Interlaken: design & tourism

…Interlaken Jungfrau…

The yellow dots with black outlines are previously busy successful hotels that are empty, or rarely occupied, or struggling for a four or five-star rating

At the heart of a tremendous landscape. Interlaken.

In the Bernese Oberland region of the Swiss Alps, Interlaken is a 365day/year resort destination on the Aare River connecting two lakes at the confluence of four valleys.

Interlaken alone has more than 900,000 overnight stays/year. Tourism drives the economy. Landscape drives the tourism.

This place is all about design, why? Because this landscape exudes inspiration, it enables captivation. A guest can see it, breathe it, feel it, taste it and touch it. Landscape feeds design.

But change is inevitable. New design is required.

…mountain cure comfort…

The last of the great Interlaken-Jungfrau five-star resort destinations from the Victorian era. Take the airs. Take the views. Take the walks. Take the cures.

…take your pick…

This view of the Jungfrau from Interlaken across the Hohematte today has become nearly a touristic cliche. It was the original tourist attraction. Now it is only 10% of the landscape attractions accessible from Interlaken.

What is the inspirational magic that fills the air in this landscape? For two hundred years the greatest authors, composers and all humans have been captivated by this ethereal landscape beauty which has propelled them to design, compose, write, paint.

Great American writers have built on their experience in this landscape: Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper. And a partial list overwhelms: Haller, RousseauGoethe,(as inspired by the Staubbach in Lauterbrunnental), Byron, Mendelssohn, Schiller, AC. Doyle, Tolkien, Bierstadt, Caspar Wolf, Hodler, Calame, and pop ‘artists’ like James Bond, Clint Eastwood.

In the last century the Art Nouveau movement spurred deluxe hotel and town growth here.

The most practical and interconnected transportation and communication systems were overlain for easy access. Best in class convenience from the international airports of Zurich, Geneva and Bern via network of trains, trams and busses seamlessly linked to networks of bikes and pedestrians to all winter and summer recreation options including every xxx-treme sport. These put visiting humans into direct touch with the landscape.

Interwoven in all the above is the art of living in these inspirational landscapes. People who live here have translated their inspiration to trychler, yodeler, alphorn, sagen and scherrenschnitt.

Visitors gain access via Interlaken to sites having the UNESCO ‘international seal of approval’:

UNESCO Biosphere Entlebuch: An area of 400 square kilometres to demonstrate a balanced relationship between people and nature unfolds as a mystical world with pre-Alpine moorland and karst landscapes.

UNESCO World Heritage Jungfrau Aletsch: An overwhelming display of the Alps’ natural beauty covering over 800 square kilometres. At its heart lies the mighty rock massif of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau and the glacial landscape around the Great Aletsch Glacier. The Aletsch Glacier is 23km long, the longest glacier in the Alps.

So what’s the problem? The hotel, resort destination cycle has been bottoming as the visitor profile has changed. Nobody has grasped what is the 21st century successful tourism paradigm. Four and five star hotels are out of business. Other hotels from the Art Noveau era can not easily meet the 21st century energy savings regulations. And the visitor who 30 years ago would visit one or two weeks, now visits two or three days.

Recent tourism numbers and trends intrigue.

Berner Oberland Region = 12,000 beds; net occupancy rate 50%

Interlaken Region = 4,000 beds; net occupancy rate 64%

International Arrivals = Europe 50%, Asia 25%, Americas 15%, Africa 5%, Middle East 5%

Interlaken Region Arrivals = Swiss 45%, International 55%

In conclusion, this Interlaken landscape region has undeniable attraction to Swiss and every geographical segment of  international visitor. The annual visits are steady. The communication and transportation infrastructure is up to date and best in class; but the types of accommodations are not leading the way. The tradition of four and five star has all but disappeared–it struggles.

But there are committed private sector players whose future is based upon visitors’ feet on the landscape, regional transportation and watch consolidator. Both of them rely on successful, comfortable and convenient overnights.

Where does this landscape tourism go in the first half of the 21st century?

Airbnb, local holiday apartments, dormitory accomodations?

Are the traditional comforts of four and five star hospitality culture a memory, not suited to today’s green regulations, today’s pace of life, today’s constrained economics?

Or is there a new paradigm still undiscovered that matches and challenges this timeless inspirational landscape?

That is a question for designers, entrepreneurs and lovers of landscape.

…mountain magic…

For centuries, humans from this region have used the alphorn to express how this landscape inspires them.

…sweetest music you never heard…

Berner Oberland landscape and plants work their way into the finest corners of human inspiration, design and crafts.


Gentian blue, four species…but the color of lapis lazuli…implies the cultural wealth of millennia.

…taste the mountains…

The local brewery, with 700 yrs of history, sells its brew in two litre refillables–collectible graphic design, no?

…fresh water air

Lake steamers connect Interlaken to all towns and villages on the Thunersee and Brienzersee–fresh air carried on fresh water from the Grimsel Pass glaciers.


The arable land yields food for humans who respect that miracle in their crafts and architecture.

…music, always music…

Whether by jodeling, alphorns or tales…human connections with the landscape are easily accessible in this region.

…flying is too fast…

A visitor can access this landscape in every imaginable manner.

…take a gamble…

Human shelters for entertainment and education–the old and the new both sitting nicely in the landscape.

…up the valley…

Departing Interlaken from the Hohematte foreground in the direction of the Jungfrau begins an exceptional landscape design sequence of spaces experience working up through the valleys to Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen.


This is a view across the Hohematte toward the Jungfrau. The Hohematte is a 14 hectare meadow in the center of town, first owned by the Augustinian Monastery, then by Bern and finally in the 1860s bought by a consortium of locals who have preserved it as a meadow in perpetuity.


Interlaken blends modern with tradition in many aspects of design, arts and crafts.


Ethnobotany–only the bravest of the climbers could find edelweiss–Leontopodium alpinum.

…two km straight up…

Network interfaces–urban quality interfaces at the foot of Eiger and Jungfrau. Convenient and awe inspiring.


For walkers the wayfinding is superb. Networks to networks–superb. Clear, crisp.

…water's edge…

In Interlaken, the Aare River connects the upstream Brienzersee to the Thunersee and continues as the largest tributary to the upper Rhine.

…and still the landscape inspires…

Churches tell the political and religious history–Catholic, Reformed–Austrians, French…via arts and crafts.

…idealized plants…

Art Nouveau craftsmanship inspired by the landscape.