Successful Reanimation

architects Miller & Maranta
project Reconstruction and extension of St. Gotthard Old Hospice, Gotthard Pass, Switzerland
written by Jürgen Tietz

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This house is like the mountain: high up on the Gotthard Pass, the roof of the old boarding house juts up on one side and slopes down steeply on the other. Dormer windows protrude from the leaden grey slope of the roof like lumps of rock. The Altes Hospiz building is slightly displaced from the small ensemble on the saddle, as if merely playing a supporting role next to the Alte Sust building, once used for the loading of goods and now serving as the museum and hotel of St. Gotthard. But it is in fact the historic core of the complex. The task of making it rise to its historical sig­nificance was undertaken by the architects Quintus Miller and Paola Maranta from Basel, who reconstructed and extended the Altes Hospiz building for their customer, Fondazione Pro San Gottardo.


Outside, a small bell tower is the only reminder that it used to be a chapel dedicated to St. Gotthard, da­ting from the pre-Romanesque period. The simple stone building with an apse gave a special distinction to this crossroads between north and south. It had its good and bad years, constantly changing, being expanded and neglected, alte­red and reconstructed. Since 1623, the small chapel has been joined by Altes Hospiz, a boarding house. In the 18th century, both buildings were destroyed by an avalanche, and then rebuilt. In 1905, the two-part building was consumed by a fire. The reconstruction extended the old chapel and restructured the interior of the boarding house. Yet the character of the two-part house was still recognizable.


With their current adaptation into a hotel, Miller & Maranta visually connected the chapel and the boarding house under the same tall roof. They also added one floor to the building’s structure, reinforcing its internal monumentality in the magnificent alpine panorama. A thin line, invisible at first glance, separates the historic mortar from the new mortar; the old and the new are combined naturally, as if the building was built that way. Maybe it really was waiting for Miller & Maranta, who walk the differentiated path between conservation and change with their intervention. This path is similar to mountain hiking: every step must be taken with care to avoid falling into architectural banality.


The visitor is unobtrusively shown the different segments of time that accumulated through a number of past renovations. They are combined into a meaningful whole: old wooden doors, stone stairs, as well as the joined arched windows on the first floor that originate from a reconstruction phase after 1905, giving character to the south façade. Behind them, there is a spacious room –  the Stube, a common room with an old fireplace, a new dark lime mortar, and a new kitchen next to it. Washing dishes in the black concrete sink is a genuine pleasure because of the breathtaking view. In general, the interior is dominated by the new: Miller & Maranta gave a prefabricated inner life of timber to the old stone building. The timber structures, made with precise craftsmanship, are enchanting. The architects take us back to the tradition of timber building, applied in the canton of Uri from the 15th century.


All that remains of the first floor is the old stone façade, including a few historic windows with metal fittings. As a result of demolitions, radical changes and innovations, Alten Hospiz has 14 new and comfortable guest rooms, fragrant with the smell of fresh timber, and beautiful in an archaic and simple way. Two chairs, a simple wooden chest of drawers, a sleeping niche, an impressive mountain panorama. Guest-room bathrooms have a dark glistening pearly varnish to protect them from moisture. The crown of the house is a double-height space directly beneath the roof with a large window and a clear view of the mountains.


The architecture of Miller & Maranta displays the traditional Swiss attitude: modern architecture is not seen as opposed to tradition, but as its continuation in accordance with the spirit of the times. This is expressed, for example, in the high-quality craftsmanship of the beautiful iron handrails, the wall lights reflecting the alpine character, and the new lead roof – grey, heavy, perforated by dormer windows – sitting on the house. The intervention of Miller & Maranta has managed to intensify the existing character of the Altes Hospiz building, recovering its original importance on that location.