Moving Ground

The Construction of AlpTransit Infrastructure and its Monumental Landscapes


  • Chiara Pradel


Moving Ground, AlpTransit, Monumental Landscapes


Infrastructures as high-speed railways are a contemporary relevant and debated topic with several political, economic, environmental impacts. While the European Union is fostering the development of the Trans-European Transport Network, only in the Alpine arc, placed at the hearth of Europe, six HSR lines (Genoa-Marseille, Milan-Lyon, Genoa-Basel, Genoa-Zurich, Verona-Munich, Venice-Vienna) are at the moment under construction to cross national borders and to facilitate mobility of goods and people. Within this framework, the recent monumental project of the New Rail Link through the Alps (NRLA) that connects South of Germany to North of Italy through Switzerland is now in the final completion stage.

The inspiring, strong relationship between mountainous regions and streets or railways has already been the object of various investigations, that have highlighted the existing critical connection between infrastructure, territory and strong formal architectural interventions, or between the imaginary, mythical alpine landscape and its implications on the collective identity, as in the case of the Gotthard massif, or the connection between rough topographies and great technological-engineering challenges. In particular, to study both architectural and territorial opportunities linked to the design of the new infrastructure, AlpTransit AG consulted a trans-disciplinary group, the “Beratungsgruppe für Gestaltung”, that mainly gave rise to the specific architectural language for portals, viaducts, ventilation funnels, retaining walls.

This paper aims to look at the topical relation between the high speed infrastructures and landscape rather from a different perspective, in which the so called “Infrastructural Monuments” are inextricably linked with the produced monumental ground movements: broad excavated earth’s volumes often not acknowledged nor easy to recognize, spread as spoils inside the nearest territories. Indeed­ only the Gotthard axis construction, which consists of two single track tubes around 40 metres apart linked to each other by cross-passages, originated more than 13.3 million of cubic meters of excavated material (earth and rocks). This huge size could be figured out as the equivalent of five Cheops pyramids of inert waste. The aim to shape this great volume could be compared to the ambitious project, envisioned by Dinocrates for Alexander the Great and described by Plutarch, Vitruvio and Leon Battista Alberti, to carve the entire Mount Athos. Among the enormous spoil amount coming from the Gotthard tunnel, indeed, only the high-grade materials, about 46 per cent, could have been reused for producing concrete and shotcrete aggregates, while a considerable surplus was destined for the so called “recultivation requirements”, like environmental restorations or filling for cultivation, inside territories. At the present time thus it is impossible to remove this wasted earth, instead it is necessary to re-enter it inside the ecosystem.

What could be the role of design and of landscape architecture?

What are the effects on landscape of the inert leftovers coming from the construction of infrastructures?

The research is intended as an instrument to interpret and deepen the compositional, strategic meaning of moving ground actions inside the design process, reflecting on how, millennia after first ancestral earth mounds, earthworks could today become part of a continuously renewed sublime imagination.