Ideas and innovations for our future are being dreamed up in all kinds of places, from Berlin and Tel Aviv to Singapore and Silicon Valley. And in the Engadin, too? Even in peaceful La Punt? We took a look to see what’s going on…
Brooklyn Miller says with conviction. The 27-year-old IT specialist from New York dreams of being able to visit this magical spot in Switzerland’s remote Engadin valley one day. Her colleague, Kevin James, nods as he sips his espresso. “Sure, like so many of the big transformations in the past few years, this one must have been thought up in La Punt, too.” When it comes to ground-breaking ideas and innovations, knowledge transfer and new approaches to solving global problems, La Punt is a key player. The mountain village has established itself as a world-leading powerhouse of original thinking. Are you surprised at these words? What is happening in La Punt that you haven’t heard about? A great deal is going on – but you can hardly see it yet. The first paragraph of this article describes a short imaginary scene in the future – let’s say in the year 2050. But no, the words aren’t pure fiction. We are talking about a vision that people in La Punt are energetically working towards.
Wisps of smoke emerge from the chimneys and dissolve in the sky above the old village houses, their facades adorned with ornate sgraffito decoration. Most buildings have already been here for several hundred years. They are surrounded by mighty mountains, which protect the village as if it were a treasure. How come peaceful La Punt is the focus of such an ambitious vision? “A combination of different circumstances and fortuitous events,” is Jon Erni’s answer to the question. He is the mastermind behind the project, a native of the Engadin who grew up in Tschlin and Scuol. To understand what the planned InnHub La Punt aims to be, you need to grasp the vision that Erni and his like-minded companions are championing for the Engadin: “teis prüm terz lö”, which is Romansh for “your first third place”. If your first place is your home and the second your main workplace, then the third is a place of retreat, networking and inspiration. A place for companies, creative minds and all who are seeking some - where they can work and at the same time find new energy in nature – for a day, a week or even longer. The setting is a large plot of land (9,400 sq. m) between the river Inn and the old village centre. This will house a centre with facilities for work, meetings and encounter: the InnHub La Punt.
It all began with the concept of “co-working spaces”, the new form of office sharing. La Punt had already seen several such initiatives. Erni wanted to create synergies and suggested a brainstorm be - tween the initiators of the various projects and anyone else who might be interested. That alone brought together some fascinating characters with impressive CVs: real visionaries. These included the media entrepreneur Beat Curti and one of On’s co-founders, Caspar Coppetti. “That was the spark for everything,” Erni recalls. Together, the group set a target of positioning the Engadin as a place of innovation. This should be a charismatic project with impact, they agreed: even the building should be an architectural landmark. So they asked the internationally renowned architect Norman Foster if he would join a jury to judge an architectural competition for the building to house the future InnHub. But Foster, who regards the Engadin as his main home, did not want to be part of the jury: he wanted to take over the project himself. Erni’s eyes sparkle: “Norman Foster’s commitment to the InnHub La Punt is a real god - send,” he says. For years, Norman Foster has been exploring how to use architecture to create social spaces that promote innovation. Prime examples include his Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California, and Bloomberg’s new European HQ in London. Erni goes on to say: “I’ve seen countless projects for which they built the building first, the shell, and only afterwards defined the contents. But we defined the contents first, and afterwards created the appropriate shell.” What ultimately takes place within the building is at least as important, in other words. It will certainly be a place of innovation, that’s guaranteed: On, the running shoe manufacturer, will use the facilities for developing new products. “That, too, will boost our image,” Erni says. Other exciting companies will join them. “Where charismatic com - panies and people work, others follow – you see a powerful attraction.” The effect is already noticeable, Erni says. The team are talking to Google, Microsoft has been a partner from early on, and several higher education establishments are interested in joining them. The venue will also be appealing for start-ups, Erni believes: some are already working at the InnHub PopUp. “They want to be at the cutting edge of new developments and take advantage of this pioneering energy here.”
A vision is born “Imagine this deserted place at the far end of a valley,” Erni says, speaking now about his hunting hut. “There’s no mobile phone signal there. This digital-free location is where I go to find new energy.” It is also where Erni realised he wanted a change. At the time, the graduate from ETH Zurich was working as the B2B manager of Sun - rise, following a successful career that took him around the world on telecoms and IT projects. “I had this growing urge to undertake something of which I can later say that it left a mark: something of value to society and the region.” It was at this time that he was contacted Not Carl. Could Erni help him build a fibre-optic network for the Engadin, Carl asked? Erni had no trouble deciding. “Digitalisation represents a huge opportunity for mountain valleys,” he says. The vehicle for the vision to position the Engadin as a place of retreat, networking and inspiration is the or - ganisation “miaEngiadina”. It oversees not just the creation of a fi - bre-optic network and the InnHub La Punt but also other projects in the fields of education and networking. In the existing mini version of the future InnHub La Punt we meet Andrina Brunner. “The pop-up is our playground,” she says. The 30-year-old manages the InnHub PopUp. “Here we can try things out, see what works, and analyse which facility systems we will need in fu - ture.” The co-working space is highly popular – not only with locals and people with second homes in the region, but often with visitors who happen to be in the valley. “If the weather’s horrible, it can hap - pen that ski tourers, for example, decide to fit in a day’s work and come and visit us.” Recreation, exploring the natural landscapes and also be - ing able to do some work: that’s what this place is all about. No sooner has she said it than Andrina Brunner reaches for her cross-country skis. After all, it’s now lunchtime, the sun’s shining, and Jon Erni is al - ready waiting for her to do a loop of the cross-country ski trail togeth - er. What ideas might they come up with this time round?