The international competition Himalayan Mountain Hut took place from December 2014 to April 2015, organized by HMMD (now called Bee Breeders), an international group of professionals in the construction industry, which organizes architecture competitions characterized by a research cut and very advanced experimentation.
The competition asked to design a prototype of refuge to be built along the Himalayan trekking routes at very high altitudes. The proposed shelter type should have been implanted at 4,280 m above sea level (Paldor Base Camp, Dhading district, central Nepal in the north-west of Kathmandu) and would have to accommodate 10 to 20 people including tourists and staff members.
Given the extreme context the shelter is designed so that it can be installed as quickly as possible, considering the lack of roads and infrastructure networks and the particularly difficult weather conditions.
The shape of the shelter resembles a traditional object used by the inhabitants of the region, the doko, a basket for carrying on the shoulder that the Himalayan populations use along mountain trails. Placed upside down on the ground the doko resembles a conical hut, primitive condition of living that means nomadism, warm and familiar but precarious and provisional shelter all over the world. For these reasons, the shelter we designed wants to communicate familiarity, community, cultural recognition, but also an idea of temporary nature and ephemeral. The shelter must be dismantled and taken away without leaving fingerprints or permanent marks on the territory since the coexistence with the tourism should not go to the detriment of landscape and natural environment. The refuge also incorporates the concept of stupa, sacred cosmogonic structure that represents the microcosm. Even in our shelter the interior space is organized around a sort of hollow "cosmic pillar" in which the staircase connecting the different levels is located.
Although the shape resembles the doko, the hut, or the stupa, we nevertheless tried not to make a folk remake. Behind these formal suggestions, the shelter is actually a complex object as a kind of spaceship, because it has to work in extreme conditions of lack of energy, communications, water, and it has the characteristics of recognizability and repeatability that is typical of the industrial design and that are necessary to identify a brand. The frusto-conical shape prevents the accumulation of snow on the small sloping roof and its surface regularity allows a better resistance to the wind. The angle of the cover matches the optimal angle of the photovoltaic panels and then it establishes the orientation of the shelter on the ground.
Constructively the shelter consists of seven prefabricated modules connected by flanges to the generating lines of the cone. The real possibility of bringing the modules in height considering the weight, the winds and the danger of screwing during transport has been analyzed with an helicopter pilot officer of the Italian Guardia di Finanza. A part of the refuge is still designed to be made on site by local labor, as it was done for the construction of the observatory pyramid of Italian CNR (Ev-K2-CNR) in the Khumbu valley. The structure and the floors are wooden with a mixed technology consisting of Cross-Lam walls and laminated wood beams, columns and pillars; the insulation consists of double translucent resin reinforced layers inside of which there is a thick layer of recycled polyester wool. This material was developed specially for the project of the doko-hut, discussed and developed as a result of exchanges of informations with technicians of Italian companies that produce fiberglass hulls. The outer coating, kept separate from the insulating layer to increase thermal insulation, is made from convex polycarbonate "flakes" containing an air chamber, fixed and sealed between them. All secondary connections consist of rods in laminated wood and aluminum joints.
The building system is designed according to criteria of lightness, environmental impact, green architecture. The wooden structures have a good behavior to the earthquakes and we have tried to compensate the weakness of the thermal inertia with special coatings. The impact on the economy of the place was not secondary to the choice of materials and technologies. Prefabrication of wooden structures could be an opportunity for economic development, given that Nepal is rich in forests that could provide the raw material and it was decided to leave part of the realization out of prefabrication for both enlighting as much as possible the elements to be transported by helicopter, and maintaining a job opportunity for local people.
The translucent and milky coatings let the light enter from the inside to the outside, illuminating the road in the dark and signaling the presence of the refuge. Inside the shelter the external light, unless it’s darkened with curtains, indicates the natural unfolding of time in the nature of the place. The whiteness of the Doko-hut blends in with the snow season landscape without offending it, the wooden support ribs draw the veining on the clear translucent skin, remembering the texture of baskets.
The water network is powered by water for recycling and collection; energy is produced by photovoltaic panels and supplemented by hydrogen produced from purification system for wastewater (Caltech's solar-powered toilet) and accumulators; heating is made with radiant floors dry mounted on prefabricated modules. Small opening ports integrated in the coating allow air exchange.
The furnishings are made of plywood, beds are simple flat surfaces on the shape of the Doko-hut on which are placed mattresses of the same shape.
We imagined two versions of the Doko-hut based on the number of occupants: one with 20 people, a part of which is permanent staff, has bedrooms on three levels, while the one with 10 people has two bedrooms levels. At the lowest level, however elevated and isolated from the ground, in both versions are the common areas, the kitchen, the technical room and warehouses.
The project was published in the online magazine Ponte No. 3 of 2015 where you will find a more detailed report.
Designers - Arch. Paola D'Alfonso, Arch. Simone Calò, Arch. Stefano Foà, Arch. Giada Lanciano