Refuge du Goûter

GROUPE H Architecture & Engineering as Architects

The New Goûter Refuge at 3,835 m on Mont Blanc

Positioned with stunning overhangs on the "Aiguille du Goûter" (Goûter Needle), the refuge welcomes mountaineers on the final stage of their conquest of Europe's highest peak. The building, a wooden structure with metal cladding, represents a real structural and technical challenge when faced with the laws of nature.

The programme: The refuge must accommodate 120 people. It has a floor surface area of 720 m2. The ratio set by the FFCAM, The French Federation of Alpine Mountaineering Clubs, the client, is 6m2 per person.

The building is designed on four levels :

- Level 0: foyer, cloakrooms, store room and 'engine' room. - Level 1: communal living areas including, in particular, a dining room with panoramic views and the kitchen. - Level 2: infirmary, dormitories and caretakers' apartment. - Level 3: dormitories.

The wet rooms and washrooms on each level provide a level of comfort that is much appreciated by the mountaineers and the caretakers.

All the furniture is designed to be in harmony with the spirit of the location - in spruce.

The foundations, structure and façades:

The foundations are designed to secure the refuge on its ridge, where winds can exceed 300 km/h. These are comprised of 69 pilings anchored in hard rock, with an average depth of 12 m. Bolted onto this complex infrastructure, the sub-floor consists of a solid grid of beams and horizontal braces, made from glue-laminated Douglas pine. Its construction brought to a close the first phase of the project (October 2010).

At the heart of the project, the wooden structure in fir or spruce has a volume of approximately 400 m3. In order to limit the CO2 emissions associated with transportation, the wood was cut from the region's own forests, primarily in the St.-Gervais district. The glue-laminated wooden structure and assemblies are produced using beams coated with resin sealant, while the floors are created using hollow beams, which are light and easy to handle. The façades are insulated using fibre-boards made from recycled wood.

The cladding is a satin stainless steel with low reflectivity, while the external wooden Velux windows are equipped with argon-filled triple glazing.

The construction method is based on the use of modules pre-fabricated in a workshop. Dimensioned so as to be suitable for transportation, they are pieced together on-site like a game of Lego.

The challenge lay in the assembly of parts transported by helicopter, with a maximum load of 550 kg, where the aim was to avoid static flights.

Throughout the duration of the exercise, the helicopter rotation efficiency was to be 30%. Completion of the structural and external work marked the end of the second phase of the project (November 2011).

An energy-self-sufficient HEQ building.

The refuge is designed to function totally self-sufficiently, with maximum use of the available resources and energy. Thermal energy, intended to melt snow and produce clean hot water, is provided by 50m2 of thermal solar panels installed at the foot of the building.

Electricity is generated by 95m2 of photovoltaic solar panels installed on the façade and on the roof.

A biomass co-generation system running on rapeseed oil acts as a back-up system, for the production of both heat and electricity.

The air is treated by a highly efficient, dual-flow ventilation system, contributing to the refuge's ability to offer comfort that is unrivalled at this altitude. Its flow is adjusted automatically depending on the number of occupants. Combined with the building's well insulated walls, this system ensures that the heating requirements are met primarily through the heat emitted by the occupants.

The sanitation system was one of the most complex design elements, given the altitude and the lack of oxygen (40% less than at sea level). Featuring a siphonic drainage system, the toilets use only 1.2 litres of water per flush. The treatment technology used is the same as that found in submarines, featuring vacuum sealed WCs, biological processing, oxygenation and membrane filtration, active carbon filtering and UV processing, enabling recycling in the WCs and urinals and the drainage of bacteria-free water into the natural environment.

The sole exception to the use of completely renewable materials is the storage of gas used in the kitchen for cooking meals and a fuel-powered back-up unit for the co-generator.

Architectural form

The harmonious design of the façade is first and foremost a response to the need to integrate the building into a protected site of European interest, the Mont Blanc massif.

Consideration of three constraints: structure, technology and meteorological conditions led to the adoption of an elliptical plan, enabling the achievement of a perfect ovoid shape.

The main axis of the ellipse was positioned against the prevailing westerly wind, in order to accelerate the masses of air on the sides of the building and to create a vortex on the rear section, facilitating the natural depositing of snow on the melting unit.

The shell of the building, consisting of 128 trapezoidal or rectangular bevelled panels - depending on the level - is covered in satin-finished stainless steel. These bevelled surfaces, like those of Mont Blanc, are illuminated alternately, based on the progress of the sun across the sky.

Project Team

Architecture: Groupe-H (, DecaLaage ( Structure Wood Engineer: Charpente-Concept ( HVP Engineer : Cabinet Strem ( Dynamic Thermal Simulation: Albedo ( Foundation Structure: Betech ( Building Economist: Cabinet Denizou

Refuge du Goûter

Uginox as Manufacturers

Stainless steel rises to 3,835m by helicopter.

In the valley, several months of studies have been necessary for the realisation of this structure, faceted and covered with care and precision, an essential requirement imposed by the extreme weather conditions. Matt and durable, the material of the envelope is a response to the climate and the environment.

With its summit at 4,810 metres, the Mont-Blanc becomes the holy grail of thousands of alpine mountaineers every year! Built at an altitude of 3,835m, the “refuge du Goûter” shelter constitutes the last stage of the normal – or royal – route before the final ascent., The shelter was built in 1962 and has been the object of intense usage but is now under menace from the advancing glacier. It is being replaced by a new audacious construction, in the form of an ovoid placed perpendicularly to the ridge over an advanced rockface. The shape and location are two radical options taken to minimise the amount of snowdrift buid-up and allowing the west wind to slip freely over the cliff. Identifiable by its thick folded stainless steel body, a snow melter tank with eight anti-stagnation devices completes the installation.

Aerodynamic faceted ellipsoid The definition of the form is part of a dual approach of study of aerodynamic phenomena and descriptive geometry. From the proposed eliptic plan comes an ellipsoid of revolution which is divided into 2x16 segment planes and 32 facets per level, giving a total of 128 facets for this building composed of four levels; technical rooms on the ground level, a common room on the entrance level and dormitories on the last two levels.

This decomposition of the volume into rectangular or trapezoidal storey-height facets has contributed to strengthening the construction elements and to keep them under the maximum weight that can be lifted with a helicopter. The structure of the construction isolated from the ground is a timber framework with dowelled assembly, chosen for its light weight. The whole frame rests on a platform linked to a metal structure forming pillars, which in turn are located by 69 steel stakes anchored to a depth of 8 metres into the rock. The installation has been designed to withstand winds of up to 260km/h and a load pressure of 400 kg/m2 and a vacuum pressure of 600 kg/m2 (studies conducted in the Cemagref wind-tunnel in Grenoble).

Shock-resistant matt cladding With temperatures as low as – 40 ° C, the idea is to create an environment akin to a soup-tin with a capacity of 120 persons. Aside from the cocoon-like interior and the varied equipment designed to provide the required autonomy and of course, the extreme environment, specific research has been conducted in order to choose the exterior cladding. This had to be an evaluation of several types of metallic “skins”, in terms of their characteristics; deformation, resistance, visual aspect, fabrication, ease of installation and recyclability.

A 304L grade austenitic stainless steel siding proved ideal for the extreme conditions encountered in the pure mountain air and was compatible with the budget of the construction project. A four month study was necessary in order to define the details of the assembly and determine the profile of each facet to allow for easy assembly on-site. A novel assembly technique was devised, using a Z shaped profile of the steel bands on the upright and flat junctions, to insure constant flatness of the cladding, with hollow junctions of the same type of steel as the facets. Additional difficulties came from the windows and photo-voltaic panels which had been installed prior to the cladding.

Another imposed requirement in this protected and very popular site constantly over-flown by medical or surveillance helicopters, was to prevent unwanted shiny reflections that may dazzle pilots. The external cladding was made from 304 grade stainless steel with a Uginox top coating, 0.5mm thick for the covering and 0.8 and 1.2mm thicknesses for the sides. Each facet is “lit” by sunshine, just like the faces of the Mont-Blanc itself, as the sun runs its course through the day.

Technical Data Copyright: Déca-Laage

Stainless Steel Information Grade: 304/1.4301 Finish: Uginox Top Thickness: 0.50 mm / 0.80 mm / 1 mm

Refuge du Gouter

PAVATEX Benelux b.v. as Manufacturers

PAVATEX is delighted to contribute to the building of the new Refuge du Gouter, located at the bottom of the Mont Blanc. Really blended with the surroundings, the building combines aestheticism with energy efficiency. The high-quality wood fiber insulating systems made by PAVATEX have been chosen for this exceptional building site.

The building and the insulation of the new Refuge du Gouter, located at an altitude of 3 835m, are a human and technical challenge. Begun in 2010, the new building, owned by the Fédération Française des Clubs Alpins et de Montagne (FFCAM), would be opened to the public in 2013.

Really involved in the topic “sustainable building”, the FFCAM has decided to build a new refuge, which will be innovative and environment-friendly and which could accommodate ca. 120 persons. It will replace the old one built in the 60s.

Through the last refuges before the summit of the Mont Blanc, the Refuge du Gouter is considered as a jewel by the mountaineering community in the Alps.

Insulation in an extreme environment The structure of the building, which is 12m high and has an ovoid shape, was created to fit into the extreme environment of the high mountains thanks to its aesthetic and technical aspects. Focused on the sustainable development, the building is quite autonomous as regards electric energy, water and waste treatment. Combined with a very efficient thermal insulation, all these measures allowed the heating of the building.

For the insulation of the building, which is composed by wood, the FFCAM has chosen wood fiber boards. The semi-rigid wood fiber board PAVAFLEX, with a thickness of 240mm, was inserted in empty structures, which were prepared in workshop, transported by helicopter and put together on the building site. Then, PAVATHERM-PLUS insulation elements with a thickness of 80mm, combination of ISOLAIR and PAVATHERM, completed the system. Both products allowed the creation of a very efficient insulation, which protects the building against cold, in a region where there is snow throughout the year, ensuring also a perfect airtightness. Finally, a ventilated building envelope in stainless steel covers the insulating boards and protects the building against high winds, bad weather and the important variations of temperature.

An exceptional building site for a unique building!

Project Credits
Products used in this project
Product Spec Sheet

ElementBrandProduct link
ManufacturersUginoxUGINOX Top : matt finish
ManufacturersPAVATEX Benelux b.v.
Product Spec Sheet
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