Anyone wishing to visit the “Alpine Shelter” in the Steiner Alps needs a good head for heights: the newly built mountain cabin is located at an elevation of 2,118 meters on Mount Skuta in Slovenia: a surreal-looking object with three asymmetric pitched roofs surrounded by a rugged rocky landscape. The futuristic bivouac was developed as part of an architecture project at Harvard University in Boston, in Massachusetts. The brief was to replace the old metal shelter built in the 1950s, and which had seen much better days. In the end, the design by students Frederick Kim, Kathie McDonald and Erin Pellegrino was won the day, from among 12 entries in all, and the trio were able to realize it this year with the help of Austrian concrete specialist Rieder and Slovenian architects Rok Oman and Spela Videcnik from Ofis in Ljubljana.
A major challenge facing the architects and students was to construct a bivouac capable of withstanding extreme weather conditions such as strong winds, icy snow or heavy landslides. As the site is extremely hard to access another important aspect was to keep maintenance to a minimum – especially for the facade. Accordingly the structure was given a silver shimmering skin of fiberglass-reinforced concrete panels manufactured by Rieder: the panels are extremely sturdy, safe and durable. Moreover, despite being slim (only 13 mm) they come with an A1 fire protection rating from the “öko Skin” line are surprisingly lightweight – a decided advantage as the material was transported to Mount Skuta by helicopter.
As regards design the “öko Skin” facade also blends ideally with its rugged surroundings – thanks to its dynamic texture achieved using sandblasting and varying the pressure. By contrast, Alpine coziness prevails inside the cabin: the shelter is divided into three room modules, which were clad with wood and provide a surprisingly large amount of space for living, eating and sleeping. That said, arguably the best thing about the “Alpine Shelter” is the view of the valley, which mountaineers can enjoy immensely thanks to the large expanses of glazing in the rectangular building’s gables.
Surreal alpine shelter: The pitched bivouac on Mount Skuta was realized as a collaborative effort by Harvard University students, Ofis architects and Rieder. Photo © OFIS
The architects opted for a shell of fiberglass-reinforced concrete panels from the “öko skin” line. Unlike conventional concrete, the slats are relatively easy to install.
Photo © Anže Čokl
The bivouac was given a silver-grey shell by Rieder, which also harmonizes perfectly with the rugged mountain landscape. The concrete slats meet fire-protection rating A1 “non-combustible” and are a safe alternative to classic wooden cladding.
Photo © Anže Čokl
Alpine charm: Three room modules with bunk beds offer space for living and sleeping. There is another area for preparing food and storage. Photo © Anže Čokl
Place to sleep, seat or shelving? Several levels merge to replace the classic cabin layouts. Photo © Anže Čokl
The structure looks surprisingly different from every perspective. It took just a day to install the bivouac on the mountain; first a prototype was constructed off-site with the help of Slovenia’s military. Photo © OFIS