old stone staircase leading visitors down into the gorge. Instead, it needed to
build an entirely new visitor center—one that was bigger and sturdier.
During two years of planning, including a careful evaluation of the treacherous project site, the project team drew inspiration from the striking natural landscape that surrounded it. The gabled ends of the center would mimic
typical Alpine architecture. The environment also informed the design of the
outdoor balustrade, whose vertical metal fins allow impressive views of the
gorge from the center’s benches.
Mr. Kurath’s eight-person crew began construction in September
2013, at the end of the tourist season, and worked through the winter,
when the gorge is closed to visitors. The team completed the new CHF1.4
million visitor center in April 2014, just in time for the tourists.
The tricky terrain
choice of building materials.
the possibility of falling
rocks, the team
center out of
than wood. There
are no large
windows on the side of the building facing the
road, where large falling stones could roll against
The team took such precautions even though,
in the 111 years that visitors have descended the
stone staircase, no one has been hurt by falling
rock. “Sure, it hasn’t happened yet,” Mr. Kurath
says, “but we didn’t want to risk anything.”
Working in the winter gave
team members the scheduling advantage of executing
the project during the tourist
off-season. That came with
disadvantages as well, however:
snow, falling ice, slick rocks,
temperatures that fell to
around - 10 degrees Celsius ( 14
degrees Fahrenheit) and only
one hour of direct sunlight, between 11 a.m. and noon. Workers spent the rest of each day in
the steep gorge’s dark shadow.
Fortunately, the weather cooperated. With little snow that winter, the schedule was not adversely affected by the elements.
“The conditions certainly made it hard physically, but we were
able to work almost every day,” Mr. Kurath says. “One day it was
too cold to work with the concrete, when temperatures stayed
around - 15 degrees Celsius [ 5 degrees Fahrenheit], but that was it.”
To function under such severe conditions, team members took
breaks in several heated trailers on-site.
Finding the Right Size
To determine the dimensions of the new center, the project team had to
strike a delicate balance. The Viamala Gorge visitor center had to be big
enough to accommodate more people inside the building, but not so big
that it lost valuable parking.
“There are 40 parking spots for guests, and the bigger the building, the
more spots we’d lose and fewer people could park,” Mr. Kurath says.
The team decided the new structure would be 40 square meters (431
square feet)—only 10 square meters (108 square feet) bigger than the
original kiosk. That would be just large enough to get people inside the
center, where they could shop, and away from the cliffside road.