Winter Comfort: Designing an Outdoor Environment in Wengen, Switzerland
Indoor/outdoor spaces bring us closer to nature without forfeiting our comforts of home, but usually we see images of summer locations with moderate temperatures. Is this relaxing environment achievable in more extreme climates? Wengen, Switzerland is a good example of how indoor/outdoor environments can exist during winter. People here immerse themselves in the scenery by enjoying the view from the mountains themselves out on the street, rather than from their window sill, and can spend all day relaxing outside thanks to well designed outdoor spaces.
The spaces where outdoor activities happen in Wengen bring the comfort of an indoor environment outdoors in a colder climate, without wasting energy on heaters. People perform such activities as skiing and skating, in which they are prepared for the cold, but it is more than just the clothing that makes outdoor living manageable. Creating a comfortable space with a few passive design elements can reduce energy consumption and let you enjoy an afternoon outside a little more sustainably. Here is how Wengen does it:
Orientation: Face seating in the right direction, ensure everyone can get a bit of sunshine to get as much warmth as possible and make the most of the daylight hours. Luckily Wengen has enough open spaces that you can get a southern exposure on just about every restaurant patio, perfect for the hot chocolate ski break.
Adaptability: Whether it is the shelter of a wall for wind, screen for sun, or roof for rain, these elements can be operable and retractable so that a space can be as open as possible when desired and adapt to varying degrees of privacy and weather at other times.
Furnishings: To make an indoor/outdoor space truly comfortable, it takes more than regulating the temperature. Bringing common indoor furniture outside and outdoor planting inside redefines the boundaries of each environment to help unite the two spaces.
Different types of furnishings suggest different activities, and in Wengen you will find more than tables and chairs outside. Since people spend much of their active day actually lounging in the sun, many areas offer lounge chairs and bean bags as if you were relaxing on a beach. People are free to get comfortable and on a nice day it is easy to forget that you are surrounded by snow.
Don't let the temperature fool you into thinking you have to hide inside or use a lot of energy on space heaters to enjoy the outdoors in a cold climate. Appropriate design can make a big difference in creating the perfect indoor/outdoor environment, so that a snowy backyard can transform into a cozy winter living room.
What other factors do you know of that can make extreme climates more liveable?
Credits: Images by Tara Whelan. Data linked to sources.