Everyone has an opinion when it comes to the development of their favourite mountain resorts. How do we balance our respect for the traditional authenticity and charm of Morzine, Les Gets and Avoriaz with the need to expand, level up and remain competitive?
One particular development project has really impressed me in recent years. Hotel Mil8 in Avoriaz is a triumph in balancing the bold architectural style of the high-altitude resort with demand for a luxurious, contemporary hotel; the two blend seamlessly. Here we meet its creator, architect Hervé Marullaz.
Avoriaz has an unusual yet practical architectural style. What changes have you seen over the years in the resort?
“First of all, and this is remarkable, the architectural fundamentals initiated by Jacques Labro and his team over 60 years ago have so far been respected and the resort of Avoriaz remains coherent, unlike others of the same generation. New customers are still amazed when they discover it, and the “old Avoriaziens” continue to be amazed too. This heritage, fortunately, did not prevent new developments. One can easily recognise the different periods of construction in Avoriaz when one observes the buildings, both in their volume and in the weathering of the facades. The biggest change, I think, was made at an urban level, when the last quarter, that of Amara, was created. Not being on the same side of the mountain as the rest of the station, its integration into the original concept of Avoriaz suffered. If further extensions were to come (and I question whether would they be desirable without significant prior evolution of the ski area?), they would seem to me better placed on the ‘original side’ of the resort.”
Your own architectural style is contemporary and bold. How do you marry this with the traditional authenticity of our villages?
“Thank you for the appreciation! The architecture of our villages is constantly evolving with its associated uses and lifestyles and the appreciation of its ‘traditional authenticity’ is evolving too. Change is framed by more or less strict urban planning rules and these have also evolved over time. At my architectural practise here in Morzine, the projects we deal with, whether the rehabilitation of existing buildings or the creation of new ones, are part of this evolution by respecting first and foremost the place and its history. But also, by considering the constraints specific to each project – topography, orientation, environment, budget, the program itself – by engaging in a bioclimatic architecture approach. We don’t ignore the wellbeing of the users in the village, and we go through a real and personal appropriation of the places we design. We try to bring a respectful, personal approach to design, and sometimes this actually results in a small architectural evolution!”
What was the architectural brief for Mil8?
“It turns out that the plot on which the MiL8 is located is not part of the Avoriaz ‘housing estate’ in the strict sense, and we were therefore not subject to any architectural control by ALDA, (the Avoriaz housing association), unlike the buildings located in the centre of the resort. Regardless of this, it was obvious for us to design the hotel – only the second ever built in the resort – in the very strong architectural spirit of Avoriaz. The materials we used (mainly larch and shingles) therefore had to be adapted to the terrain and result in an architectural language that is both integrated and respectful, but also clear and identifiable. My past work experiences with Jacques Labro allowed me to approach the architecture of the project quite naturally and serenely, and, perhaps curiously. I have to say, this is one of the projects where I finally felt the most ‘free’ architecturally speaking!”
What challenges did the project face?
“The project was tight in relation to the total floor area allowed for construction, and the land base of the project was relatively small. Its location, at the crossroads of different axes (roads and pistes), and forming a link between the districts of the center and La Falaise, made it a particularly constrained and strategic location. Hotel Mil8 is the result of geometric work in three dimensions, using the force lines of the land and the surrounding town planning. When I look at it now, the building seems to have been here forever, and forms a natural link between the districts, while offering guests, from each place in the hotel, a magnificent view of the mountains and the resort itself.”
Which parts of the hotel’s architecture are you particularly proud of?
“In addition to this geometric work and the amplitude of the views offered to customers, I would mention two further points. Firstly, the ‘vertical spa’. Contrary to custom, we did not locate the spa (essential in an hotel of this quality) in the basement, as seems to be normal in other hotels. Instead we opted for a particular positioning on the south side of the building, behind a vertical glazed facade and located between the two wings of the hotel, comprising the rooms and suites. To me, it’s a kind of fault line opening onto the Hauts-Forts. We also planned the massage rooms above the gym, which is itself above the sauna, overlooking the swimming pool on the first floor. In staggering the various facilities of the spa over several floors, the result is that all elements take advantage of the view. Suddenly, customers in ski clothes and bathrobes naturally meet in the vertical circulations of the hotel!
Secondly, and this is undoubtedly the most important element for me, the strong symbiosis and connection between the architecture of the building itself and the interior design work carried out by Atelier Obermant which, brings exceptional comfort and conviviality to the hotel.”
How much do the surroundings influence you when you design a form or a structure in the mountains?
“I try to rely on the environment for each project. The form this may take depends of course on the requirements of my client. For the Pléney lift station for example, it was a matter of making access to a new gondola compatible with strong technical constraints while creating an easier reception for the public and an extension of the underground parking. Above all, my aim was to create better urban integration by reducing the flow of cars in this small street. Because the Pléney is one of the only access points to the slopes of Morzine, it was necessary that it appears as such. At one point we had imagined that the ski slope could pass over the roof of the lift; that’s why initially we gave it this horseshoe shape, each of the branches connecting one side of the piste, and the skiers being visible on the roof from the village. Unfortunately this part of the project could not succeed… maybe next time!”
What is the reaction from guests who stay at Mil8? Do they appreciate the architecture?
“Most visitors generally appreciate the architecture of Avoriaz, and for the Mil8, they speak at the same time of the architecture and the decoration – and the induced conviviality. They like to be able to enjoy several spaces, of different size, volume and atmosphere, where everyone finds the atmosphere they are looking for. Another point often noted and appreciated is the choice of materials, which I feel are noble but not ostentatious. The quality of the finishes also set the standard of the hotel so I give thanks to the companies that participated in the project!
Finally, the part of the hotel that is the most beautiful and appreciated, in my eyes, is the view! It’s also a pleasure to hear the reactions of other visitors, form whom Avoriaz is their favourite resort and they care about its evolution. At Mil8 they have found a friendly place (the hotel bar is open for external customers!) and they appreciate the originality of the building and the fact that it fits in well.”
Our mountain villages are changing. What do you think the new buildings of the future will look like?
“We are all in full reflection on the current evolution, linked of course to climate change. I don’t know exactly how the mountain tourism industry, which is of course the main industry for us here in Morzine-Avoriaz, will evolve, but it is obvious that at the architectural level, we will have more and more renovations or refurbishments of existing buildings. Working with what already exists, making buildings evolve, both in terms of specification and technically, is also a very exciting architectural challenge full of creative perspectives!”
Are you working on any exciting new projects at the moment?
“Our studio is relatively small (we are just six people) and therefore we work on projects that match our size and skill! These range from individual chalets, which might be used as homes or as holiday accommodation by tour operators, to hotel programs, whether newly built or using an existing construction. Among the exciting projects we are currently working on are a few hotel projects, including in particular a project to restructure and extend the common areas of the hotel Les Lans in Les Prodains. This involves a very interesting architectural and decorative project, which we are excited to evolve! There’s also the restructuring and extension of a hotel in La Plagne and many other projects too. We are a small but very busy team!”