Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Half Dose #109: Sasso San Gottardo
[All photographs by John Hill]
My onslaught of photos and projects from a recent trip to Switzerland is pretty much wrapped up, but one project that deserves some attention is Sasso San Gottardo, a "themed exhibition focuse[d] on the challenges of managing our resources." Hozler Kobler Architekturen is responsible for the design of the various environments inserted into the tunnels and caves of a former fortress at St. Gotthard Pass. Signs of the fortress are visible from the roadways near the pass, but these glimpses -- doors, sights, concrete masses camouflaged into the mountainside -- do not prepare for the experience inside.
After walking in the "front door," one needs to follow a long tunnel before coming to the first exhibition space. A small office is located about halfway between the entry and exhibition space, what is surely one of the oddest places for such a thing.
The "Energy" exhibit is the first one encountered. Most of it is housed in a room with old control panels and other artifacts juxtaposed with stationary cycles for powering fans and other interactive components. Above is a view into a small room housing wood balls in the configuration of one of those perpetual motion toys. Not all of the pieces are particularly enlightening nor successful in how they work, but the way everything is inserted into the original rooms is fantastic.
Further along is a space that features a vaulted concrete liner within a larger room (above); lighting in the interstitial space gives off a green glow that is visible from a distance along one of the tunnels. Hanging in the middle of the space is a metallic sculpture that maps every space within the mountain. Tracing how far my group had come in our visit, we realized that the exhibitions only scratch the surface of the circuit of tunnels and caves -- many kilometers were beyond what we'd traversed. In particular, the Armament and Garrison are historical sections open to the public, but they were unfortunately closed at the time of our visit.
The "Mobility and Living Space" room (above) is odd -- not for the metal-grid floor, moody lighting, and Lost-like countdown on the wall -- but because it is warm, where every other space is a constant cool that happens year-round.
The "Crystal" room (above) displays mountain crystals that were previously found in the area. The room itself is shaped similarly to the natural forms housed behind glass and illuminated from above.
The highlight of the exhibition is easily the large space that is split between "Weather and Climate" (above) and "Water". A 5mm layer of water covers most of the space, allowing visitors to "walk on water" on one side or tiptoe across colored steps on the other. In the center of the space is a model of a mountain set atop a map of Switzerland; water dripping from the ceiling trickles over the mountain, showing how water cascades from the peak and pass to different parts of the country.
Elsewhere are rooms, like those above and below, that are not as raw or natural in their finishes, but which nevertheless exhibit a historical patina. The larger space looks like it served as an office for the exhibition architects, but the way the old laptop, mouse, and even stapler are hot-glued to the desk makes it clear that it's just another display. Regardless, it's nice to see the architectural drawings on the wall after passing through the real thing.
Ultimately Sasso San Gottardo is a strange entity that is more fascinating for admission to the network of spaces built into the hillside than for the exhibitions on display. The latter do spur visitors to think about their relationship to resources like water, energy, and even the weather, but they are most successful when they exploit the potential of the tunnels and caves. For example, the dimming lights and the sound of water in the "Water" and "Weather of Climate" room accentuate the feeling of being inside a mountain, where resources are much more limited, and therefore where one's actions need to be considered more carefully.