Sensitive Presence

architect Gasparin & Meier Architekten
project Bathing Facility at Lake Aichwaldsee, Latsschach, carinthia, Austria
written by Vera Grimmer

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The tourism developed around the mountain lakes in Carinthia is an important part of the Austrian tourist offer. Lake Wörthersee, popular and rich in tradition, as well as the smaller lakes situated closer to the mountains; Lake Ossiacher, Lake Klopeiner, Lake Faaker and Lake Millstätter, can be visited throughout the year. They offer diverse programmes – from wellness and sport, regional cuisine, folklore performances, knight games to respectable festivals, such as the festival Carinthischer Sommer, held in the monastery on Lake Ossiach. The tourism industry of the area requires massive construction, so the coast of these idyllic mountain lakes is rather urbanised.


Lake Aichwaldsee, however, is an exception; it is surrounded only by meadows and woods, with the Karawanks in the background. There was only one picturesque wooden swimming facility on location, but it had become so decayed that it had to be replaced. The municipality thus organized an invited competition which was won by Sonja Gasparin and Beny Meier, whose atelier was located in the nearby Villach. These perceptive and responsible architects were the right choice for this task which was not easy in terms of context and construction. The whole process of their design was aimed at the preservation of unique natural environment, and the possibility of seeing the new swimming facility from every viewpoint.


Their idea can be recognized already in the selection of materials and the method of construction. Larch wood requires no treatment, but turns grey with time, which will support the effect of the disappearing of the object in the environment. The building was lifted from the ground, allowing the ground to advance freely under the building. As in stilt houses, the building is raised on piles above which there is a grid structure, and the structural pattern of pillars of 2,5 m x 5 m forms frames for rooms covered by larch panels. Four pillars carry one roof element which is screwed to the other elements, so the roof structure resembles a board. The lowermost layer of roof elements, as well as the floor board, consists of plywood elements which have been glued five times.


The effect of lightness has been achieved by glass slots under the roof surface, which emphasize the pavilion characteristics of the building. The disposition of the plan and the functions follow the idea of an uninterrupted view of the lake from every angle, even from the access road. There are two functional complexes (an area for visitors with an open fireplace and a buffet, and the other part with sanitary facilities and lifeguard area), which are separated by a wide, open and covered area, which supports the idea of fluidity of the pavilion, but also functions as an area for a protected stay in the open.


The pavilion is not intended only for swimmers; it can also be used in winter; all installations have been furnished with heated pipes, and the rooms have temperature indicators. Maximum heating is not provided so that the experience during winter is similar to the conditions in the natural environment. The specific method and technology of construction are encouraged by abstract ideas which make the pavilion much more than just a completed task. One cannot do without the other; every single detail contributes to the glory of the whole.