Public space project

The Schwarzensteinhütte: a high alpine sanctuary

At over 3,000 metres above sea level, the climate is harsh, the sky is close and the panoramic views are breathtaking. Amidst this wild terrain in the South Tyrolean Alps, very close to the Austrian border on the Italian side, a building forms a sanctuary that hikers and mountaineers seek out to rest and enjoy the view. This irregular hexagonal building is as fascinating as it is contradictory. At first glance, it looks like an alien element in the area with its initially shiny copper façade. And yet it also blends harmoniously into the landscape. The architects Bachmann + Stifter have succeeded in creating a very special masterpiece with the Schwarzensteinhütte.

As early as 2011, the province of Bolzano in South Tyrol decided to renovate the mountain refuge in the Zillertal Alps. The previous building was no longer structurally safe due to thawing permafrost. The aim was a new building about 100 metres further up with a classic layout of entrance area with porch, lounge and kitchen, washrooms and bedrooms for 50 guests.

Building in extreme conditions

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One of the main challenges in constructing this hut at an altitude of over 3,000 metres was not only the weather conditions, but predominantly the logistics. Both were decisive influencing factors for the choice of materials. The areas in contact with the rock are made of concrete. Everything else is made of wood because it was possible put up a wooden construction within a few days and the streamlined wall and ceiling elements – panelled with SWISS KRONO OSB – were easier to transport. A temporary cable car was erected for the building material so that it could be transported more flexibly and independently of the weather. This was a more cost-effective alternative to the helicopter, which was only used for workers and craftsmen. Care had to be taken for everything to ensure that the material could be processed and assembled even in wet conditions and sub-zero temperatures.

The irregular, almost haphazard silhouette, which tapers both upwards and downwards from the ground floor, is inspired by the surrounding rock formations, which have been shaped by the forces of nature. Seen from every direction, the building has a different shape and is, therefore, always in motion. The copper sheet façade, which shines and reflects differently depending on the incident light, also contributes to this. Meanwhile, the façade has already darkened and is becoming covered with patina.

The building generates electricity from a photovoltaic system. A combined heat and power unit can be activated depending on requirements. Electrical energy is stored in a battery bank. A large part of the hut is unheated, but so well insulated that it is enough. In 2018, the hut was awarded the autonomous province of Bolzano ClimateHouse Award’s special prize. Drinking water is collected and purified 450 metres away as glacier or melt water.

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