An ‘obnoxious gesture’? L.A. architect Thom Mayne’s tower in the Alps draws ire

L.A. architect Thom Mayne released renderings this week for a luxury hotel tower in the spa town of Vals, Switzerland. The building could be the tallest in Europe.

L.A. architect Thom Mayne released renderings this week for a luxury hotel tower in the spa town of Vals, Switzerland. The building could be the tallest in Europe.

(Morphosis Architects)

Release a rendering of a very tall, very shiny glass tower looming over an idyllic mountain village and the Internet goes bananas. That’s what happened earlier this week when Morphosis Architects of Los Angeles released its design renderings for a new luxury hotel in Vals, a low-key spa town in the Swiss Alps.

The design, conceived by Morphosis founder Thom Mayne, would check in at a whopping 1,250 feet, making it the tallest building in the European Union. (Currently, Renzo Piano’s Shard in London holds that title, coming in at 1,014 feet, with antenna.)

The outsize nature of the structure in the town of just 1,000 permanent residents is matched by the prices tourists will pay: according to The Telegraph, rooms at 7132, as the proposed hotel is called, will run from $1,000 to $24,000 per night.

All of this is made more complicated by the fact that Vals is already well-known for harboring another piece of iconic, but much less showy architecture: Swiss architect Peter Zumthor’s Thermal Baths. Since the baths were completed in 1996, they have become a sort of architectural holy site.


As a result, the plan has not been well received.

Oliver Wainwright of the Guardian describes the Morphosis design as an “obnoxious gesture” and a “mirror-clad middle finger.”

He adds: “In a design statement that verges on farce, Mayne describes the proposal as ‘a minimalist act that reiterates the site and offers to the viewer a mirrored, refracted perspective of the landscape.’ He suggests that it might be possible to hide [570,000 square feet] of luxury development with a trick of the light, noting that ‘the tower’s reflective skin and slender profile camouflage with the landscape, abstracting and displacing the valley and sky.’”

Likewise, commenters on the design website Archinect have been engaged in a rather colorful flame war — with equally colorful language — on the subject.

“The worst piece of architevture [sic] in the history of architecture including all the walmarts and taco bells,” writes one commenter.

Another suggests that the whole design has to be a joke: “Thom Mayne might be trolling the blogosphere.”

According to a report on the U.K. site Building Design, Zumthor, who is the architect behind the proposed design for a reimagined Los Angeles County Museum of Art, has refused interviews on the subject. “He doesn’t want to comment on this hotel,” a spokeswoman told the website.

The design for the hotel has been embroiled in controversy since the get-go. The jury that worked on selecting an architect for the project put an end to the competition without choosing a winner. But in February, 7132 announced it would move forward with the Morphosis plan.

Still, as Bloomberg Business points out, it’s not going to be easy for the developer or Mayne to get this hotel built.

The Swiss are wary about overbuilding. In 2012, voters approved a ban on the construction of vacation homes in the Alps as a way of curbing development. Moreover, in the last half dozen years, residents of nearby villages have voted down far smaller hotels along with a potential bid for the Olympics.

Which means the most the public might ever see of this tower are the dramatic digital renderings currently circulating online.

Find me on Twitter @cmonstah.