Glass bridges, skywalks, and selfie moments: Tourism, in this decade, is designed around the images that can be captured there. In Innsbruck, Austria, the Norwegian-American architecture firm Snøhetta recently finished a project that subtly contradicts the way we sightsee today.
The firm, which has a small office in the Austrian city, calls the project the Path of Perspectives: A series of 10 landscape interventions along a two-mile hiking trail in the Nordkette range, which edge the city to the north. Visitors—who can reach the top of the route via a cable car station, designed in 2008 by Zaha Hadid—descend the hiking trail toward the city as it folds back on itself in a series of breathtaking hairpin turns.
Snøhetta’s architectural interventions range from benches to podiums to a sweeping platform that floats out over the landscape. They are subtle—Corten steel and local larch wood, inspired by the trail’s existing avalanche barriers, are meant to speak with the trail rather than over it. The idea? “Adding to the experience of the dramatic mountain scenery rather than creating one eye-catching structure,” as Patrick Lüth, managing director of the firm’s Innsbruck office, explains in a statement.
Most of the interventions err on the side of simplicity: One is a Corten box that juts out over the steep hiking trail, creating a few square feet of sitting space for people who want to stop and picnic, and another is simply a countertop-style structure where hikers can pause and take in the view. Each intervention is inscribed with quotes from the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, selected by the architects with help from Innsbruck-based Professor Allan Janik, like:
The concept of ‘seeing’ makes a tangled impression. Now that’s the way it is. I look into the landscape; my glance wanders, I see all sorts of clear and unclear movement; this leaves its mark on me clearly, that only fully blurred. What we see can seem to be completely torn to bits.
In an era when travel is about doing it for the ‘gram, Snøhetta’s project asks visitors to engage quietly and directly with the natural world. As Snøhetta founding partner Craig Dykers recently put it in an interview, the firm’s goal is not to exist seamlessly with the landscape—nor is it to frame it. “We like to say that we’re always in dialogue with context—we are not necessarily trying to merge with it or to fight against it,” he said. “Some people mischaracterize our work as always trying to merge with the landscape or trying to set ourselves aside from the landscape. We’re just interested in having a dialogue.”