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Project to adapt abandoned ski resorts in the Alps

Dobrawa Bies
15 of June '21

Can ski resorts be transformed so that they can function even in the face of snowless winters? Is it possible to design a different function? One that will allow the resulting infrastructure to fill in? How to restore urbanized areas to nature? These and many other questions are sought to be answered by Barbara Płonczyńska, a graduate of the Warsaw University of Technology, in her project to revitalize abandoned ski resorts in the Alps.

Theclimate crisis is one of the most serious issues of recent years. Taking up the subject of abandoned ski resorts is an attempt to point to one of the most important courses of action towards sustainable development - the reuse of what seemingly seems unnecessary, useless. Paying attention to ski infrastructure is crucial, as we are dealing with an area that is completely dependent on the climate, which has gradually worked against it since the 1980s," explains Barbara Plonczynska.

Widok szczytu Furggat

In the Alps alone, there are already more than three hundred abandoned ski facilities

© Barbara Plonczynska

forgotten ski resorts

According to the author, the number of areas converted for downhill skiing and abandoned when their operation is no longer profitable will increase with each warmer winter. Currently, in the Alps alone, there are more than three hundred abandoned facilities. Ski lifts, railroad stations, bars, hotels and restaurants without function, in disrepair, not needed by anyone, constitute a whole system whose potential is still undiscovered.

In the Trompia Valley, the old ski lifts near Collio and Maniva Pass are still standing, out of service for twenty years, rusted and twisted like harpoons stuck into the back of a whale. No one dismantles them because it would cost too much. At least they mark the old front line, the great winter retreat. The same at Valsassina or Novezza on Monte Baldo and a hundred other places. Industrial archaeology.

Paolo Rumiz, Legend of the Sailing Mountains, transl. Joanna Malawska, Czarne Publishing House 2016

Koncepcja projektowa

The author proposes turning ski resorts, among others, into a research center

© Barbara Plonczynska

How to design transformations of existing resorts so that they also operate during snowless winters? How to restore urbanized areas to nature? Can architecture bring life back to long-dead places, or should they be allowed to pass away? What is the responsibility of the modern developer, the investor, when he discovers the scale of investments built at great expense and left to nature? These were the questions posed by Barbara Plonczynska in her master's thesis under the supervision of Dr. Justyna Zdunek-Wielgolaska at the Faculty of Architecture of the Warsaw University of Technology (specializing in heritage), proposing the revitalization of selected abandoned buildings in the Alps.

Analiza budynku
górnej stacji kolejki linowej

Analysis of the building of the upper station of the Furggen cable car

© Barbara Płonczyńska

research center at the site of the cable car

The project moves at the intersection of urban strategy, adaptation of historic structures and nature conservation. The diploma was based on an analysis of abandoned resorts in the Italian Alps that have ceased to operate due to lack of snow and melting glaciers. The architect created a catalog of defunct ski facilities. The locations presented in it are a selection from a broader set of abandoned areas. Their common feature is the closure of stations due to climate change.

Rzut kondygnacji +2
centrum badawczego

The railroad station can be transformed into a research center and mountain shelter

© Barbara Plonczynska

The author proposes a detailed solution for the building of the upper station of the Furggen cable car in Italy, part of an urban development concept covering the area of the Breuil-Cervinia village and ski complex. The station has been transformed into a research center and a mountain shelter, acting as an informant on climate change. The facility, covered with lichens, makes it possible to observe their change over the years - the upward shift of alpine vegetation is one of the symptoms that inform about climate change. The site is also planned to design the transformation of abandoned and ending ski resorts.

The architect also proposed transforming the lower station of the La Gran Baita cable car into a cultural and scientific center - a place for conferences, meetings, work space and cultural events. She took into account the use of the existing accommodation as lodging for scientists and others seeking a place to work away from the city.

Schemat adaptacji
ośrodka narciarskiego

diagram of the adaptation of the ski center

© Barbara Plonczynska

mountain settlement

The next element is the concept for Plain Maison, which is an intermediate area between a village and an isolated and hard-to-reach research center. Here the author has transformed the clusters into a settlement modeled on typical mountain settlements - borgats, characteristic of this region of the Alps. It will be a cluster of several houses incorporated into the remains of ski infrastructure, settled in a flexible manner. Self-sufficient, operating in a closed loop. Built of natural materials (hay bales, for example), using existing walls as the base structure. The author's idea is that more similar settlements could be built on the slopes above Cervini, accessible by cable car.

Plan zagospodarowania

On the site, the architect has proposed a research center, a cultural center and a mountain settlement

© Barbara Plonczynska

symptoms of climate change

Abandoned ski resorts - those not in operation at the moment, but also those that will cease their activities in the future - can provide a system for monitoring, analyzing and informing about the phenomena in the alpine environment caused by climate change. Using a variety of locations, they will become a system of Climate Change Symptoms.

The detailed solution is modeled for the other locations. It is formed by three elements: two permanent, consisting in making the site accessible to tourists by leading a didactic path with the installation of the necessary measuring equipment. The second component is the integration into the existing fabric of the mountain shelter - accommodation for tourists as well as scientists. The third component is the adaptation of interiors, the function of which may be variable, and in the future will disappear completely, allowing the substance used to merge with nature.


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