Harvard Graduate Students Design Innovative Alpine Shelter

A multinational team of architects and engineers recently collaborated to develop a practical and innovative shelter that will help alpine climbers to withstand the harsh and unpredictable climate of the Kamnik-Savinja Alps, which stretch throughout northern Slovenia and Austria. Located at the base of Mountain Skuta, one of the mountain range’s highest peaks, the shelter – or “bivouac” – replaced an aging structure that had served climbers for 50 years.

To launch the project, Rok Oman and Spela Videcnik of the Slovenian architectural firm OFIS hosted a design studio for students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Titled “Habitation in Extreme Environments,” the studio produced 12 proposals that outlined a variety of site conditions and construction materials for the prospective project. OFIS chose a design by students Frederick Kim, Erin Pellegrino, and Katie MacDonald and set to work with the structural engineering firm AKT II to make it a reality.

The Harvard graduate students faced the challenge of creating a bivouac elaborate enough to withstand harsh alpine weather conditions, but minimalist enough to have very little environmental impact. The winning proposal solved this conundrum by using a base of three terraced, interconnected sections to securely position the structure on the angled mountain terrain. OFIS and AKT II installed the bivouac with the assistance of the Slovenian Armed Forces and Mountain Rescue Service, assembling it off site before airlifting it into position.

The Mountain Skuta bivouac exemplifies the architectural principle of “form follows function,” as the three modules that secure it to the sloping terrain also create its layout. The first section provides an entryway and storage area, the second is suitable as both sleeping and social quarters, and the third contains additional bunks. The modules comprise steel frames with an exterior of resilient glass fiber and concrete paneling. The overall design of the bivouac draws inspiration from traditional Slovenian architecture while highlighting the stunning alpine view.