in cooperationn with Atelier Oï (Exhibition)
The Gotthard AlpTransit Visitor Center in Pollegio is the first of two buildings, which will stand at the two entrances of the Gotthard railway tunnel. These two buildings will be a token of the significance and the complexity of the construction of this railway tunnel in the advancing twenty-first century.
For travelers who only pass through the region the fleeting impression they get of the tunnel construction is too limited to convey to them the scope of the project and its complexity. Such is the goal of the Visitor Center; it is to bring home the difficulties of the construction and its importance for the future. Indeed, the 57 kilometers through the mountain are a real challenge for the technology and the imagination of our age. The aim of the Center is to reveal the wonders on an otherwise invisible world of creativity and hard work.
In a time when we have sought to reduce distance through the elimination of materiality, a tunnel specifically materializes distance. Today, it only takes pressing one key on a cellular phone to speak with someone on the other side of the mountain, but it is going to take twelve years of strenuous efforts to make direct encounter possible. On either side of the mountain the two buildings will stand as a celebration of the victory over this symbolic and mythical distance of 57 kilometers. Constructed with material torn from the heart of the mountain, the buildings will be facing each other as a sign of the human desire to communicate faster and with more ease.
More than a simple exhibition space, the buildings will offer visitors an experience of the materiality of distance. In that sense, the Visitor Center in Pollegio is more a transposition of matter into experience, rather than an exposition about matter. Visitors are not only shown the materiality of distance, but they actually enter that matter through which the tunnel is dug; they can feel its mass, its power, and the forces at work in the construction of the tunnel.
The outer structure of the Visitor Center is built with the material excavated from the mountain. Millions of pieces of gneiss—the rock out of which the mountain is made—of 100 to 150 mm in diameter are lumped together in big steel nets to form two huge basket-like blocks. These two blocks create the impression of spaciousness of the Center even as they render the astounding materiality of space. The main rooms of the Center are distributed on two levels suspended on a steel structure anchored in the blocks. Glass walls suspended on that structure create a visually and sensorially independent unit; they also contribute to regulating the temperature inside the building. Service rooms, such as lavatories or storage spaces, are of massive reinforced concrete; they are either concealed by the blocks, or they run through the latter like tunnels.
The main space of the Center is defined by the contrast between materiality and immateriality. Contrasting with the imposing heaviness of the raw material used for its construction, the exhibit itself resorts to quasi immaterial means to reach the consciousness of the visitor: play with light and transparency, images projected on glass, multimedia devices illustrate the tension between the gravity of matter and the lightness of the human imagination. The exhibit and the space devoted to it evoke the titanic forces at the heart of the mountain, the heroic efforts expended to vanquish them, and the fluidity and ease of newly achieved communication.
In addition to the Visitor Center itself, the building also hosts a shopping area, a restaurant and a conference center.
Client: AlpTransit Gotthard AG / Competition: 2001 1st Price / Costs: 10 Mio CHF / Execution: 2001-2003
Photos: Yves André