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homify 360°: A refuge in the Swiss Alps

Sheila Byers Sheila Byers
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For homify 360, we  travel to a summit in the Swiss Alps to show you this wonderful project of a lodge in the mountains. Perched in the middle of the Tracuit pass at over 3256 meters (!), this contemporary, alluring building stands out as much for its unusual background as for its elegant and innovative design. Constructed by the Franco-Swiss architectural firm Savioz Fabrizzi Architects, this contemporary cabin proudly continues the tradition of generations of shelters that have given refuge to climbers for nearly 85 years. So we take the time to describe not only its particular architectural character, but also its impressive environment and the various ways it responds to the needs of these passing climbers.  

Mineral deposits

First, appreciate the incredible panorama that surrounds this unusual building: the peaks of Bishorn and Weisshorn, proud and massive, dominate the skyline while the glacier Turtmann extends its long cold tongue on this desolate landscape. Because the landscape is truly a desert of ice and rock, where the  vegetation must struggle to survive, it reminds us of the lunar surface or other impossible territories from SciFi movies. In this quixotic world, the shelter fits in well, thanks to a clever play of similarities and differences. The reflective metallic coating appears out of place in this arid environment, like a diamond in a pile of rocks, but obviously its mineral nature is clearly familiar. Its rugged morphology, meanwhile, appears to be a poetic reinterpretation of the surrounding mountains, while its foundation wisely echoes the uneven ground, clinging strongly to this vertiginous landscape.

Between heaven and earth

In the above description, we forgot to mention one of the main protagonists of this incredible environment: the sky. After all, it takes up more than half of the landscape, and it is its light that gives the snow-capped peaks their solid and substantial character. This picture allows us to better appreciate the relationship between the sky and the building: the famous reflective coating operates as a mirror that covers the building with soft colours at sunrise and a bright orange at sunset. What better way could you imagine could you expect for a project of contemporary architecture to blend into its landscape?

Welcoming visitors

A concave space and a change in the material of the exterior coating suggest an entry for visitors. The voluminous overhang protects the guests against the multiple weather threats of this inhospitable environment. The wide band over the opening and the solar panels that cover the southern facade make the most of the sun's rays. Other walls have smaller openings to prevent heat loss. The construction of this building proved to be a challenge given its isolated location. Concrete, difficult to transport, was limited to the foundation. The modular structure of prefabricated wood was transported by helicopter and assembled directly on the site in an operation that required nine days. Finally, the  stainless steel coating was chosen for its durability and resistence to water.

Common areas

The interior is arranged to reduce the loss of space. This logic of maximum space creates pieces with compact proportions that invite contact between users, promoting what architects call hut spirit. The uniform use of plain wooden panels, for walls as well as for furniture, intensifies this effect while having a clearly contemporary, if not minimalist, nature. The generous south windows offer occupants of the dining room views of the surroundings and, at the best part of the day, a warm, golden sun. The wall of sliding glass, which you can see in the middle of the image, is used to reduce the space of the dining hall during the winter months when traffic is greatly reduced.

Interior movement

The style of the stairway is certainly at odds with the appearance of the rest of the building. The walls are  painted a lime green, and the lush surroundings are certainly a comforting space for climbers who have not been able to see vegetation for some time! The use of a weaker metal to form the handrail is a clever detail that shows how the architects have been able to be economically minded for all levels of this project. The layout of the building was also designed very thoughtfully: the bathrooms were installed in the basement with technical spaces and the dormitories were placed on the top floor to collect the rising warm air, while the whole building is interspersed with public areas located in the heart of the project.

Rooms and dormitories

The shelter, which houses a total of 116 occupants at a time, has a variety of different-sized dormitories, holding four, twelve or twenty-four climbers. The look of these spaces is reminiscent of the style of the dining hall, with an abundance of plywood and planks of light wood. The slight tilt of the exterior allows the guests to appreciate the aerial landscape and promotes the entry of sunlight. Let's be honest, it really is the panorama that is featured here, and rightly so: after a long day of climbing, what better gift for passing tourists than a choice view, a reward for their hard work?

Back to the landscape

We could not complete this homify 360 without returning to our starting point: the stunning landscape that surrounds the Tracuit cabin. From this point of view, mirrored walls reflect the snow-capped peaks, producing the illusion of a cube of snow set on top of this rocky pass. The scale of the building is completely overwhelmed by the vastness of the mountains, like an explorer lost in the land of giants. An ideal image to describe this bold project, set amid these wonders of the natural world.

What other projects that fit so well with their surroundings? Share some below!
Whitton Drive:  Terrace house by GK Architects Ltd

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