In Sargans, a Swiss town located near the border to Liechtenstein, a new sports centre replaces a triple gymnasium that was no longer the state of the art. Because the marshy site cannot bear large loads and the existing pile foundations were to be reused, a lightweight wood structure was the ideal response to the design problem. The client, the canton of St. Gallen, wanted a sustainable building that employs local building materials and would only require a short construction phase; these stipulations only served to underscore the suitability of wood. Not only the building exterior, but also the interior, are characterised to a great extent by the use of this material. The centrepiece of the structure is the quadruple gymnasium, an impressive space whose long sides are flanked by rooms with lower ceiling heights; while the equipment rooms are situated on the northeast side, a two-storey zone on the southwest holds the fitness room and the gymnastics spaces, as well as the foyer and the changing rooms.
Local Wood and Value Creation
1,250 cubic meters of wood were used in construction, from which 63% are Swiss in origin and the other 27% from nearby areas in Austria and Germany (see attached diagram WOODLANDS). 94% of the wood was processed in Switzerland to its finished product state. A cubic meter of wood costs CHF 90 in a sawmill. A finished sheet of three-ply laminate costs CHF 900 per cubic meter, and a laminated wood beam CHF 1,400. This increase in value from a log to a finished product means significant local value creation (see attached diagram VALUE CHAIN).
Modern Technology + Traditional Craft
We believe that only by understanding craft can modern technologies be intelligently used. Technology and craft are no longer the same opposites they were in the past, when one stood for cheap mass production and the other for quality. The points of tangency have become more complex. Experience in the deployment and understanding of a material is necessary in order to produce efficiently with the newest technologies.
In the Sports Center, for example, one can see ash that is laced into a spruce glue-laminated beam. That is how the slender beam width was facilitated even in the structurally heavily loaded areas. That is innovative and requires fundamental know-how and high tech in the lamination process, but it also needs proven knowledge about wood and its capacities.
The more technical and rationalized our world becomes, the more valuable this connection will be. We believe that that our rapidly changing world invokes a stronger need for a connection to the local, and therefore, some people will want to retreat from the high tech and return to traditional craft. Our experience, however, is a different one: only by deploying the newest technologies in connection with craft-based ability and knowledge can the local and specific come into existence. A forward-thinking, locally anchored architecture can do both: affirm local identity and contribute to the development of new solutions for sustainable architecture in a global world. In this respect, it is not about the opposition of tradition, technology and craft. To a much greater extent, we are searching for an ongoing development of craftsmanship though technology and local tradition.
To express respect for the craft of wood construction, we have included a few photographs of the craftsmen and women who built the sport center.
Our aim was to create sustainable architecture that can evoke enthusiasm. Particularly in the case of public buildings, this seems to us an important topic, since sustainability is also a matter of social acceptance, identity and longevity. Timber is a locally grown building material, which means that we worked closely with local wood specialists and their craft-based know-how. In the realization process, we noticed that a local and personal relationship automatically creates an emotional attachment and sense of responsibility towards the Sport Center. There was the example of the electrician who wanted to do his work especially well because he wanted to use the building in his free time for sports. Or the young timber construction foreman Stefan Bischoff, who is a climber and enjoys looking down at the building he himself helped to build.
But not only the craftsmen and women are showing their respect towards the building but also the daily users proved their attentiveness towards it. We noticed that a great social acceptance can be achieved when the building is strongly rooted and has its very own relationship to the location and its inhabitants.