Vorarlberg, this originally very rural region, has little to show in the way of magnificent feudal buildings. Not far from the original Alt-Hofen Castle of the Counts of Montfort, the second major Renaissance building in Vorarlberg, apart from the Palace in Hohenems, is located between Lochau and Eichenberg. The stately manor of Schloss Hofen Castle has experienced a very eventful history, been owned by many lords and served as a brewery, an auxiliary hospital and a convalescent home for soldiers. In the 20th century, it was Catholic orders that used it first as a home for mentally handicapped children and then as a reform school for girls, before the Wehrmacht occupied it as a base and a military hospital. During the post-war reconstruction, it was turned into a hospitality vocational school with its own dormitory. Since 1972, it has been owned by the State of Vorarlberg and after having been spun off into a separate non-profit company in 1991, Schloss Hofen has been run ever since as a centre for science and education and a seminar hotel.
To ensure that it could best fulfil these purposes, the building was to undergo an overall refurbishment including extension. During the competition, Marte Marte was able to win over the jury with a design characterised by minimalistic rigour. Their design emphasises the consolidation of the entire complex – the historic structure now shines in chalky white, superfluous buildings have been removed, additional areas have been subtly integrated into the hill and the necessary staircases have been gathered together in two abstract towers. The two giant cubes thrive on contrast: outside, the silvery expanded metal, and inside, concrete surfaces, black as night. The feeling of security created by the dark walls leads you to ignore the lift and take the stairs. Effortlessly, you climb the stairs, assisted by the indirectly illuminated oak handrails. The two cubes connect the seminar areas, parking level and hotel rooms with one another. The horizontal cube nestled into the hillside houses the new kitchen and the storage and ancillary rooms. Thus, the different functions of the building are cleverly separated, and the roof is transformed into a living work of art thanks to the extensive vegetation.
When you walk through the gate of the former farm building, today home to the administration of the educational institute, you come to a second courtyard with a magnificent forecourt and newly arranged, terraced spaces. The ensemble radiates dignity and reserved noblesse, and little about the exterior, apart from the new entrance doors and the bold annexes, indicates the contemporary approach to the interior with spacious open rooms, custom-made built-in units and trendy furniture.
The hillside entrance astounds visitors with its modernity and openness, and the former system of halls and vaults has been replaced by a fluid sequence of rooms with clever transitions and different atmospheres thanks to varied furnishings and fabrics. Above the lobby, bar and dining room, the seminar rooms are located on the piano nobile; here, coffered wooden ceilings, stucco ceilings and panel lighting set the mood. Inserted glass panels open the rooms to the hallway, and selected fabrics provide privacy, if desired. The original free-standing St. Oswald Chapel with its painted pointed arches has been renamed the Wolf Dietrich Hall and is clearly the most magnificent of the superbly equipped teaching rooms. The hotel rooms on the top two floors round off the centre’s range of services. The big benefit here, as for the seminar rooms, is the amazing view of nearby Lake Constance and the impressive backdrop of the mountain landscape of Vorarlberg. Minimalist in design and sophisticated in use – the bathroom is disguised as a closet – these rooms also combine history with functionality. The interweaving of time, space, history and current standards permeates these walls and suffuses the entire complex with a spirit of well-being in the present and visions of a possible future. One is tempted to say that the place is better off now.