like Werver Tscholl, like to test those conventions. The Pass Museum in the Timmelsjoch, a high mountain pass between Austria and Italy, sits precariously on a ridge. This solid facade of the museum seems to be a rock on the verge of falling but caught in permanent suspension.

The drama of the architecture echos the gravity defying heights of the mountains surrounding it. The monolithic material covers the faceted The tone of the facade ties back into the landscape and supports the interpretation of this being  a ‘erratic boulder’. The form that is open on both ends. To look through the window inside creates the thrill of standing on a ledge.

The interior of this sculptural addition to the mountain pass is also multi-faceted. The walls have been pushing into the space for indirect lighting behind the images. The space feels like a cave with a light at the end that draws you forward. The extreme reluctance of the walls seems to distract from that. It also belittles the drama of the central chandelier, a geometric form that glows. It may only be able to show its dramatic purpose on cloudy days or at night.

Would this building be as thrilling if we knew the structure? The section reveals that a little more than half the building is cantilevered. This may seem reasonable, like a teeter totter, but in building structure the typical rule of thumb is 1/3. That is, two-thirds of a building should be structured and be able to cantilever one-third of that building. But seemingly simple moves, like the second brace beneath the floor of the cantilever make up for the ratio difference. It may also tie into our tendency to play-it-safe and not test the true boundaries of materials because we fear the failure of a building. Perhaps seeing buildings like this last the test of time, other architects may be more bold in their testing of structure in such gravity-defying ways.


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