Pandemic takes French resort back to the future

(photo: Architects Charlotte Perriand, Pierre Facheux and Jean Prouve at Les Arcs, fifty years ago.)

When Les Arcs closed down last spring, senior managers reflected on the very purpose of ski resorts.  “The current crisis . . . made us take more time to rethink our new projects,” said press officer Cecile Romualdo. “What actual purpose does a ski resort serve? What is its use for society?”

Managers revisited the rationale for building the four modern high-alpine villages. The first of these, Arc 1600, opened in 1968. According to Romualdo, “We re-read the documents left by those who created the resort from nothing, . . . building a resort on virgin land. We discovered that they asked themselves all the same questions.”

The original architectural team, led by Charlotte Perriand, was inspired by Le Corbusier’s city-planning philosophy, emphasizing human-scale but concentrated development in order to leave open space for recreation within walking distance. In the resort context, Romualdo said, “A holiday in the mountains should be an opportunity to leave behind one’s social habits and mingle with other circles. The mountain environment, outdoor activities and holiday atmosphere offer the context to facilitate this.”

Today the complex is served by 171 lifts and until the Covid19 shut-down hosted 2.3 million skier visits each winter. Going forward, social distancing dictates that the crowds not be forced indoors. Based on the original philosophy, Les Arcs now hopes to bring people together in the wide-open space of the mountains. --Patrick Thorne


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