Championing Craftsmanship: The Architecture of the Pedevilla Brothers

Brothers Armin and Alexander Pedevilla of the eponymous architecture practice in South Tyrol, Italy, discuss the importance of local craftsmanship in creating spaces that evoke an emotional response

The Pedevilla brothers, Armin and Alexander, describe their architecture as a search for a kind of purity. To achieve this, each project is considered unique and is created using local materials, and local craftspeople. Working sustainably and considering how materials will age are also important parts of the Pedevilla process. Luxury Defined spoke to the brothers to find out more about their approach.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Armin Pedevilla: I can’t recall that exactly, but certainly not an architect.

Alexander Pedevilla: As a child I already had a fixed idea of becoming an architect, even though I had no idea what an architect was. During my school years, this initial idea grew into a conviction.

Armin: When Alex went to study architecture in Graz, it eventually inspired me to follow the same path.

Pale wooden clad room with simple chairs, table and spotlight with views out of window
Hotel Bühelwirt has six storeys and features 20 rooms with panoramic views (see main image). Based on the overarching idea of making the most of what’s available, the brothers used local materials when creating the building. Credit: Gustav Willeit

After studying architecture at the Graz University of Technology, you each set up your own offices—please tell us more about this
Three fellow students and I decided that we would go into business for ourselves, and try to get commissions through competitions right after graduation, which we were very successful at. After a few instructive years together, our paths diverged, and new ones began.

Alexander: I too started out by founding an office immediately after graduation, together with a friend of mine. That is how the firm LP architektur was born, which is still successful today. We were full of drive, but also had to realize that a lot of perseverance and resilience was necessary.

You founded Pedevilla Architects in 2005. Why did you decide to work together?
In 2004, during one of the holidays back home, Alex and I had the chance to take part in a public competition, which we ended up winning, marking the beginning of our journey together. Maybe it was meant to be, or maybe, without knowing it, we sensed the potential we had together and embarked on this exceptional voyage.

Alexander: I would also say that the time was simply right to give it a try together.

Dining area in white space with huge windows and mountain views
Chalet La Pedevilla is a vacation rental nestled in the heart of the Dolomites, with vast windows offering spectacular views of the mountains. Credit: Gustav Willeit

Tell us about your first joint project
Our first built project to result from the competition was a nursing home in Bruneck—quite an extensive and challenging project that we were entrusted to construct for people in need of care. We had to think about how people with limited perception could cope in the built environment, so it further became a project about sensory perception, which is very different at an older age. While working on this project, we were also able to gain a lot of experience in dealing with public commissions.

Alexander: Over the course of this project, we were able to showcase what we had learned independently during the previous years. Thus, we were able to master the task well together.

What is your philosophy of architecture?
Shedding abundance, extracting the simple, and presenting the valuable. It is a search for a kind of purity. We build with local materials, local craftsmen, and the personalities of South Tyrol’s people. It is not so much an intellectual matter as an emotional one—we want to give our projects the opportunity to age with dignity. We are looking at the cycles of the materials used, their durability and longevity, but also at traditional craftsmanship methods that have been handed down. Above all, we want to bring materials to life.

Armin: For us, the integration of a building into existing local structures is just as crucial as responding to the particular temperature and climate influences or the selection of natural building materials. None of our projects are alike, each of them is special and unique for the task, the location, and its people.

Alexander: Our philosophy also involves building sustainably. Our take on this is to create buildings that are maintained and cared for over long periods of time. We want to craft buildings that are emotionally touching. After all, appreciation leads to preserving value.

Simple room featuring double bed, chair, light, and window with stunning views across the mountains
This holiday apartment is located at 3,937 ft (1,200 m) in the South Tyrol Dolomites. The property features regional characteristics such as a gable roof, loggias, and timber façade to enable the building to blend into the surroundings. Credit: Alessandra Ianniello

How do you begin a commission?
Clients have often already come into contact with spaces designed by us. They have an impression of what we stand for and how we deal with architecture. They often remember specific tactile experiences, surfaces, details, or spatial experiences [such as] . . . the power of the buildings as they are entered. To us, the decisive factor for entering into and succeeding with a commission lies most of all in the interpersonal relationship between the (potential) clients and us, as it creates the necessary basis for mutual trust.

Alexander: We take a lot of time to read and interpret the location and site, its background, culture, and craftsmanship. Our projects then often evolve from a particular quality we want to bring to a building. For example, when designing the Hotel Bühelwirt (main image), we were impressed by the beauty of the surrounding panorama. Thus, we focused on maximizing this view from the inside of our hotel extension. With this goal in mind, we developed the peculiar windows that now so strongly characterize the project. To achieve a satisfying result, we usually work with many different options and physical models.

However, we do not work with compositions of volumes, but start from a single volume and add or subtract parts. We are looking for the elementary—and sometimes for the archaic—in buildings’ materiality, form, and functionality. In the process, we always ask ourselves whether each element and function are really necessary. From these insights, we manage to suppress the superfluous and reinforce the essential, enhancing the materials, resulting in projects that are tailor-made for a specific place and function. This approach leads us to a contemporary architectural language—being an expression of our time, while being also in continuity with tradition.

to come here
Regional materials such as hand-rubbed lime plaster and fir and maple wood give the Frastanz-Hofen Education Center an enhanced sense of community. Credit: Gustav Willeit

You are champions of traditional craftsmanship . . .
A house is the result of teamwork, of a process that is using lots of expertise, motivation, dedication, and pride of local craftspeople. In South Tyrol, their work expresses the regional values and culture. It is the local characters who shape construction, and who have an image of familiar spaces, materials, surfaces, motifs, or expressions. It is our task to bring these deep images and often subconscious memories to life. Building with locals therefore means to work not only physically together, but to think on a meta level and bond culture to the physically tangible.

For our way of creating architecture, the material and its appearance are very important. We don’t have a favorite material, but for each project we try to understand which is the ideal one. We work with materials according to their constructive rules to make the most of their possibilities, always paying great attention to how materials evolve and age over time.

When we work with wood, we take advantage of its great malleability. It can be used not only as a construction material, but also, for example, as a decorative material. Its peculiarity of being cut and worked into small elements might give us the possibility of creating a precious ceiling like the one in the Bad Schörgau Cooking Academy. Or to build an all-wooden house like ciAsa Aqua Bad Cortina (see below), without the need of insulation, adhesives, resins, or metallic joints. When we decide to work with concrete, we want to enhance its monolithic aspects and enrich it by combining the cement with special aggregates such as fragments of local stone. These make the surface reflect the stone of our mountains.

External view of a building made completely from wood
Inspired by nature, ciAsa Aqua Bad Cortina was constructed sustainably, using wood from trees that fell during a heavy storm in 2018. Credit: Gustav Willeit

Alexander: We operate right where the German and the Italian cultural spheres meet and overlap. Pedevilla is a Rhaeto-Romantic name and our mother tongue is German. Our mindset, though, from a cultural point of view, combines the Tyrolean and the Italian. From an economic point of view, the Alpine region has experienced a boom in mountain tourism and gastronomy. This, combined with the great entrepreneurial spirit of the population, has helped develop the whole area. It has transformed a region that, until 50 years ago, was very poor into one that is rich in opportunities.

Much more is being built here than in other parts of Italy. From a cultural point of view, the importance of preserving the landscape has always been very present in the Alps. Our territory is not made up of large urban centers, but of small towns and villages surrounded by nature. This makes the population feel a great sense of attachment and responsibility for their territory and certainly has a positive influence on the quality of the region’s architectural production.

How has technology changed the way you work?
Technology in construction makes us question old habits and challenges us to rethink them. A good example is the evolution of insulating glass. Whereas windows once used to be energetically weak points that lost warmth and were therefore kept as small as possible, technological developments have given us the opportunity to consider and use windows in a completely different way. Today we can place larger openings that allow for much better communication between the outside and the inside, bringing much more light into the house and, on top of that, providing for thermal gains from solar energy—given that inside there is a sufficient amount of storage mass.

Another example: tradition has taught us that stone houses in particular have a wonderfully constant and natural indoor climate—however, from an energy point of view, these buildings usually have a poor testimony. Thanks to the technological development of materials such as insulating concrete, we now have the possibility to build a house from stone again, activating its large storage mass and at the same time still insulating it—energetically state-of-the-art—and all this with only one material, without numerous layers or complicated connections.

Alexander: So, if we use the technological achievements sensibly, we see some very great potential to really build sustainably. If technology is used intelligently, it can bring lots of advantages. If not, it will also produce many disadvantages. Things that have always worked and still work should be sustained and not obsessively replaced with technology.

Minimalist dining room with contemporary square fireplace and chimney with large windows in the background
The brothers took the local landscape as their cue for Haus G, a monolithic concrete creation set into the steep terrain. The home's tower-like shape means a small footprint with ground-level access to the top and bottom floors. Credit: Gustav Willeit

How do you split work on architecture projects—do you each oversee distinct projects or do you both work on everything?
Our projects benefit from the fact that we develop them together, discuss them, and by no means always agree with each other. One or two team members accompany us on each project, so we also have the opportunity to sometimes let some thoughts mature with a little distance from the project. We are different, which is why we complement each other quite well. Most of all, we are a team. If we didn’t run the office together, we wouldn’t be where we are today. We also both work on everything. Once a design is well defined, we divide the work.

Alexander: Important decisions are made by the two of us together—that’s important to us. However, over the years, we have also learned to encourage individual potential in architecture. Pedevilla Architects is now a team of 10 architects of different nationalities. The majority of the team has grown with us, professionally speaking, which makes for strong collaboration. Diverse backgrounds and the skills of all employees allow for a broad spectrum of approaches and methods.

What is it like working so closely with your brother?

Alexander: We are quite different. I am the more emotional and spontaneous kind of person, and Armin is very consistent, thinks about things for longer, and has his thoughts sorted better. Thus, we complement each other quite well. Having the same surname is strengthening. We look for our path together and, in the end, we agree on what defines good architecture for us.

Banner image: Hotel Bühelwirt. Credit: Gustav Willeit