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Mountain-hut design contest draws avalanche of entries

| 04 February 2004

 

winning hut

Hundreds of architects applied their technical savvy and imaginative vision to entries in CED’s recent mountain-hut competition. The winning design (above) will be realized in the eastern Sierra later this year.


When the College of Environmental Design announced a design competition for a mountain hut in the eastern Sierra Nevada, more than 400 designs flooded in from architects based in some 35 nations around the world. All were seeking to prevail in the Palisades Glacier Mountain Hut Competition, sponsored by CED and the Wiener Family Fund for Public Architecture and Landscape.

The goal was to produce a new concept for the mountain hut, a relatively large structure, common in Europe, that typically features shared sleeping and toilet facilities. Such huts are rare in the United States, where tent camping is the norm in wilderness-gateway areas.

Sponsors were looking for designs that incorporated technological solutions to problems posed by resource consumption and pollution, while maintaining a strong wilderness experience for the 60 to 80 people who would be using the hut.

Harrison Fraker, dean of the college, said he anticipated the resounding response to the competition because of its intriguing challenge — developing a design that is site-specific yet prototypical — and because of growing interest in the environmental aspects of design.

The project site — where construction of the winning design, produced by a team of Swiss architects, will commence this summer — is at an altitude of more than 8,000 feet in Big Pine Canyon, near the trailhead leading to the mile-long Palisade Glacier, the largest and southernmost glacier in the Sierra. The 300-foot-diameter building site is superimposed on the footprint of the venerable Glacier Lodge, built in 1917, which burned down several years ago. The anticipated project budget is about $1.5 million.

The winning design (which carried a $15,000 prize) features innovative communal sleeping arrangements in the form of three box-like structures, and a “super insulation” strategy that does not rely strictly on solar heat gain.

Two teams from New York City, one from Oakland, and another from Alexandria, Va., received honorable mentions, and each was awarded $2,500. Each team included members who are alumni of the College of Environmental Design.

The contest was open to licensed architects, landscape architects, engineers, designers, and students. Clients are the nonprofit David Brower Memorial Mountain Hut at the Palisades Glacier Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service.

“As a native of Mississippi, a state wherein the sense of place is perhaps at its apogee in America, I am keenly aware of how place defines people,” said Wiener Family Fund founder and board chair Jay Wiener. “California has a spectacular landscape as one of its hallmarks. Yet the built environment is frequently unequal to our natural landscape.

“The purpose of the mountain hut competition,” he said, “was to reconsider the relationship between what fortune has bestowed upon us and what is constructed on the land. Arguably the strongest attribute of the competition was its bringing trophy architecture to the back country, where it is most needed, and liberating such design from being the privilege of urban centers. One hopes that the effort commences a trend toward buildings which complement — rather than detract from —the geography which makes California so extraordinary.”

Several of the mountain-hut-design entries — including the first-prize winner and several honorable mentions — are on display on the second floor of Wurster Hall. An online gallery of submissions, which will include jury comments about the winning entries, will be posted shortly at www.ced.berkeley.edu/competitions.