Mountain Architecture: An Alternative Design Proposal
for the
Wy'East Day Lodge, Mount Hood Oregon

by Thomas P. Deering, Jr.



Buildings in the mountains fall into two general categories--the indigenous vernacular, housing and serving people whose existence is centered around living in the mountains; and the tourist or commercial structures, which depend upon visitors to justify their existence. Each has its own set of determinants which shape its form and function. The common bond between them is the unique mountain environment within which they are built.

The following survey looks at the indigenous vernacular by way of the many structures found in the European Alps. Indigenous structures exist anywhere in the world where people live in the mountains, but the European examples serve best the purposes here, as their influence can be readily seen in later North American mountain building.

The survey of Recreational and tourist structures will limit its focus to the development of these structures in North America up until the nineteen thirties when mountain buildings ceased to be a strong identifiable building type.

The section on contemporary structures will briefly illustrate some of the directions mountain architecture has taken since the onset of the modern movement in the thirties.


European Alpine

Vernacular buildings in the high mountain regions are perhaps best typified by the "'alpine style', that style of house building which is suitable for houses having to withstand the hardships of the mountain climate. We think of houses built by anonymous artisan builders, obedient to the laws of a local tradition that is common to the entire (Alps) range." (1) This description by Mario Cereghini is offered not only to bring together a wide variety of specific traditions under one simple heading, but also to emphasize an essential similarity between all alpine region architecture. Most are utilitarian structures (with the possible exception of the churches), whose differences are determined by function, available local materials, and traditional building practices.

At the highest elevations of the European Alps, most of the buildings are rudimentary and occupied seasonally. Alone or grouped together, they maintain their individual purposes: the cabin for the herdsman; the mountain chalet; or hay lofts, barns, and dairy houses accompanying the farmhouse. Timber and stone, as building materials, are both common throughout the Alps. While there is some adherence to the tendency to find stone structures where wood is scarce, and vice versa, there are enough exceptions to render any strict rule of classification tenuous. However, on the north slopes of the Alps, wooden buildings, with their larger overhanging eaves, are more plentiful, whereas on the southern slopes more of the stone structures will be found.(2) Half-timbered or mixed construction--substantially of both wood and stone--is quite common throughout. In most other regions of the world, timber construction dominates but with the same local variations as are found in the Alps.

The following are examples of rudimentary vernacular structures, primarily from the Alps, many of which are indicative of the difficult conditions under which alpine buildings are constructed.

At lower elevations, in contrast to the high alpine regions, year-around farmsteads are found. They are usually dominated by a single building incorporating most of the functions of the farm under one roof. The stable is at ground level, which is easily accessible by animals; the second level serves as the inhabited farmhouse; and at the uppermost level is the hay loft. The arrangement is logical and functional. Heat from the animals rises to warm the living areas above while the hay loft insulates against the cold. The simple building form and broad roof are an indication of the efficiency and the "peasants' hard struggle against the elements of nature." (3) The non-farm dwelling, the chalet, is organized under similar principles, embodying the essential feelings of protection and efficiency.

Figure 2.1: Village of Livigno, Italy, Sondrio district. Elevation 6,000 feet. (Cereghini, Building in the Mountains, p. 37)   Figure 2.2: Wood and stone half-timbered hut in the upper Salante Valley, Valais, Switzerland. (Cereghini, Building in the Mountains, p. 59)

Figure 2.3: Rudimentary stone house in the Arc valley, Savoie, Switzerland. Elevation 7,550 feet. The only wood used in this structure is for the beams which support the stone roof. (Cereghini, Building in the Mountains, p. 58)

Figure 2.4: A nineteenth century print by Currodi and Hurliman depicting a hamlet in the Wengernalp, Switzerland. Heavy stones are used to secure the roofing during summer storms and retain the snow in winter. (Cereghini, Building in the Mountains, p. 40)

Figure 2.5: A collection of farm buildings below the Matterhorn at Winckelmatten, Valais, Switzerland, elevation 6,000 feet. Stone was often preferred for roofs on structures in this region, even when timber was abundant. (Cereghini, Building in the Mountains, p. 65)

Figure 2.6: Granary-barn, known locally as a stadel, in Vispertal, Switzerland. The barn is supported on toadstool-like legs incorporating slabs of gneiss to keep out rodents. A generous airspace is also left between the building and the ground for ventilation, to reduce the potential for damage by moisture. (Blaser, Wooden Houses, p. 40)

Figure 2.7: Timber hay barn in Campo di Vallemaggio, Tessin, Valais district. Construction is all but the same as the previous figure--with the characteristic Valais roof. (Cereghini, Building in the Mountains, p. 68)   Figure 2.8: Granary in Rygnestad, Setesdal, near Telemark, Norway. These structures are similar to the rudimentary granary-barns found in the Alps but are usually larger in scale and support sod covered roofs. A ventilating airspace is also often left below the structure, although not in this example. (Hansen, Holzbaukunst, p. 77)

Figure 2.9: Seasonally occupied village near Alp Selva, Switzerland, consisting entirely of stone buildings. (Blaser, The Rock is My Home, p. 95)

Figure 2.10: Expanded illustration of a multi-storied stone house, Sonogno, Italy, with four rooms and a storage loft. A covered varandah would typically run the length of the house along one side. (Blaser, The Rock is My Home, p. 189)

Figure 2.11: Stone buildings in Val Verzasca. Similar in construction to the previous illustration, the varandah extends along the opposite side of the structure--note the eave projection. (Blaser, The Rock is My Home, p. 164)

Figure 2.12: Elevation of house in the Valee d'Abondance, Haut Savoie. The three separate activity levels are clearly articulated. (Cereghini, Building in the Mountains, p. 92)

Figure 2.13: Farmsteads in the hamlet of Hinten, Switzerland, elevation 3,200 feet. Lower elevation farm houses and chalets are of a substantially different character than their high-alpine counterparts. (Blaser, Wooden Houses, p. 107)

Figure 2.14: A large seventeenth century farmhouse in St. Jacques d'Ayas, Asota district, elevation 5,400 feet. This half-timbered structure features two levels of living quarters above the stable, with two levels of storage and hay loft above that. (Cereghini, Building in the Mountains, p. 85)

Figure 2.15: A half-timbered farmhouse in the Diemtigen valley, Switzerland, with horizontal instead of vertical partitioning of uses. (Jacquet, The Swiss Chalet, p. 45)   Figure 2.16: A new chalet in the Diemtigen valley, Switzerland. Rooms are small in both the vertical and horizontal dimensions to avoid problems associated with excessive deflection of structural members. (Jacquet, The Swiss Chalet, p. 33)

Figure 2.17: Tritt farmhouses, Hinten Switzerland. Although less obvious than in the vertically oriented farmhouses, all activities are provided for under one roof. The two living levels seperate the threshing and hay storage above, from the stable and equipment storage areas below. See also figure 2.13. (Blaser, Wooden Houses, p. 111)   Figure 2.18: Eighteenth century granary above Wittenbach, Switzerland. Similar to the examples found at higher elevations but without the constraint of heavy snow falls, this structure supports eaves broad enough for a dry gallery on the upper level. (Blaser, Wooden Houses, p. 101)

Continue to CHAPTER II - PART 2
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Master of Architecture Thesis
(M. Arch - University of Washington - 1986)

Extensive copying of this thesis is allowable only for scholarly purposes,
consistent with "fair use" as described in the U.S. Copyright Law.
Any other reproduction for any purpose or by any means
shall not be allowed without my written permission.

Copyright 1986 © Thomas P. Deering, Jr.