Every architect dreams to design a project in the Mountains, but, the designing of such projects also comes with some of its challenges. Here is a list of 10 Things to Remember while Designing in Mountains:

Buildings placed on rugged mountainous terrain that aesthetically merges into the topography define the term, ‘Mountain Architecture’. Architecture located on the Mountain landscape, are classified into ‘Traditional Mountain Architecture’ and ‘Modern Mountain Architecture’ which is a raging trend in the current times due to the modern and recreational front it presents. Mountain architecture, mostly, comprises only residential and hospitality buildings which include Villas, Chalets, Cabins, Resorts, etcetera. 

Every architect dreams to design a project in the Mountains, but, the designing of such projects also comes with some of its challenges. 

Here is a list of 10 Things to Remember while Designing in Mountains:

1. The Orientation of the Structure

The orientation of the building should permit natural light into the interiors. The position of the structure should be in a way that no existing vegetation at the site is harmed or removed. Preservation of streams, drainage, creeks etcetera is important while positioning driveways and garages. Mountain land should be left as undisturbed as possible. An example that shows suitable orientation is the ‘X House’ designed by Cadaval & Solà-Morales, located in Barcelona, Spain. The house incorporates landscape as a defining character to enhance the form of the house. 

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The X House ©Iwan Bawa
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The X House ©Iwan Bawa
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The X House ©Iwan Bawa

2. Building Height

The advised maximum height for a structure located in the mountains is 10.6 meters or three floors. The guidelines state that ‘The maximum height of a structure should be calculated based on the vertical distance of the grade (mean height of the highest and lowest elevations at which the structure meets the ground) measured to the mean height level between the eaves and ridge of the highest main roof.’ The structure needs the existing features of the mountain. An example that corroborates the guideline is the ‘LR2 House’ located in Pasadena, California, the United States of America. The house consists of three levels and is designed using the means of grading.

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LR2 House ©https://images.adsttc.com/
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LR2 House ©https://images.adsttc.com/
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LR2 House ©https://images.adsttc.com/

3. Energy Efficient/Sustainable Design

Sustainable Design helps Mountain Architecture function properly. Solar Powered systems and Hydro Powered Smart programs help mountain architecture to acquire energy using sustainable means. The ‘Bear Run Cabin’ situated in the USA, exhibits sustainability using geothermal heat, super insulation, passive solar heating, and plantation-sourced wood.

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Bear Run Cabin ©https://images.adsttc.com/
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Bear Run Cabin ©https://images.adsttc.com/
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Bear Run Cabin ©https://images.adsttc.com/

4. Colors & Materials

The design should exhibit warm and earthy tones of colors. The material extensively used for the construction of buildings on the mountains are natural wood along with aluminum and brass. An aluminum-clad cabin located on Mount Kanin, along the Slovenian-Italian borders proves to be a good example. The 104 square foot cabin, designed by OFIS Arhitekti, is constructed using timber, glass, and aluminum. The silver color of the aluminum cladding merges very well with the rocky terrain surrounding it.

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The Kanin Winter Cabin ©https://hips.hearstapps.com/
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The Kanin Winter Cabin ©https://hips.hearstapps.com/
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The Kanin Winter Cabin ©https://hips.hearstapps.com/

5. Building Massing and Components

Building Massing helps to break down, and display good proportions without additional architectural features. The massing highlights the structure and, the function of the house. The ‘House on the Cliff’, located on The Coast of Granada in Spain proves to be a good example. The house, designed by GilBartolomé Architects, does not have any extra features and, yet appears to have a futuristic outlook. The house, balanced on a 42-degree inclined slope of the hill, overlooks the cliff.

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House on The Cliff ©http://www.gilbartolome.com/
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House on The Cliff ©http://www.gilbartolome.com/
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House on The Cliff ©http://www.gilbartolome.com/

6. Accessory Structures

Guidelines usually recommend that the total area of Mountain houses be split into multiple structures to create a ‘family compound’. Family compounds provide a more pleasing aesthetic to people offsite than a stand-alone structure. A family compound designed by Locati Architects, situated in the mountains of Montana proves to be a good example.

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Rustic Family Compound ©https://onekindesign.com/
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Rustic Family Compound ©https://onekindesign.com/
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Rustic Family Compound ©https://onekindesign.com/

7. Exterior Lighting

Use Exterior Lighting for the illumination of the structures during night time. It also enables safe and comfortable movement in, out and around the structure. The night lighting also helps in increasing the beauty of the site and architecture. Avoid blue light emission and use warm lights to illuminate the exteriors. The ‘In the Mountains House’ designed by the Ant Studios located on the Himalayan Mountains in India, is an example of an Illuminated house. 

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In The Mountain House ©https://images.adsttc.com/
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In The Mountain House ©https://images.adsttc.com/
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In The Mountain House ©https://images.adsttc.com/

8. Decks

Most Mountain Homes feature an outdoor recreational space in the form of decks and, decks blend into the architecture seamlessly using structural elements that visually ground it. The ‘Fall House’, located in California, features a couple of outdoor decks.

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Fall House ©http://www.fougeron.com/
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Fall House ©http://www.fougeron.com/
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Fall House ©http://www.fougeron.com/

9. Roofs

All guidelines state that ‘Mountain homes must feature inclined roofs to resist hail and snow that occur frequently in the mountains’. To avoid heavy massing, architects use low pitched slopes to lower the visual impact of the roof. An excellent example is the Ski Chalet located on the mountains of Quebec, designed by the firm, Robitaille Curtis. The chalet’s metal roof inclines parallel to the slope of the hill.

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Ski Chalet, Quebec ©https://www.dezeen.com/
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Ski Chalet, Quebec ©https://www.dezeen.com/
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Ski Chalet, Quebec ©https://www.dezeen.com/

10. Fenestration

Fenestration in the buildings acts as accessories to the structure and adds scale and details to the architecture. The placement of windows and skylights must be in such a way that the interiors would not be visible from the exterior. Reduce the glass area to eliminate the presentation of the interiors to people offsite to ensure safety and privacy. An example that follows the guideline properly is the “Mountain House” designed by FAM Architekti. The house, located in the mountains in Pernink, Czech Republic, has windows on three sides of the structure. While the fenestration provides the occupants with a great view and natural lighting inside the house, glazing on the aluminum windows ensure that the interiors are not visible to the outside world.

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Mountain House by FAM Architekti ©https://www.dezeen.com/
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Mountain House by FAM Architekti ©https://www.dezeen.com/
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Mountain House by FAM Architekti ©https://www.dezeen.com/

There are many more things Architects should keep in mind while designing buildings on a mountain landscape. Also, architects necessarily do not follow all the guidelines listed here, because the trends and styles in architecture are always changing and the design is ultimately subjective to the architect’s vision.

Author

Gopika Gopan is an Interior Designer who believes every building has a story to tell and is on a mission to narrate as many stories as possible. She believes architecture is the mirror of society and, she hopes to make a change in the world with her words and designs.

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