New Monte Rosa Hut SAC
Tonatiuh Ambrosetti

New Monte Rosa Hut

Bearth & Deplazes Architekten AG as Architects

The striking thing about the Swiss Alpine Club's (SAC) New Monte Rosa Hut is its autonomy in the heart of a sensitive landscape, an extreme climatic region far from comfortable civilised supply networks, in "splendid isolation" between seemingly untamed nature and highly urban culture. This applies to the production, the building site logistics, the autarkic infrastructure and the operation of the hut. The New Monte Rosa Hut is a case study project on the interface between the environment and the city. First in isolation does the immense sensitivity of the natural as well as the urban resources on which life depends become apparent.


This is not simply a matter of creating a sustainable building or an energy efficient mountain lodge, but more importantly the main issue is to create an awareness of these critical dependencies both in the sense of a respectful handling of natural resources in a landscape which is in fact finite, and in the transferability of the knowledge acquired on the site to the global city and its future development.


The New Monte Rosa Hut has a self-sufficiency level of greater than 90%. In order to achieve this goal saving- and generating strategies are used. Only the gas for cooking and food are brought in with a helicopter.


The ETH-Studio Monte Rosa


The project for the New Monte Rosa Hut originated in the studio of the same name at the Faculty of Architecture (DARCH) at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich), directed by the Chair of Architecture and Technology, Prof. Andrea Deplazes. Over the course of four semesters different groups of students worked in a multiphase process to develop the project and, as a result, dealt intensively with questions of sustainability. In total over 33 students have participated in the ETH-Studio Monte Rosa since its establishment in 2003. In this respect the ETH-Studio Monte Rosa constitutes a new, practice-oriented form of knowledge transfer and acquisition, which since its inception has expanded in the curriculum of the DARCH into "Architectural Design with Integrated Disciplines". Therefore the ETH-Studio Monte Rosa is a bit like an "architectural flight simulator", in that the next generation is already working on the solutions to the challenges of the future.


Something akin to a sphere The hut would be designed most energy-efficiently as a sphere or cylinder: this shape offers the lowest surface to volume ratio and least heat would escape. The present design comes close to this ideal scenario: the new hut is designed as a cut sphere into which a condensed package of rooms has been incorporated. It is visually evocative of crystallised quartz, an impression that is also emphasised by the shimmering outer aluminium skin. The particular requirements for the New Monte Rosa Hut helped to shape the design.


The architecture is also defined by the objectives – building with as few materials as possible, – saving as much energy as possible and – producing sufficient energy.


At the same time, the hut would have to blend into its Alpine surroundings as homogeneously as possible and serve as an architectural marker along the trail. In addition, it would have to meet the requirements of future visitors and satisfy topographical challenges. The project is based on a five-storey, segment-shaped wooden lathe building method. The computer-aided mechanical production process makes it possible to use traditional construction methods such as half-timber building with its geometrically complex wood junctions. The result is a wide range of possibilities for the use of timber. The concept of the highly insulated façade is the result of a mixture of energy saving and energy production. The facet-like, metallic skin is studded with photovoltaic panels that supply the building with the necessary operational energy. A spiral-shaped glass band that follows the sun and conducts passive energy into the dining room and peripherally ascending cascade staircase is wound around the whole building and presents the guest with an impressive landscape panorama.

Autonomous alpine shelter, New Monte Rosa Hut

Holcim Foundation as Developers

Project background The "hut of the future" is finished. After six years on the drawing board - two of which as a student project design - and a construction phase spanning two summers, the New Monte Rosa Hut near Zermatt inaugurated in September 2009. As part of the inauguration ceremony of the new Monte Rosa hut, CEO of Holcim Switzerland, Kaspar E A Wenger presented project author Professor Andrea Deplazes with a certificate marking the structure as one of fifteen finalist projects in the 2nd International Holcim Awards competition (2009).


Nicknamed the “Mountain Crystal”, this innovative building generates over 90 percent of its energy itself (excluding cooking). It opened to hikers and mountain climbers in March 2010 and will continue to serve ETH Zurich as a research object in power and building service engineering.


A shining tribute to solar energy 2,883 meters above sea level, the New Monte Rosa Hut is currently the most complex wooden construction in Switzerland. Covered in a shimmering silver aluminum shell and with a photovoltaic system integrated in the southern façade, it generates its own power and is expected to be at least 90 percent energy self-sufficient (excluding cooking).


Solar collectors, installed adjacent to the structure, generate solar heat which provides warm water and heats the ventilation system’s supply air to control the temperature in the rooms. In the few months of the year where the ice melts, the water is collected and stored in a cavern to provide the guests with flush toilets and four hot showers. A bacteria-based microfiltration system cleans the sewage; the graywater is then reused to flush the toilet and for washing.


Computer remote-controlled from Zurich Such a high degree of energy self-sufficiency requires the interaction of the individual components and shrewd energy management. Software developed at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) operates the technology at the hut. The relevant data from the reservation system, energy storage and the weather station, for instance, is conveyed from the hut to a computer at ETH Zurich. The computer then uses the data to maximize the degree of energy self-efficiency. Any actions subsequently necessary - such as the command to engage the combined heat and power unit if the solar radiation is insufficient to generate enough power - are communicated back to the hut and performed automatically.


Milestone for sustainable building The corner stone for the building was laid in August 2008 and the foundations were completed before the onset of winter. Thanks to prefabricated elements, which were initially transported by train and then flown to the building site by helicopter and assembled on site, the building was completed in the summer of 2009 after just five months. After the inauguration, the 120-bed hut closed for the winter before reopening for alpinists for summer seasons lasting April to September.


With its combination of outstanding architecture and groundbreaking technology, the project heralds a new chapter in sustainable building. ETH Zurich is looking to use it as an example of how marrying excellent architecture with sustainability and state-of-the-art technology can work. For the SAC - with over 120,000 members, one of the biggest sports unions in Switzerland - the building of the new hut is a milestone in its 145-year hut history.


The New Monte Rosa Hut cost about USD 6.5 million. Apart from the SAC and ETH Zurich, a number of patrons and sponsors including Holcim provided financial and material support to enable to project to be realized.

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