Interview with Grégory Bonvin, Owner & Director of GBO Architecture SA

Ultima Crans-Montana is beyond expectations. This stunning pair of luxury chalets have been expertly designed and built to match Ultima’s brand and the surrounding architecture. We speak with Grégory Bonvin, Owner & Director of GBO Architecture SA about the project.

What drew you to the field of architecture and what is your signature design style?

At a very young age, I discovered a natural talent for drawing and loved reproducing shapes and shading patterns. It’s amazing how a simple stroke of a pencil can completely alter the appearance, rendering and expression of an image. At the same time, my father, a contractor from the Haut plateau, ran a construction company and passed on to me his sensitivity to space. From a very young age, I was able to accompany him to many different construction sites, and he instilled in me a passion for realizing our client's dreams. In a sense, the field of architecture was an obvious choice for me, and I embarked on my career at a large architecture firm in the area. The entrepreneur who ran it was a visionary, deeply involved in the economic fabric. We created magnificent projects, including the largest luxury chalets in the resort. Rich with this experience, I wanted to continue in this direction with my own company and created the GBO Architecture SA brand.

Can you describe the brief for the Ultima Crans-Montana project?

Behind every project, there is a beautiful encounter, and my path crossed that of Mr Baciocchi, the co-founder of Ultima Collection. I’ll share a little anecdote with you: during his first visit to this magnificent property, it was a dark and foggy day, a rarity in our region, known for its eternal sunshine. However, that did not stop Mr Baciocchi from seeing the potential of this unique location in less than a minute and imagining the project that has become Ultima Crans-Montana. Indeed, the Ultima Collection aims to offer its customers the highest levels of discretion and intimacy. Here, location is the key starting point, a matchless place for a high-end chalet with the same services and amenities that demanding customers would expect in a hotel (if they were to stay in a hotel).

The developers of the concept felt completely transported to this privileged corner overlooking the Crans-Montana resort: a heritage location, known for its sunshine and the quality of its air, in the heart of a resort known for its ski area and golf course. Let’s not forget that beyond its crystal-clear lake, this property offers the possibility of ski-in/ski-out and is just five minutes from the heart of the resort, a small mountain town that continues to attract international personalities. The recognition was immediate for the Ultimafounders, they could see precisely how their concept would come to life, how they could bring the first high-end private chalet with services that could be rented in our region.

What are the key or signature traits of architecture in Crans-Montana?

Crans-Montana gradually developed in an area of pastures, thanks first to health tourism and then sports tourism. Several architectural styles emerged, such as the ‘Ellenberger’ style, a student of Le Corbusier, who built the Mont-Blanc Hotel and the famous Bernese Sanatorium. The development of the resort occurred in two major stages. The first promoters and architects who worked in Crans-Montana were from the city and built flat buildings in the ‘bar style’.In the 1970s, a new communal regulation came into force, which required the construction of buildings with gable roofs. Since then, the architecture has been much more harmonious and sympathetic in the resort.

Is there anything specific you find in Crans-Montana that you don’t find in other mountain villages?

Crans-Montana initially gained a reputation as a winter sports resort, with its first winter season starting in 1905. To attract guests during the summer, the Palace Hotel built a golf course,  which at the time was the highest in the world. Many celebrities have also come here to receive treatment in the renowned clinics, thanks in part to the climate. Since 1900, the resort has evolved into a small mountain town, with all the services one could expect and featuring many top brands. Crans-Montana offers a ‘Dolce Vita’ lifestyle in the mountains, and many famous personalities come here to enjoy themselves, including royal families, famous industrialists and financiers,  movie stars, and more. Some of the most well-known visitors include Belmondo, Bourville, and more recently George Clooney. In short, Crans-Montana is known for skiing,  sunshine and golf, with luxury shops open year-round.

Which values were you seeking to reflect in the Ultima project? Can you give an insight into your creative process?

Ultima is a brand that combines contemporary and traditional styles. One of their main objectives is to give authenticity to the project by maintaining the architectural style of the destination. Plans-Mayen was historically a place composed of modest buildings, constructed with wooden elevations placed on stone foundations. At the same time, it was essential to be able to recognize the unique signature of the brand with just one glance. All rare and refined materials were meticulously selected to create a warm atmosphere for guests, a place where they could feel at home in complete comfort. One of the main challenges was to create a living space that would allow for all cultures whilst taking into consideration circulation logistics. For example, men and women could be entirely separated. It was also very important to have corridors dedicated to staff so that guests could have privacy. The client should feel totally at home, and to give you another example, the dormitories for the children have distinct universes, one for girls, the other for boys.

What are the main elements one needs to consider on a project of this type of Swiss alpine destination?

Unfortunately, we are facing a tightening of laws and regulations and have to juggle with the imposed constraints. For me, it is first and foremost necessary to maintain the specific character of the place, and then understand what is expected from future users, their way of living.

How do architects and local suppliers work together, are there many synergies and collaborations locally?

As a native of Crans-Montana, I have always favoured collaboration with local businesses. This is particularly important for this type of project, which involves using noble materials and advanced, state-of-the-art technology. It is imperative to have local companies behave in an ultra-responsive manner, both during the construction phase and once the project is operational. It should also be noted that we are fortunate to have all the necessary building trades in our region, with well-established expertise. In the construction of this project, the founders of Ultima requested from the beginning to work with local suppliers with an ambition to grow the local economy in the region.

The wellness area feels like it’s the heart of the property, what was the vision and importance of the spa facilities?

It’s true, as soon as you step inside, everything makes you want to head straight to the spa. What’s of utmost importance is the well-being of the guests and that’s why the spa is the heart of this magical place. The guests are looking for absolute calm to recharge and rest. At Ultima, everything comes together to make it possible: vast green spaces, a lake, a breathtaking view of eternal snow, and a crystal-clear pool.

Which aspect of the final project were you most pleased about?

There is not one part that I prefer over another. What I am proud of is having put people at the heart of this creation. For me, it was necessary to integrate all the needs and future desires of the guests, while bringing an ultra-luxurious feeling all while maintaining a human scale: nothing is ostentatious.

In your view, what is the secret to building ultra-luxury into design?

It is necessary to maintain the exterior and interior authenticity through architectural design, and a selection of high-end materials preferably crafted by local artisans, to allow for the discovery of interior spaces with surprise.