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Hot pursuits: Apple Sauna in Bolzano by NOA*

A spare and unobtrusive grass-covered sauna by Network Of Architecture in Italy maximises stunning views out over an apple farm

Working among the rugged mountains and lush valleys of northern Italy, nature is a recurrent theme in the work of NOA*. ‘We’re surrounded by amazing landscapes and are lucky to build in the most beautiful places,’ write practice founders Lukas Rungger and Stefan Rier. ‘But there are a lot of rules that make it hard to create good projects.’ Rungger and Rier lived and worked around the world before heading back to the Tyrol region to set up NOA* in Bolzano, Italy, five years ago. ‘This region used to be part of Austria before the First World War, so it’s an interesting mix,’ write the founders. ‘People still speak both Italian and German. The culture is a blend of both – we have the traditional alpine architecture and fascist architecture, and the cuisine is merging …’

NOA*, an abbreviation of Network of Architecture, refers to the interdisciplinary ambition of the design studio to collaborate with a changing team of international creatives – where the architects act as ‘conductors of an orchestra of talents’. Previous collaborators include glass blowers, landscape architects, fashion designers and artists. Their first project as NOA* was an extension to a hotel 1,200 metres above sea level, and the Valentinerhof remains the project they are most proud of – ‘our first baby’. The success of that project led to more commissions in the hospitality sector, but the practice is keen to expand into different building types.

NOA*’s Apple Sauna drawings

NOA*’s Apple Sauna plans and section

NOA*’s Apple Sauna drawings

The Apple Sauna is just one part of a wider hotel project distributed across an apple farm, for which NOA* created a number of buildings based on the life cycle of the apple: bloom, harvest, refinement and repose. The sauna itself, representing ‘repose’, is hidden inside a grass-covered mound. Inside, raw concrete and timber seats contrast with the lushness of the exterior, a single focal window revealing a stunning view over the apple orchards.

Although navigating the tension between nature and architecture appears to thread through the work of NOA*, there isn’t a consistent style or favourite material. What unites the work is the desire to try something new. ‘We start every project from scratch and look for something special, without repeating anything we’ve done before.’ 

Apple Sauna

Architects: NOA* – Network of Architecture
Project team: Stefan Rier and Lukas Rungger
Photographs: Alex Filz