In the Alps–especially the craggy Dolomites–farmable land is scarce. The shortage of arable land (along with restrictions on non-traditional architecture) has forced the region’s architects underground – literally.
Bergmeister Wolf, a northern Italian firm with offices in Austria and Italy, were hired by the small Tyrolean town of Margreid to build a new volunteer fire station back in 2010. The commission came with an unusual site: a 300-foot cliff of sheer rock.
“The building could have been placed on a normal lot,” explain the architects, “but the community decided to build the fire station into the rock, saving valuable land for use as agriculture.” They began by blasting three caverns into the cliff face, connecting them with smaller criss-crossing tunnels. Two of the tunnels became the garages, while the third houses the administrative part of the station, which extends as a glass box beyond the rock. Inside the granite wall, meeting rooms and offices are fitted out in wood and steel.
What the architects realized was that the mountain provided its own heating system. The ground mass stays warm in winter–averaging around 55 degrees when the air temperature is around 14 Fahrenheit–meaning that only one of the three caverns had to be traditionally insulated. The glass cubes are faced with triple-insulated glazing.
On the exterior, small details point to other unique challenges involved with building into a mountain. The curving concrete wall that connects the three caves was designed to protect the volunteers from falling rocks. The black of the concrete, which Bergmeister Wolf hoped would evoke burnt wood, was achieved by mixing Beech coal dust into the aggregate.
If cavernous lairs are your thing, check out Villa Vals, an underground home about four hours away from Margreid.