I have an exhibition opening on the 14th at Bygningkulturens Hus in Copenhagen about the French skiing resort of Avoriaz, and I am delighted to say I will be joined by the original architect of Avoriaz Jacques Labro, and his current design partner Simon Cloutier for a talk during the opening. Hope to see you there, more info below!
Avoriaz: The Enchanting Village A solo exhibition by Alastair Philip Wiper
Perched on a cliff high above the town of Morzine in the French Alps sits the village of Avoriaz. Wooden, angular, weird and fascinating, the buildings of Avoriaz grow out of the mountains themselves and loom in the shadows of the peaks. Avoriaz is a 1960s purpose-built skiing resort like no other.
Avoriaz is the masterwork of architect Jacques Labro, and based on the concept that in nature there are no right angles: when seen from afar, the buildings appear to blend in with the mountains. The resort is car-free, and planned so that every door opens to a piste to the bottom of town, while a series of public elevators carry people back up to the top of the town. You can ski to the shops to pick up your groceries, then take a lift back to your apartment. As part of the “Portes Du Soleil” ski area, Avoriaz remains a central part of one of the largest, most diverse and best skiing areas in the world.
Hired shortly after graduating, Labro was 31 years old in 1966 when the first building in Avoriaz, the Hotel des Dromonts was finished, and he has spent the rest of his life expanding on his vision of a truly unique resort. Labro was commissioned by young entrepreneur Gérard Brémond, son of a French industrialist and member of the French jet-set, to assemble a group of architects and develop a skiing resort on a desolate plateau selected by Olympic downhill skiing champion Jean Vuarnet. Upon its opening, the modern, luxury resort became dubbed the “Saint Tropez de Neige”.
Labro refuses to give a rational explanation of the style of Avoriaz: however, one idea guided their work, that of creating architecture adapted to the mountains rather than drawing inspiration from traditional Savoyard chalets or urban concepts. The young team all shared a passion for jazz, and tried to integrate the improvisational nature of the music into their architecture. One of them would act as the bass player, and lay down the rhythm by doing the basic drawings. Then the others would freestyle over the top, putting their own touches on the buildings, each having their own solo.
The fantastical, often spooky nature of the resort was not lost on the developers, and in 1973 Avoriaz was thrown into the limelight when the "Festival international du film fantastique d'Avoriaz" was launched, and became one of the worlds most highly regarded festivals for science fiction and horror films, until it's close in 1993. The stars descended on Avoriaz, and the likes of David Lynch, Roman Polanski and Peter Jackson were all spotted at the Hotel des Dromonts while the festival was running.
Avoriaz continues to be developed in the same style today, by Labro and his partner Simon Cloutier. Cloutier arrived in Avoriaz in the 1980's to train to be a skiing instructor, and was so inspired by the architecture that he became an architect in order to be able to work on the development of Avoriaz.
Alastair Philip Wiper has photographed the buildings of Avoriaz at night in both summer and winter, often from the same angle and position. The photographs highlight the enchanting nature of the buildings, and provoke the imagination of the viewer. Alastair Philip Wiper is a British photographer based in Copenhagen whose work provokes analysis of the magnificence and peculiarity of human ingenuity.
"When one goes on holiday one hopes to find a different context to the one in which one lives daily. In Avoriaz there will be no cars. The heating will be electric, rather than fuel powered, therefore non polluting. The roads will serve as ski runs, the architecture will integrate itself into the landscape but will be new and ground breaking. It is not necessary to explain how these proposals will cause an outcry!" Gérard Brémond