Deidi von Schaewen photos of interiors of huts in Capetown, South Africa against backdrop of Rossinière Balthus chalet

In collaboration with Lausanne’s Federal Institute of Technology and the Vitra Design Museum, the Vaud village of Rossinière is hosting a stunning display of scale models of traditional architecture from around the world. The models are showcased in several traditional chalets, including one that was home to painter Balthus, the village’s most famous resident. A world-first photo exhibit, visible only by train, complements the event.

A survey of indigenous architecture from around the world is on display in the tiny Swiss village of Rossinière (population 508).

“Learning from Vernacular”, running until August 21, is organized by Lausanne’s Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) and the Vitra Design Museum.

The show is complemented by “Peregrinations”, a world-first photography exhibition that is visible only by train.

Photos taken in Africa by architect-photographer Deidi von Schaewen are dotted in strips along the train tracks leading up to the village from Montreux.

The brainchild of Pierre Frey, an art historian and professor at EPFL, “Learning from Vernacular” is being held in traditional chalets in the village, locally famous as the home to the painter Balthus (1908-2001).

Le Grand Chalet, regarded as one of the largest and most beautifully ornamental wooden chalets in Europe where Balthus lived during the second half of his life, is also being used for the show.

Frey selected 32 models at a scale of 1:20 from the unique collection of 700 models currently housed at the Archives of Modern Building at EPFL.

The models, exquisitely fabricated by architecture students over thirty years, showcase the ingenious solutions that populations around the globe have found to adapt their dwellings to local conditions.

Scale model of Indonesian house of chief visible through door of ancient Rossinière stable

Scale models of dwellings and work spaces from Afghanistan, Egypt, China, Indonesia, Korea, Italy, Scotland, Burkina Faso, Mali and many more countries are displayed in five Rossinière chalets or stables that date back several hundreds of years.

The models have been selected to highlight the diversity of spatial occupation or the use of specific building materials like wood, clay, straw, stone or bamboo.

Papouasie, New Guinea / Chalet Martin – Monika & Jean-Pierre Neff © Deidi von Schaewen

A sixth chalet, the Grand Chalet of Rossinière, home to the Balthus family (near the train station and pictured in back of photo above), serves as the entrance to the exhibition and houses the contemporary part of the exhibition.

Frey insists on the didactic purpose of the show. “By including examples of sustainable architecture by contemporary architects, we are highlighting the importance of solutions where we can ‘learn from the vernacular’.”

The contemporary architects that he has chosen to highlight all work with sustainability in mind.

They include the South African Carin Smuts, Hollmén Reuter Sanman from Finland, Indian Bijoy Jain, Simon Vélez from Colombia, Austrian Anna Heringer’s BASEhabitat and the US architectural schools Studio 804 and Rural Studio.

Rossinière councillor Jean-Pierre Neff tells Swisster that the village is “very proud to be part of this project.”

Neff doubles as president of the association for a centre of architecture, anthropology and territory that is working to find a permanent home for the entire collection of models.

“Our village of Rossinière is already a perfect example of vernacular architecture, since our chalets, many dating to the 16th and 17th century, are the pure product of traditional knowhow,” he says.

“We are counting on this project to help us preserve our own mountain architecture and help us resist the mounting pressure of real-estate developers,” says Neff, who is a carpenter by trade.

Yemenese house / Chalet Martin – Monika & Jean-Pierre Neff © Deidi von Schaewen

The exhibition was first presented to great acclaim in 2009 at Domaine de Boisbuchet, a country estate in southwest France that can best be described as the arts and crafts arm of the Vitra Design Museum.

Vitra, the designer and manufacturer of iconic furniture, is known for its collaborations with world-famous architects Frank Gehry, Tadao Ando, Zaha Hadid, Nicholas Grimshaw and Alvaro Siza, all of whom have designed buildings for its premises in the German town of Weil am Rhein, just north of Basel.

Alexander von Vegesack, director of the museum, is confident that the exhibition will continue to travel.

He is in contact with the Mercati di Triano in Rome, the expected next venue, although he recognizes that “Rossinière is in perfect harmony with the subject.”

Frey said the work of photographer von Schaewen has been inspirational.

Deidi von Schaewen in front of her pictures of walls surrounding Nubian houses in north Soudan

Many of her images of on-location shots of structures comparable to the scale models illuminate the documentation backdrops in each exhibition space.

Von Schaewen’s photographs also provide the architectural photo journey through several African countries that is installed along the Golden Pass train tracks.

The GoldenPass railway line, run by the MOB (Montreux Oberland Bernois) climbs from the Mediterranean environment of Montreux to the Alpine village of Rougement, stopping on request at Rossinière.

Each of the 11 monumental hoardings between 12 and 15 metres in length that make up the exhibition ‘Peregrinations’, displays between four and five photos by Schaewen.

The images range from rudimentary constructions or their inhabitants in Mauritania, Sudan, Ethiopia and South Africa, offering a striking contrast to the backdrop of Alpine pastures.

“It is not just the colour that attracts us to Deidi’s pictures, it is her magnificently generous way of looking at things,” Frey says.

“She is not cultivating aesthetics or voyeurism, she is simply showing us that more than two and a half billion people in the world live in makeshift housing.”

Von Schaewen says that modern technology has really opened up the possibility of planning exhibitions in unusual venues. “In India I showed photographs four meters tall of sacred trees.”

“I love doing shows in bizarre places” she says.

The photographer publishes widely, including with Taschen, the German art publishing house.

‘Learning from Vernacular’ is an event for architecture devotees and children alike. It makes a wonderful outing, especially by train from Montreux, but don’t forget to ask the train to stop in Rossinière.

All photos © Deidi von Schaewen, clockwise:
Tribe from southern Ethiopia
Huts in Capetown, South Africa
Huts in Mauritania
Nubian interiors in north Sudan

Michèle Laird, née Haffner, was an international arts administrator (visual arts and theatre), successively in Paris, New York and London, before moving to Switzerland and becoming an arts journalist.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: