Network Of Architecture, a firm based in Berlin (Germany), and Bolzano (Italy) is a creative group of individuals who explore various interdisciplinary methods of design and inspiration. The firm has always attempted to create designs that integrate into the world environmentally and aesthetically.
The steps and interlacing outer skin ©www.noa.network/en/projects/all-projects/kaiserwarte-133.html
Their designs thus are a culmination of varied aspects and disciplines, each a building block in the creation of the end-product which emerges to be greater than the sum of its numerous parts. The Emperor’s Dress, a proposal to be situated on the hills of Kühbergl, was a conceptual visualization of an observation tower that inhabited the site in the past. The design was an idea of a public space for the residents of Brunico.
Public spaces, by definition, have evolved into every architect’s dictionary as open spaces for the people in the context of rapid urbanization. Regardless, their roots have always emerged from human interaction with the natural environment.
Network of Architecture approached this traditional idea of public spaces by planning the reintroduction of a tower that bore significance to the town of Brunico, the Kaiserwarte. The design intention was to give back to the people a structure that could be used not only as a space for leisure but also as a historical reminder of the traditional use of the site.
In the foothills of South Tyrol’s mountainous physiography lies the town of Bruneck, or Brunico. The design for The Emperor’s Dress was an ode to the war-time history of this town, while simultaneously addressing the modern population and its need for recreational spaces. The Kaiserwarte, ‘Warte’ a German term meaning Observation Tower, and ‘Kaiser’, referring to the great emperor Franz Joseph I, is a revival of a small military legacy of Brunico.
The original observation tower constructed by the king’s pioneer unit on the slopes of the ‘Kühbergl’ was a strategic viewpoint that overlooked the entire town and its extents, assisting in a military maneuver in 1903. The tower was subsequently used as a meeting point and a place for relaxation and inspiration by artists, observers, and nature enthusiasts. The tower saw military use for air-observation once again during the First World War and was destroyed by enemy attacks later. Connecting the town of Bruneck and its residents to this history in a way that identified with the user’s space and architecture they could not only view but also use, forms the nucleus of the design concept.
The structure is a 35m wooden tower with a thick central spine. A spiraling timber staircase wraps around the central core and is sheathed by a layer of repeating timber members. As the user ascends the tower, he is greeted with panoramic views of the vegetation and wildlife at the lower levels, and the city and mountains at the top.
A deck at the topmost level facilitates a prolonged experience of the journey while allowing the people to rest and marvel at the miniature town resting in the valley.
Network of Architecture has conceptualized the design of this tower as analogous to the human body. The central thick core of radius 75cm-45cm acts as the skeletal spine of the tower, structurally supporting everything. The wooden stairs and handrails that climb along this spine are visualized as the flesh of the structure. This, in essence, completes the Kaisewarte -The Emperor’s Watchtower. But NOA stepped further and clothed the tower with a Dress. This dress made of timber beams is true to its analogy. It protects the users from wind and weather by creating a semi-pervious screen that acts as a buffer against the elements.
The firm then made decisions based on site context and material availability. The timber used for this structure would be sourced from the surrounding woods and available trees, namely Larch. These trees, coniferous in nature, are suitable for the climate and also act as design inspiration for the tower. The winding steps and timber beams that swirl around the thick central trunk give it a tree-like appearance making the design blend in with the forested surroundings. The Emperor’s Dress, hence, is an impressive design that upholds a historical design-brief while also pandering to the needs of the modern townsfolk.
By creating a structure made entirely of timber available in large quantities in the vicinity, Network of Architecture controls the embodied energy of the design. The carbon footprint of this structure is restricted to the minimum, and the structure in itself integrates with its wild and natural surroundings. Network of Architecture creates a simple design that is a resurrection of a part of Northern Italy’s architectural history and heritage. The structure is sustainable and organic in a way that, even in its destruction gives back to the natural environment. The Emperor’s Dress is thus a design that is extremely relevant in today’s global climate crisis. It is a testament to progressive thought and solution-based decisions that the architectural fraternity is slowly indulging in.