Along with language and traditional female clothing, still worn on festive days, one of the most interesting aspects of Walser culture is the architecture of the house, a meaningful example of their adaptability to environmental circumstances. In fact, anything could vary from one valley to another: the building materials available locally, the economic demands of working the land, the altitude, the space for building and living, the artistic influences of the valley floor, etc.
Moreover the farming community had to find new solutions each time, often profoundly different from each other in terms of building technique and style. Some basic elements, however, recur almost identically throughout ancient Walser rural construction. The most significant of these is the use of wood according to the ancient building technique of logs set at the corners (a technique known as “Block-bau“)..
An emblematic example of Walser architecture are the typical houses in Alagna Valsesia, Piedmont, which cleverly enclose all the functions of alpine life and economy in a single building: dwelling, stable, barn, hayloft, storage and workshop.
Also in Piedmont, in Formazza, as well as in Bosco Gurin, in Canton Ticino (and later in the Grisons), the typology of the Walser house, however, more accurately reflects that of the original valleys of the Valais: the stable-barn is a wooden building in itself, often distant from the dwelling, while the rear part of the latter, with the “fire house” (the kitchen), is built of stone, better suited than wood to protect the building from fire and storms.
The parlor – heated with a soapstone fireplace (stove) – is the heart of the home, the favorite spot in mythology and in the lives of many Walser generations. The family spent much of the winter in the parlor, in a kind of “human hibernation” that allowed the ancient settlers to manage to live for long periods – sometimes up to eight months – on the meager food resources offered by the mountains in winter, saving as much energy as possible.