Innsbruck, Austria

One of the limitations of relying on images to explain architecture is that the practice can sometimes encourage viewers to see buildings primarily as objects. And when viewed only in two dimensions, such as in photos on a printed page, the work of some architects looks a lot like seductive sculpture. Zaha Hadid’s assertive buildings would fall into this camp. But the stations that the London-based Hadid has designed for the Nordpark Cable Railway in Innsbruck, Austria, demonstrate that her work is not just about making isolated sensual objects. The project confirms that she is also concerned with creating fluid connections between buildings and their sites, and with linking to the larger surrounding environment.

Nordpark Cable Railway
Photo ' Thomas Mayer

Hadid’s four stations and her 820-foot-long, cable-stayed bridge, all completed late last year, define a route that transports skiers, snowboarders, hikers, and local residents from just outside the medieval center of the city, over the River Inn, to the hamlet of Hungerburg, about 950 feet above Innsbruck. The route, just over a mile long, is one piece of a larger, approximately $80 million project to replace and expand a series of antiquated lifts connecting the city with the summit of the Nordkette Mountain range defining the northern edge of this narrow valley.

Describing the stations as “contextual” may be a stretch (no Tyrolean bric-a-brac here), but their swoopy roofs were derived from examination of the forces that shaped this alpine region millennia ago, according to the architect. “We studied natural phenomena such as glacial moraines and ice movements,” says Hadid. The glass-clad structures, which, depending on the time of day and atmospheric conditions, seem milky white, cold blue, opaque, or glowing from within, do seem to be melting at a glacial pace, especially at the few points where each roof dips down to meet its reinforced-concrete base. The stations have softer and decidedly more organic contours than Hadid’s own sweeping Bergisel Ski Jump [RECORD, January 2003, page 76], which opened on the opposite side of the valley in 2002.

Inspiration did not only come from Innsbruck’s natural history, but also from the particulars of the individual station sites and their varied surroundings. For example, the zoomy entrance to the underground Congress Station seems shaped by the auto traffic that zips around it, while the Loewenhaus roof appears elongated by the flow of the river it sits alongside. The Alpenzoo Station is poised for takeoff from its perch atop a 65-foot-tall tower embedded into its wooded slope, and Hungerburg’s winged shelter hovers over a man-made plateau to frame spectacular views of the city and the opposite mountain range. Each station has its own context, topography, altitude, and circulation, says Hadid.