In Zernez, at the border between upper and lower Engadin, a visitor and administration center was opened in 1968 for the Swiss National Park, which was founded in 1914 and is the oldest of its kind in the Alps. Several decades later, the decision was made to adapt the center to contemporary needs, leading to a competition for reorganizing and expanding the functions that had, up to then, been housed in the historic Planta-Wildenberg Castle and other buildings.
The new concept envisions a coherent architectural and landscaping plan for the entire area reaching from the old village road to the new bypass, without however competing with the village’s existing landmarks. While the administration of the national park is accommodated in the castle and an auditorium in the neighboring service building, the information center is given its own new building. This structure deliberately does not borrow its typology from the castle, but rather expresses the new use with an independent appearance. The elongated, mostly single-story structure with its folded roof and body-like openings more readily recalls a ‘natural’ and ‘landscape’ form than a building.
The layout and positioning of the building volume allow it to be entered from all sides - from the castle courtyard, from the canton road and from the old main street of the village via a newly created square. On the inside, a network of pathways connects the three entrances, simultaneously structuring the public areas, the non-public areas, and the areas subject to entry fees. Visitors move through the exhibition on a ‘circuit tour’ punctuated by opportunities to look out onto the landscape, the mountains, the village, and the sky. The exhibition rooms are designed as continuous areas, which can also be flexibly divided into smaller room units. Alternating zones of dark and light are illuminated from the side and above.
The load-bearing structure for the roof and walls is made of concrete, which on the interior is partially left untreated and in other areas plastered, painted, or faced in wood. The exterior façades and roofs are clad in local scree. Together with the gravel areas outdoors, these take up a dialogue with the built environment and the natural landscape of the nearby national park.