The Monte Rosa Hut is a contemporary version of a medieval donjon, designed by Bearth & Deplazes Architekten. The structure sits on top of 2,883 meters high rugged Swiss alpine sky between the Gorner, Monte Rosa, and Grenz glaciers near the town of Zermatt in Switzerland. The uncertainty between a sense of security and being exposed at the same time defines the building’s structure. 

The mountain hut was inaugurated in 2009 as a research project and joint work of the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) and master students of ETH Zurich’s Department of Architecture who described the hut as “the most complex wooden construction in Switzerland”. 

The most striking feature of the New Monte Rosa Hut is its location in the heart of a sensitive landscape and the splendid isolation from civilization in seemingly untamed nature. Monte Rosa Hut’s glistening surface rises defiantly in the face of endless snow and rock.

Monte Rosa Hut by Bearth & Deplazes Architekten: A contemporary version of a Medieval Donjon - Sheet1
Monte Rosa Hut_Tonatiuh Ambrosetti

The remote mountain site mandates the greatest possible self-sufficiency. The hut nicknamed the “Mountain Crystal” is a case study project that is an interface between the environment and the city.

Design

The hut is designed as something akin to a sphere or cylinder as this shape offers the lowest surface to volume ratio and a minimum heat escape route. It visually resembles crystallized quartz, an impression that is added by the shimmering outer aluminum skin. 

The five-story wood construction is made from prefabricated frame elements and extensive wind studies performed in wind simulation software. The design team simulated different scenarios using Vectorworks Architect to design and coordinate 420 different wall and building elements which saved a great amount of development time and led to a significant reduction in building costs.

Monte Rosa Hut by Bearth & Deplazes Architekten: A contemporary version of a Medieval Donjon - Sheet2
Monte Rosa Hut South Facade_Tonatiuh Ambrosetti

The communal areas on the lowest level are surrounded by ribbon glazing and the floors above acquiring the bedrooms are accessed through the spiral stairway cascading around the periphery of the structure. The staircase follows the course of the sun, capturing and distributing the warmth of the sun throughout the house, and also provides an ambient mountain view through the windows. 

Along with a total capacity of accommodation of 120 people in 3-8 dorms, the hut has a big dining room and additional serving rooms. As there are no roads to the Monte Rosa Hut, visitors travel by foot over rocky, snow-covered terrain from the nearest train station in Rotenboden or drop in by helicopter.

Monte Rosa Hut by Bearth & Deplazes Architekten: A contemporary version of a Medieval Donjon - Sheet3
Monte Rosa Hut Stairway_Tonatiuh Ambrosetti

Materials and Construction

The whole building stands on a spider-like steel platform to avoid the transfer of warmth to the ground beneath the building. The platform is connected to the ground by ten steel stilts planted into concrete foundations. The prefabricated elements were initially transported by train and then flown to the building site by helicopter. 

The New Monte Rosa Hut is constructed out of pre-fabricated “lightweight” wooden frames to ensure minimal weight as well as lower material consumption and time to build on-site. A layer of shimmering silver aluminum plates is used as a final dressing because of their thermal insulation properties. Small VELUX windows are used to keep the energy and warmth inside.

Monte Rosa Hut by Bearth & Deplazes Architekten: A contemporary version of a Medieval Donjon - Sheet4
Monte Rosa Hut Construction_The Architecture Review

Sustainability

The design team chose high-quality renewable building materials like local spruce and fir, similar to traditional mountain huts, to optimize sustainability and keep the cost in check. The biggest challenge faced by the designers was the downside of building the new Monte Rosa Hut in an isolated site, i.e., cut-off from the power and water supply grids. 

The solution was achieved with the installation of 85 square meters of a photovoltaic system on the southern façade and 35 square meters of thermal solar collectors, ensuring up to 90% of the building’s energy needs. Meltwater is collected from surrounding glaciers and stored in a rock cavern and to further lessen the water usage, a complex system of micro-filtrates is in place to clean gray water for further reuse.

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Monte Rosa Hut Dorm_Tonatiuh Ambrosetti

The facility houses a state-of-the-art research lab to measure the building’s efficiency as a self-sufficient structure. It also has a sophisticated energy management system that factors the weather forecast and calculates energy usage per guest. Software developed by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich) controls the technology of the building. 

Although the remoteness of the New Monte Rosa Hut requires additional cost for helicopter transport of supplies at least once a month, compared to the old hut, the new building diminishes up to 66% of the emission of CO2 per person/day. The interplay of individual components and a cleverly devised energy system allowed such a high level of energy independence.

Monte Rosa Hut by Bearth & Deplazes Architekten: A contemporary version of a Medieval Donjon - Sheet6
Monte Rosa Hut Night_Tonatiuh Ambrosetti

This project preserves the balance between architecture and habitat. The hut continues the century-old essence of alpine mountain shelters while completely redefining its appearance. 

ETH Zürich’s work with the Monte Rosa Hut has solidified its commitment to addressing global climate change issues with cutting-edge technology solutions in an adverse setting. The outstanding architecture and ground-breaking technology of Monte Rosa Hut is a remarkable example of sustainable buildings.

Author

Rashi Jain is an architect by profession and a writer by passion. She thinks every wall has a story that needs to be told. Her admirations vary from intricate sculptures of heritage buildings to the glamour of set designing. She believes that words have the power to change the world.

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