Report: 4. Emmental

The Emmental (Emme Valley) is a region of rolling hills in Canton Bern, further north and at lower elevation than the Diemtigtal or the Brienz area. Its topography is softer than that of the previous areas and is more easily suited to agriculture. For this reason the general pattern of settlement is more oriented towards spread-out farms than concentrated villages. For instance, the town I stayed in, Trub, has a very small main village —

16. About half of the village of Trub, viewed from a nearby ridge.

— but with a large total land area, it is actually one of the larger municipalities in the area. In architectural terms, the Emmental is a gem. It is saturated with examples of the unique and instantly recognizable Lower Bernese building style, also found with lesser frequency in the western Oberland, as we saw in the Diemtigtal. Emmentaler buildings can be Blockbau but are more often post-and-beam. An almost universal feature of the style is a hipped roof; another quite common element is the Ründi, a kind of semicircular soffit under the front gable (see below for an example of both).

17. Trub, Emmental.

One of the few frustrating things about this trip is that I have not yet been able to figure out the purpose of the Ründi — whether it's pure ornamentation or something more practical. [Note, Jan. 2007: Still no progress on that front.] At any rate, it's an impressive feat of construction. Some Ründi even have more complex curves than a circular arc —

18. Langnau, Emmental.

— and occasionally even the roof picks up the curve of the Ründi:

19. Note the convex roof of the left gable. Langnau, Emmental.

Other Ründi, despite their name (related to English round), are actually angular:

20. Zollbrück, Emmental.

The boarded eaves of Ründi-clad buildings are so wide that they are sometimes pierced by skylights:

21. Skylit eave. Lauperswil, Emmental.

Another unusual and innovative kind of skylight is integrated glass roof tiles, which I saw in multiple areas:

22. Glass roof tiles. Near Ramsei, Emmental.

One typically finds a grouping of three main buildings on an Emmentaler farm: the large Bauernhof (farmhouse, 23), which comprises the primary living quarters and barn; the Stöckli (24), a smaller house where, traditionally, the grandparents of the family would live, basically staying out of the way of the daily farm operations but being around when needed; and the Speicher (granary: a few examples in picture 25), where backup supplies of grain and other essentials would be kept in case of a disaster such as fire in the Bauernhof.

23. Bauernhof. Gohl, Emmental.

24. Stöckli. Trub, Emmental.

25. Speicher from (top to bottom) Bärau, Trub, and Langnau, Emmental.

The Speicher would be built upwind of the Bauernhof to keep it safe. See below for a view of the whole family of buildings.

26. Left to right: Bauernhof, Speicher, Stöckli. Trub, Emmental.

As is also true in the Diemtigtal, colorful and whimsical apiaries (beehouses) can often be found on farms:

27. Three very different apiaries. Top to bottom: Trub, Fankhaus, and Langnau, Emmental.

The construction of Emmentaler buildings is usually post-and-beam and not Blockbau, except for Speicher, which often are Blockbau. Intuitively, this makes sense: Blockbau uses a lot of wood for a given wall area, and Emmentaler Bauernhöfe, often being of massive proportions, have very large wall areas. Post-and-beam is a more conserving (and probably cheaper) construction method. Speicher, meanwhile, are small enough to make Blockbau, a conceptually simpler building form, easily viable. A very common feature of the Bauernhof is a ramp, covered by a doubly sloped roof and leading from elevated ground up to the second floor of the barn. Sometimes the ramp forms a bridge over what can be a large open area:

28. This ramp (its roof at the top of the picture) is so high above ground that it makes room for two walk-under levels. Emmenmatt, Emmental.

Ramps can be seen on every sort of farmhouse and barn from the largest to the tiniest:

29. This barn, much smaller than a Bauernhof, still has a ramp on the right side. Trub, Emmental.

One Bernese Bauernhof at Ballenberg had such a ramp; it was the first one I'd ever seen and especially its interior framing (below) blew my mind. Even after seeing ramps on most Bauernhöfe in the Emmental, I never tired of them.

30. The complex structure of a typical Bernese barn ramp, with multiple diagonals to contend with. Ballenberg Museum.

As one might expect, although there is strong architectural unity in the Emmental, exceptions do exist. The picture below shows a house in Langnau that is Blockbau and looks almost entirely non-Emmentaler. It appears to be very old, given the condition (dark and slightly graying) of the wood. I would love to know about this house's origins. I'd never guess without prior knowledge that it was an Emmentaler building.

31. A mysterious Blockbau house, Langnau, Emmental.

With such an array (hip roof, Ründi, ramp, complex framing — see below) of unusual architectural elements, plus its massive proportions, the Emmentaler farmhouse is a strange and wondrous creature, accompanied by often whimsical Stöckli and Speicher.

32. Witenbach, Emmental.

Despite seeing several examples of the Lower Bernese style at Ballenberg, I still found the Emmental landscape, filled with these odd buildings, rather surreal. Buildings in larger towns and cities in the area are less idiosyncratic but still show certain unmistakeably Bernese elements, such as very wide boarded eaves:

33. Although in the middle of the old section of the urban center Burgdorf, this building has wide boarded eaves that recall those of a Ründi building in a smaller Emmental town.