The Titlis, at an altitude of over 3000 meters (10,000 feet), ranks among the foremost international tourist destinations in Switzerland. In summer, tourists flock there from all over the world to enjoy the overwhelmingly beautiful view of the mountains from the peak and, as part of the Engelberg skiing region, the Titlis is also an important destination for winter sports. The summit attracts over one million visitors a year and up to 2000 a day during peak times. The existing facilities were not designed to accommodate such numbers and have nearly reached capacity.
The summit station of the gondola (rotair) was built in 1967 and has since been expanded and renovated several times, resulting in an architectural conglomerate. Crowds in the departure hall and unclear orientation detract from the excitement of the experience and put an undue strain on security and evacuation.
An old beam antenna tower, 50 meters (165 feet) tall, is located some 200 meters (650 feet) away from the station. Built at great expense by the Swiss Post in the 1980s, the structure was purchased by the Titlis railways after new technologies had made it mostly obsolete. It is still in use today as an antenna system. Since this is mounted at the top, the tower underneath can be repurposed for tourism. An underground tunnel connects the tower to the summit station.
In 2017, Herzog & de Meuron were commissioned to renovate the summit-station and activate the tower for tourism within the framework of a master plan for the entire summit. A thorough study of the station, not least the loadbearing structure, showed that renovations would not only be insufficient to resolve the urgent problems of circulation and orientation; they would also be disproportionately expensive. It was therefore decided to build a new station. The infrastructure of the gondola itself is in excellent condition and the new building will be erected around it.
The Klein Titlis, at an altitude of some 3000 meters (10,000 feet), is one of the first striking peaks of the Alps and offers a unique panorama of the Alpine chain to the south and of central Switzerland to the north. Seen from Engelberg, the topography shows a comparatively moderate stepped incline, the northern flank of the Titlis being dominated by a glacier. The side facing Bern however forms a sudden, near vertical drop from the ridge down into the valley of Gadmental. Like all of the glaciers in the Alps, the Titlis glacier is gradually melting, its retreat clearly visible on the peak and within the perimeter of the project.
The beam antenna tower consists of an extremely rigid steel structure. The same technique of industrial steel construction will be applied to two horizontal architectural volumes that will be inserted in the existing structure. The result is an iconic cruciform shape that will transform the building, originally erected for purely infrastructural purposes, into a striking landmark visible from afar. The two intersecting beams are glazed and accommodate various uses, including a bar, a lounge and a restaurant. The two main stories of the tower seat a total of 330 people.
In addition to the two horizontal inserts, four access facilities will be built onto the existing four vertical supports. These will provide additional loadbearing support and will house the stairs and lifts. A spacious lobby will be built into the current concrete base providing direct access to the tower from the glacier. The base, built deep into the rock, will also access the underground tunnel to the gondola station, ensuring a direct, weather-safe connection.
Here visitors find an atmosphere marked by the density and weight of the mountain rock – in great contrast to the expansive mountain world outdoors. Visitors will feel as if they were in the heart of the mountain. In combination with the ice grotto, which offers a view of the glacier from inside, the tunnel becomes a means of perceiving the mountain from a new perspective.
The gondola station is like a flat crystal growing out of the mountain, like a geological structure that pushes its way out of the glacier, forming a kind of rostrum but with a low-lying silhouette while the existing gondola is integrated into the new building, resembling an inclusion in a crystal. As a relatively low, horizontal body, the station is structurally related to the tower but does not compete with its iconic impact. It too has a steel framework that gives the building form and structure. The framework encloses a concourse creating a new center in the station, creating a space that welcomes arriving visitors and provides orientation. Circulation within the station echoes the topography of the location. An inclined plane reaches into the concourse and connects the platform level with the exit to the glacier lying above via escalators. As the plane slopes further downwards, it turns into a walkway below the cable-car station, offering guests a west-facing view which was previously obstructed. On the top floor of the station there are two restaurants for groups as well as a self-service restaurant, seating a total of 550 people. The lower stories around the central concourse accommodate the existing souvenir shops and take visitors back to the gondola station.
Herzog & de Meuron, 2018