High-altitude architecture: when design meets the mountain

12 constructions from the Alps to South America, from Utah to Tibet, tell the romantic and technological story of an adventure of human resourcefulness.

If pushing individual boundaries has been mankind's endeavour since the times of Icarus, building at high altitudes — beyond 2,000 m above sea level in particular, not a strictly scientific limit, but an undoubted marker of a particularly complex environmental context — is a practice that has spread especially in recent times, with the development of tourism and technological innovation.

Building at hign altitude has a twofold significance: if, on the one hand, it is an equivocal narcissistic affirmation of conquest (of a peak, or of one's own physical and mental capacities), on the other it is an admission of the fragility of human being in relation to nature, of which one remains a tiny and temporary guest. And precisely to survive this condition, beyond all romantic and emotional aspects that contact with nature entails, it is above all ingenuity to be called upon to devise settlement solutions suited to hostile environments: from the traditional and simple wooden architectures of a recent past (Chacaltaya Ski Resort), to the contemporary and more refined technologies based on  hard prefabrication, effective logistical management, innovative and ecological materials and off-grid solutions, making the human presence on the peaks safer and less impactful.

So whether they are huts, bivouacs, restaurants, works of art or places of culture, the architecture on the summits all tell the same story of adventure and enterprise, albeit with different languages: from constructions literally integrated into the rock (Zaha Hadid Architects) or brazenly anti-mimetic (Gentilcore and Testa), to those inspired by the genius loci (Rifugio Mollino, MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects, Archermit, Martino Gamper, Central Asian Museum Leh) or utmost minimalist experiences (Koncheto Shelter, OFIS arhitekti, Skylodge Adventure Suites).

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