FRENCH ALPS Which are the Alpine Resorts of the future?

Find out from the architects driving innovation and style in France’s classic ski resorts.


Which are the Alpine Resorts of the future?

Find out from the architects driving innovation and style in France’s classic ski resorts.

Born and bred in Tignes to a ski-focused family, French architect Sylvain Giachino grew up living and breathing life in the French Alps. After studying in Paris, he launched his own studio ahead of taking on his first major solo project, the Tignes Sports Complex, at just 27 years old. This season, Sylvain’s studio SG Architecte is behind some of Val d’Isère’s biggest openings, including chic mountain restaurant L’Etincelle. 10 years on, we ask one of the leading innovators of alpine architecture what to expect for the future of Europe’s leading resorts.

How did you kick of your career with such a bang?

Tignes Espace, the sports conference and centre in Tignes, was actually the diploma project from my degree in Paris. I showed it to the Mayor of Tignes at the time and he loved it, so he put together a tender for the project. It was a huge start to working in the real world. I knew I had a good chance, but I also put in everything to win.

How does your alpine background give you the edge in crafting the resorts of the future?

I was born in the Alps, so it’s easier to create projects here. It’s a small world, which means we have the connections, and gradually we became specialists in building in the special conditions created by the weather and avalanche risks. After Tignes Espace, we immediately started on another project, the hotel La Tovière in Val d’Isère, and then we built a télésiège (a chairlift). It was another huge project. We are now 10 people, working across a whole range of projects, from private chalets to hotels and sports complexes.

Does it help in your industry to have a young, dynamic team?

I believe so. It’s part of the mountain mentality, a way of thinking. The population in the Alps is very young and there are a lot of people here very passionate about sports and the outdoors. In the Alps, building stops over the winter period, so you have to be efficient and know what you are doing to maximise the time you have to construct. I owe a lot to the Mayor of Tignes, who trusted me with my first project, but the current mayor of Tignes and Val d’Isère Marc Bauer, is the same. He has a strong and clear vision on how the resorts will evolve over the coming decades.

So what can we expect for the evolution of Val d’Isère and Tignes for the coming decades?

They will be some of the main ski resorts of the world for sure. Why? Because of the quality of investment and development that is taking place at the moment. The mayor has a good vision and when it comes to development, he is thinking about the big picture; how it will feel to be there, the flow of traffic, the pedestrianised centre, rather than just individual developments driving the change. He wants everything to be perfect! The other reason is that it’s high-altitude. Snow was good across the Alps this year, but it won’t be in coming years, and Val d’Isère and Tignes have this edge. High altitude, good politics and good management is a formula for success – everything that is being built now in Val d’Isère is of very high quality.

What do you love about being an architect in the Alps?

I love to think about what the future of ski-resorts can be and create within this environment, designing new areas and evolving new styles of alpine architecture while using new sustainable materials. We are not architects who re-create the traditional Savoyard style. Instead, we want to define the language of what architecture in the Alps can be in 10 years. Sports resorts move very fast. Every ski resort is in hot competition, so they constantly need new equipment, services and restaurants to be competitive. We include our vision of what this should be. For example, we are in the process of delivering a restaurant, The Red Needle, in Les Arcs connected to a zip-wire that gives you a high-speed experience of shooting down the mountain. Our part is to create the user experience at the restaurant at the top.

How would you describe your style?

Most of the buildings in the Alps were developed during the 70’s. It was modern but also suffered from being big and not very refined. While we respect that history, we innovate, using the same traditional local materials, such as stone and wood, to create new shapes. I believe this is the solution. With mountain restaurants for example, we see how a striking shape can sit on the mountain and encompass sweeping views without losing the visual heritage. Traditional Savoyard architecture can work for small private chalets, but it doesn’t work for the bigger projects.

What’s your favourite project to date?

The one we are working on at the moment, Apex 2100, which will be a 15,000 square metre sports centre in Tignes designed to train Olympic athletes of the future. It’s an English investor who wants to see some English gold medals in the future! To make the numbers add up, we designed a hotel to sit alongside it. In the summer, it will be used for Football and Rugby training camps.

What was it like growing up as a child in Tignes?

It’s great when you are a kid as you have all the sports facilities you can dream of at your fingertips. It’s a small community, so you have a lot of freedom, but at the same time, there are a lot of international people, so you end up with friends from everywhere. When I grew up, I could travel all over the world. We are really lucky to live there, there’s no pollution and the sports activities are immense.

Do you get to ski everyday then?

Now my company is based in Lyons so we can be close to the mountain resorts, but also to Geneva, London and Paris. But I always have my skis in my car, so whenever I go to see a project, I manage a few runs. I’m lucky because I work a lot with altitude restaurants, so when I visit my clients I get to ski to my meetings. That’s the best bit.

A Style Snapshot: How to make a Lift-Station Chic

Far from the clunky lift-stations of yesteryear, TC10 is a great example of contemporary alpine architecture. Inspired by a nest, the ski station conforms to traditional chalet shape, yet hangs over the edge of the mountain, creating a sense of delicateness and fragility against the striking powerful backdrop. The gabled facades give a heritage feel. Composed of oblong and polygon shapes, some protruding from the structure, there are no right angles and the spaces are not linear. There is nothing obvious about this project. The open space enables skiers to move about freely and controls the flow of staff and users. And the surprising highlight? The toilets! A prime feature of the building, luxury toilets open onto a sweeping backdrop of the majestic mountains.