The Evolution of Architecture in the French Alps
Unless they have been purpose built, French ski resorts have their roots in farming and agriculture. Large wooden barns which used to house food and animals dominated the mountain side, and small stone houses huddled together to protect from the cold made up the central village. Influences from nearby Switzerland saw the introduction of the chocolate-box style chalets that have become synonymous with skiing, and the style of architecture remained unchanged for many years. Over time, as alpine skiing became commonplace and materials and technology improved, we began to see changes in the types of buildings we saw in these mountain towns.
17th & 18th Century
The foundations of what we now know to be chalets were the traditional farm houses of the agricultural communities of the mountains.
The popularity of hot springs as rejuvenating and relaxing havens in the cold winters mean construction of thermal spas around the mountains were ubiquitous.
Start of 20th Century
The introduction of alpine skiing was the beginning of major transformation in the architecture of the mountains. The 1920’s saw large farming villages into ski resorts, the development of gondola’s and various ski lifts, and ski chalets were created taking inspiration from the traditional Tirolean and Savoyard farmhouses.
After WW2, architects such as Denis Pradelle (of Courchevel fame) designed functional, modern homes which rejected the traditional style of mountain architecture.
Purpose built ski resorts such as Avoriaz, Flaine and Les Arcs 1850 were developed following the rapid expansion of the French ski industry to meet the demand for beds.
Following an economic crisis in 1976, a smaller number of people were able to afford the more ‘glamorous’ ski homes. Newly constructed buildings were designed to be more affordable ensuring visitors even in times which were not so prosperous.
Courchevel encourages owners to extend their original ski cottages by adding further levels for more space, which starts a general trend across mountains resorts of the alps.
In trying to make sure that the ski resorts live up to the ‘winter wonderland’ ideal that tourists might have, there is a trend towards ‘Disneyland-like’ resort centres which include traditional Swiss-style architecture, car-free centres and Christmas trees lit up by bright lights.
The rise of the modern ski home is upon us. Where ski resorts used to be places of conformity and tradition, there has been a move towards contemporary builds which provide a futuristic vision in places that in many ways can be quite dated.