Nestled between the French Alps and Lake Geneva, Chigny, Switzerland is a municipality filled with rolling green hills, orchards and vineyards. With fewer than 400 residents living here, the region is rural, but not without history: records show that the municipality’s settlement reaches back to 1221. All these qualities were considered in a Dieter Dietz vineyard restoration on a plot of Chigny land.
The Zurich architect and EPFL professor was asked to build residences on a 1,910-square-metre vineyard with a 200-year-old Chestnut tree, a mature Sycamore and a pressoir, or a press house, dating back to the 19th Century. As the surrounding settlements integrate into the landscape harmoniously – “almost like stones on a field” – Dietz didn’t want his project to detract from the bucolic Swiss countryside.
His reimagining of the site incorporates a pair of structures that respect the scale of their surroundings: the refurbished pressoir (below), and a new house called the Grange. Both houses, which connect via a central garden, were built to support a small community of friends or family members; while providing private areas, they can be used as one common space.
Both buildings follow the typology of a barn: their open-concept main floors function as work and gathering spaces, while their second stories offer retreat. For the pressoir, the original walls, carpentry and structure were retained and exposed, with new windows and doors fitted into the existing facade. In the kitchen (below) hints of the building’s original brick peek out beneath a range hood.
Dietz built a pair of floating wooden stairs leading to the second storey of the pressoir, where the building’s original wood roof on full display. The architect added windows that offer views of Lake Geneva and, further away, the towering Mont Blanc – a feat he repeats in the Grange.
While the barn-like motif of the pressoir is repeated in the new building, the modern addition reveals the architect’s playful side. The exterior places a wooden structure beneath an exposed-steel exoskeleton, effectively turning a traditional house inside out. Though there’s still plenty of old-world charm on offer – Dietz notes that chestnuts will still tumble onto the roof – it’s outfitted with current technology, including a roof covered in nanofilm-coated solar cells. This system will provide energy for both buildings.
Inside, the Grange’s communal main floor is open-concept – but a series of doors, curtains and sliding panels were installed, allowing users to define their own spaces. The floor plan, Dietz says, is meant to be flexible and user-defined.
“These houses offer a frame for living, like a canvas drawn into space that awaits life to complete itself,” he says. “Users will further define visual and spatial articulation.”
The Grange’s second storey is no less spectacular. With floor-to-ceiling windows rising to the peak of its pitched roof, looking out onto the surrounding orchards. As flora matures, plants and flowers will climb into view, which will blur the line between housing and nature. Dietz’s project may no longer be a vineyard, but it promises a different kind of bucolic bliss.