The Building is Not Trying To Look Beautiful #2: New Monte Rosa Hut
This is New Monte Rosa Hut, in Zermatt (the German-speaking part of Switzerland) by Bearth & Deoplazes Architekten. Their other projects are simple and dignified with hardly any funny stuff and well worth a look. All these excellent images are taken from their site.
This particular project is what misfits’ likes to encourage. It was featured in the special Green Architecture supplement to the current edition of DOMUS, whose online edition is refreshing if you’re tired of the usual puff pieces, unedited user-generated content and advertisements for watches. I wish I’d known about their site in 2009 when this building was first published.
Environmental amelioration: The building, as you’ll notice, is in an extreme environment. People can die. It’s no place to muck around with the meaning of stuff. This building has other priorities.
Here’s a website giving you today’s weather at Monte Rosa. Mountaineers like hourly forecasts, and for various altitudes.
Footprint: The building has a small footprint and, although not a sphere, is a compact volume because a near-spherical shape has a high volume-to-surface area ratio.
This means there is less heat loss and less energy required to heat the building. It also means that a smaller amount of construction materials needed to be airlifted to build the envelope. In order to avoid heat transfer with the ground, the building is situated on a steel platform fixed into a concrete foundation.
Materials transportation efficiency: The internal structure is timber because it has a high strength to weight ratio. Timber is better value when one has to airlift structural materials. This shows – literally – in the three-layer plywood that is the innermost layer of the external wall. This is the main element absorbing horizontal forces to stiffen the structure. In a lightweight building, this is an important role as I imagine the site can get quite windy.
Timber also allows a high degree of prefabrication. The entire building was constructed in 420 pieces that were helicoptered to the site and assembled. It it took 3,000 flights to transport materials and a total of 35 workers over two summers to complete the building.
Construction was possible only between Mid-May and September.
Structure: The structure has its own repetitive geometry for efficiency and stability whilst the geometry of the shell is determined by the topography, the climate and, thirdly, the internal functional requirements. The building is the most complex timber building ever erected in Switzerland.
Energy: One climatic given is the direction of the sun. The south face of the building envelope is covered with 89 sqm of solar panels that produce 90% of the building’s energy requirements. Excess energy is stored in batteries. There is an emergency fuel-powered backup generator.
The building’s computerised energy management system is continuously monitored by the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. The team in Zurich is currently investigating the recovery of biogas so that gas for the kitchen does not have to be helicoptered in. This will make the building 100% energy-autonomous.
Windows: By VELUX, who seem a bit shy about advertising this project. Perhaps it’s because triple-glazed window units aren’t anything special for them.
Spatial efficiency: The size of the building did not allow for central circulation to service a radial plan. Instead, the centre is a distribution corridor to the various accommodation rooms.
It is easy to be awed by the landscape, or drift off into some Modernistic artificial vs. Nature “Isn’t architecture fabulous!” mindset. Let’s not forget that this building is not trying to be beautiful. It’s just doing it’s job helping humans survive an environment where they probably shouldn’t be, but where they’ll go anyway.
Yes, it is energy-efficient. It ought to be. It’s had everything thrown at it in order to make it so. It won Regional Holcim Bronze in 2008. The only thing we need to think about is “Was this building necessary?” Well, there was an older and inadequate and probably less energy-efficient hut it did replace.
But let’s keep it real. The client for the building is the Swiss Alpine Society which has 120,000 members and which might explain both the enthusiasm for the project, the enthusiasm for doing it right, and also its considerable budget of 5.7 million Swiss francs (= approx. US$6 mil.)
That’s $50 per member – once. The building coaxes those Swiss people out of the house on the weekend to get a bit of fresh air and exercise and enjoy some scenery. I think that’s money well spent. The building’s not hurting anyone, hardly touching the planet, and I don’t think the mountain cares.
Thanks to all for these wonderful images of a wonderful project.