Region Tannberg – signage for cultural path and hiking trails
The Tannberg forms the axis between the Bregenzerwald, Arlberg and Lechtal. In former times the Walser court convened there that gave the region its name and united the three towns of Lech, Warth and Schröcken for centuries, ever since they were first settled by the Walser people. The idea arose of conveying the special character and shared history of the region by means of specially defined trails for mountain hikers and certain points of interest along these trails. For this gentle form of tourism in summer an information and directional system was needed, which would have to be suited to the exposed locations at a height of up to 2000 meters above sea level.
When we first met with the clients on a winter’s day in Oberlech, the mayors of the neighboring communities arrived by snowmobiles. In winter the communities in the valleys often have no transportation connections. The watershed between the Danube and the Rhine on the Hochtannberg may be one reason for the separation of the communities, but most certainly it is due at least in part to the fact that the villages of Warth and Schröcken are generally easier to reach, as one comes from the Bregenzerwald, whereas Lech and Zürs must be approached from the Vorarlberg and Tyrol Oberland along the Flexenstraße. The towns and villages on the southern side of the valley, Lech, Zürs, St. Anton, St. Christoph and Stuben are joined together under the tourism brand “Arlberg”. The Region Tannberg is made up of communities of Walser, who in the 14th century moved here from Valais in Switzerland and established new settlements. People here speak a distinctive dialect. Almost all Walser communities, whether in Switzerland or in Vorarlberg still have one or several five-point stars in their coat of arms. During our search for a particular identity this heraldic feature caught our attention. It is a symbol of considerable value, which refers to counting on the fingers of one hand, contains the harmonious dimensions of the Golden Section, and is found also in numerous kinds of Alpine flowers. But the idea of “scoring” by using five stars seemed somewhat too obvious to us. We therefore concentrated on the name. We put the word in capitals, emphasizing the main vowel of the word, the “A”. The letter becomes the image of a pine tree or a mountain.
In the Region Tannberg we made the external circumstances the theme of our design solutions. In an almost untouched natural setting one is angered by anything artificial or foreign. Instead of plastic signs with lettering glued or printed on them we chose untreated, rough sawn wood as the basic material for the signs. Wood is part of the traditional culture of building in this region and, thanks to its resistance to weathering, it has proved its worth in such locations. The CNC milled lines of lettering create no problems in terms of durability and light-fastness. On the contrary, as it ages the material becomes grey, the tapering incised letters remain clearly legible through the play of light and shadow and in this way the lettering elements become a part of the cultivated landscape. Following the traces of the Walser people here means following lengthy routes. Mountains ramblers are delighted to find a welcoming bench at a beautiful location. Along with the “external” circumstance that the various stories are connected with special places this gave us the idea of using the benches for ramblers to carry information. I owe a number of valuable suggestions made during the research phase of this project to my design colleague Heike Czerner. The architects Hermann Kaufmann and Christoph Dünser designed these benches using traditional larch wood in a contemporary form and employing a weather-resistant construction.
With hiking trails like the one on Tannberg, which lies at a height of 2000 meters, the altitude, the seasons and the light must be taken into account. Indoors we work with artificial light, in a natural setting both day and night have to be considered. The difference is not so much between indoor and outdoor space but lies more in the kind of communication involved. In an airport or a hospital or on a street the central concern is pragmatic signposting and orientation (someone wants to get from A to B as quickly as possible). A directional system for a hiking trail has to point the hiker in the right direction. However, the Tannberg project is not just about providing directions for hikers, it also accompanies people along a culture path. As most of the trails are above the tree line they are clearly visible. Therefore the issue was not to mark the trails but to convey information about special places. Combining the simple wooden benches with interesting messages gives the individual elements a high level of efficacy. At places with a particularly fine view, steles with a precisely placed viewing opening in them were placed on the object described. So far 63 benches, 12 fences and 6 steles have been made. Through milling the wood, the words and text are translated into a third dimension, resulting in a lively play of light and shadow. Along these theme-related trails The hikers acquire knowledge and learn short histories of the respective locations. An analogue map and an interactive hiking map with dynamically programmed cartography provide information at greater depth.
Back in 1993 in collaboration with the state land use planning department Reinhard Gassner designed a hiking trail information system for the whole of Vorarlberg. He developed a simple system of signs made of naturally colored aluminum, as in tests this material and color retained their visibility especially in bad weather. A deliberate decision was made not to use loud colors like yellow or red. In contrast to Tannberg the issue here was not communication but a guide to orientation, which for hikers in difficult situations can be of elementary importance. Overloading would be counterproductive and confusing. By now around 20,000 signs have been erected in Vorarlberg at 6 800 locations.