The Aluminum rods of British Pavilion in Shanghai are void or soild?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sustainable Mountain Hut by Studio Monte Rosa, Monte Rosa, Switzerland

By Steven Spier

The new Monte Rosa hut sits on Switzerland’s second highest Alpine peak, with impressive views of the neighbouring Matterhorn. Building in such a remote and inhospitable landscape presented huge challenges, not least the difficulties of transporting materials to the site

Since all the components of the prefabricated structure had to be transported to 2,795m above sea level by helicopter, minimizing the weight and number of trips became a key design factor. Despite being dwarfed and daunted by its surroundings, like some kind of survival pod in a lunar landscape, the hut actually sleeps 150 people. Wrapped in a glittering skin of aluminium, the new building is a far cry from Monte Rosa’s original rustic Berghütte which dated from 1895.

The project to replace it was devised by Meinhard Eberle of the ETH-Z’s architecture school and led by Andrea Deplazes. He made it a student project and founded the Studio Monte Rosa. At the end of the first semester, six of ten designs were chosen to be developed further and were passed on to new students in the next semester. These were eventually narrowed down to two options. The students also built the hut

Alpine tourism was a 19th-century invention, giving rise to the familiar infrastructure of railways and grand hotels that transformed once remote villages into resorts. Those who wanted a more rugged alpine experience could hike between mountain huts (Berghütten), where they could expect a sleeping bunk, a warm meal and little more.

The challenges of building an alpine hut in such remote places and harsh environments are as huge now as they were then.

It takes a few days to acclimatise to the thinness of the air above 2,500m and temperature extremes, even within a single day, can be considerable. Construction can only take place during a very short alpine summer and getting materials to the site is difficult - in the 19th century, building supplies were laboriously transported on the back of either mule or man.

Yet the term alpine hut is a misnomer; they are often good-sized buildings. The original hut at Monte Rosa, Switzerland’s highest peak, sits at 2,795m and could sleep 150 (tightly packed) people. With its stunning views of the Matterhorn, it is one of the busiest of Switzerland’s 153 Berghütten, but to get there from Zermatt still involves a trip by cog railway followed by a three-hour hike across two glaciers and a scramble up a rock face. A simple timber construction on a stone base, it has outhouses perched on a mountain edge and no running water except for a trough outside. Built in 1895 and extended and rebuilt over the years, it desperately needed to be replaced.

Coincidentally, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH-Z) was looking for a way to celebrate its upcoming 150th anniversary in 2005. Project director of the anniversary programme, Professor Meinrad Eberle, proposed designing a sustainable mountain hut, and in 2003 Andrea Deplazes, professor of architecture and construction and partner in Bearth & Deplazes Architekten, was appointed to lead the project. With the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC), which administers Switzerland’s Berghütten, they began looking for a challenging site that was also well visited, and eventually settled on Monte Rosa.

Deplazes made it a student project and formed Studio Monte Rosa. In view of the extreme challenges of the construction’s physics and logistics, specialists from other departments of the ETH-Z - the School of Engineering and Architecture at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, and specialists in economics and management - were brought on board. Assistant professor Marcel Baumgartner became the project architect and the team looked at climate data and use cycles, with the aim of building a hut that was self-sufficient in energy, water and waste.

An obvious starting point was a dense building with minimal surface area. A sphere delivers the smallest surface area relative to volume, so the new Monte Rosa hut tapers a spherical form over five storeys in response to its plan, the constraints of prefabricated timber construction, and the need to minimise openings while maximising solar gain.

Internally, the form is centrifugally segmented like an orange, with 50 separate compartments. The central core is a compact hallway and landing from which the sleeping quarters fan out. Vertical circulation wraps up and along the external wall. The huge volume follows the arc of the sun, bringing in passive heat, pulling air through and providing stunning views. Yet it is also designed to be a social and dramatic space; the depth of the structure allows you to sit in the facade and the main grand staircase is painted glistening gold.

With a huge rectilinear plane covered in photovoltaic panels angled at precisely 66.2º to maximise solar gain, the south facade is a purely rational form for generating power. Surplus energy is stored in battery banks and waste water from showers and toilets is filtered and reused. Solid waste is minimised and removed, not dumped down the hill, as was the case at the old hut. A cistern was blasted out of the mountain to store sufficient glacier meltwater for all the hut’s needs.

Some 15 per cent of the 6.5 million Swiss franc budget (approximately £4 million) was set aside for the transportation of building materials by helicopter.

Minimising weight and the number of trips thus became a major design consideration, as did the short summer which limited building time. The timber structure was prefabricated, with the optimal assembly sequence computer modelled. On site, it was packed with insulation and the exterior clad with an aluminium wind-and-rain screen, chosen for durability and lightness.

Within the concrete foundations, a steel undercarriage shaped like a wagon wheel isolates the building from the ground so it does not affect the permafrost. The kitchen is at the core of the main floor, with seating areas fanning out towards the Matterhorn. Its primary structure is a series of exposed timber trusses radiating out from the centre, with built-in timber benches and tables.

The effect is both rustic and sophisticated but, between the architects and the SAC, achieving that balance was not straightforward, proving sustainability is as much a cultural as a technical issue. The concept of a mountain hut was in fact unhelpful, suggesting a certain aesthetic and level of comfort; the old hut was dark, looked like an alpine chalet and offered primitive facilities. The facade, interior and improved amenities of the new building were a challenge to mountaineers’ expectations, so the architects had to balance modern architecture with traditional perceptions.

You could ask whether it would have been more sustainable not to build a new hut at all - but tourism is practically the Alps’ sole industry, and the huts are vital to help sustain local economies. The new Monte Rosa hut shows how ecologically, culturally and economically sustainable architecture can be achieved in
an extreme environment

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