Report: 3. Diemtigtal and Simmental

The second place I visited was the Diemtigtal (Diemtig Valley), also in the Bernese Oberland. The Diemtigtal, however, is on the west side of the region and is geographically closer than the upper Aare valley to the lower-elevation areas of Canton Bern, a fact that is very important to the region's architecture. The Diemtigtal is a valley whose rivers empty into the Simme River, and so it adjoins the Simmental (the Simme valley). The Simme flows east into the Thunersee. The town I stayed in, Oey, is in fact the meeting point of the Diemtigtal and the Simmental, so I ended up exploring both valleys, as they're both architecturally noteworthy. The landscape of the area is composed of fairly high mountains with rocky ridges and plenty of woods and intensive agriculture on the slopes. The reason this area's location is architecturally important is that it turns out to be an architectural transition zone between Blockbau chalets and Lower Bernese style. I didn't realize this consciously while I was in the Diemtigtal, but it became very clear when I moved on to the Emmental in the Bernese Mittelland (the Bernese Plateau).

The Simmental and Diemtigtal are distinguished by a large smattering of particularly beautiful Blockbau chalets, distinguished by a high degree of fine external ornamentation and careful attention to proportions (8). A common construction feature is a relatively close grouping of roof beam supports (9).

8. Extremely dense decoration on a Simmentaler farmhouse, all produced by hand.

9. This house has no less than ten roof beam supports on its gable end. Simmental.

The Diemtigtal won the 1986 Wakker Prize, which is given to communities that are successful at historical preservation of their traditional buildings. There are some particularly old houses and barns in the two valleys (i.e. more than 500 years old), with signature archaic features such as the Heidenkreuz ("heathen cross," 10) and posts to support the end of a large roof overhang (11), rather than the usual cantilevered and buttressed beams.

10. The Heidenkreuz is the combination of vertical post and diagonal braces in the wall. Near Oey, Diemtigtal.

11. Roof with external support posts, Ringoldingen, Simmental.

The chalet shape and Blockbau construction are not as universal here as in the upper Aare valley or the Lötschental. Rather, another form is commonly found, the Lower Bernese farmhouse:

12. The Grosshaus ("Big House"), a typical Lower Bernese-style house, Diemtigen, Diemtigtal.

This is often Blockbau but can be post-and-beam. Chalets are pretty much always Blockbau; the northern-influenced post-and-beam construction is only found in buildings with an overall northern shape (i.e. with a steep roof). This is the aforementioned stylistic influence from the Bernese Mittelland, and we will see much more of the Lower Bernese style on the next page.

A change in the seemingly general Swiss preference for adherence to tradition in building form comes about in camphouses. I happened upon several of them near the Fildrich River in the upper Diemtigtal. They have nonstandard and sometimes amusing shapes — tapering side walls like some cartoon fairytale house (13), an A-frame (14), and a building with so much less roof overhang than usual that it almost looks like a rustic house from Maine (15).

13. Blockbau construction applied in an unusual way. Schwenden, Diemtigtal.

14. Schwenden, Diemtigtal.

15. Schwenden, Diemtigtal.