When confronted with a building site in a majestic landscape, some might attempt to challenge the scene-stealing backdrop with architectural bravado. But for the Aquamotion Courchevel aquatic center and spa, Moritz Auer—managing partner of Auer Weber, founded by his father, Fritz Auer, and the late Carlo Weber—went in the opposite direction. The younger Auer bowed to Mother Nature, designing a structure that blends in with the French Alps.
One of the eight resorts that compose the Trois Vallées, the world’s largest interconnected ski area, Courchevel stretches across multiple plateaus of varying altitudes. The brief was to provide a “signature building” for the resort while enhancing its après-ski attractions. The facility needed to appeal to families, to winter vacationers who don’t ski, and to Saint Bon Courchevel residents seeking water sports and spa treatments during the summer.
Driving up the mountain to get a first look, Auer had an epiphany. “We can’t do a ‘normal’ building here,” he declared. Instead, eschewing the reigning chalet-inspired architecture, his team emulated the topography to create an unprecedented and utterly singular design largely below-grade. The highlight is an organic, shape-shifting roof with four south-facing arched clerestories. Blanketed with snow in winter, camouflaged by flora in summer, the roof looks by turns like a miniature mountain range and a giant wave—a nod to the setting complemented by a wink at the building’s function. To make the integration into the landscape even more seamless, the building hugs the curves of the mountain road and happily coexists with a creek that runs along the building’s edge.
Despite the self-effacing exterior, the interior can accommodate 1,200 people across three sprawling levels sculpted into “a kind of inner landscape,” he says. On the family-friendly main level, the “sky” consists of a high-tech white polyester fabric stretched over both curved ceilings and swooping walls, and the floor’s dark gray ceramic tile mimics stone. There are pools of varying sizes and shapes for paddling, swimming laps, diving, and aqua-fitness, not to mention a wave simulator for surfing and a looping white-water slide. All these water features are seamlessly integrated with the architecture, not just plunked down in the middle of the space.
The spa is a calmer, adults-only realm. It boasts three saunas, a hammam, a steam room with a hot plunge bath, and private massage and beauty treatment rooms. In the waiting area for treatments, the white epoxy flooring is embedded with LED fixtures that highlight the curves of the space. For leisurely soaking at the edge of the indoor pool, Auer provided black padded headrests, inspired by boat bumpers on piers.
In addition, the facility offers a children’s play area, climbing walls for kids and adults, shops for selling swimming apparel and accessories, and a 300-seat restaurant. During the summer, two outdoor pools are open. Designing the latter proved a challenge because of the nearby road. “Part of our process,” he explains, “was to figure out how to create a kind of oasis where you don’t feel you are swimming near a street.” The solution was to build amphitheater seating that simultaneously supplies a lounging area and a visual barrier.
At Aquamotion, Auer has solved a complex puzzle with the help of a team that he describes as open-minded researchers interested in taking on exceptional projects. The inventive architecture, seeming to defy classification, and the sober palette certainly make the facility feel more sophisticated than your average water park. That doesn’t mean forgetting how to have fun, however.
Jolts of color enliven select elements. The white-water slide’s laminated fiberglass is matte red. Then there’s the play area, which is not decorated with pirate ships or other kitschy “sea” motifs. While youngsters happily scamper around, parents loll on colorful, blobby tiled resin seats inspired by illustrations from the Barbapapa children’s books, published in France in the 1970’s.
Project Team: Till Kamp; Stefan Niese; Eric Frisch; Marius Drahtler; Peter Greifenhagen; Martin Janik; Tina Kierzek; Anne Krins; Kangmin Lee; Yvonne Meschederu; Michael Schnaubelt; Bertram Wruck; Julian Stein: Auer Weber. Studio Arch: Architect of Record. Ing. Bamberger; Les Murs Ont Les Plumes Architectes: Lighting Consultants. Integral Ruedi Baur: Graphics Consultant. Rez’on: Acoustical Consultant. Axe Saône: Landscaping Consultant. Inddigo: Sustainability Consultant. Briere Reseaux: Pool Consultant, MEP. Tractebel: Concrete Engineer. Bollinger + Grohmann: Steel Engineer. HSB: Pool Contractor. Spie Batignolles: General Contractor. Arpege Ingenierie; JML International: Project Managers.