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Awe-Inspiring Panorama: Ex Studio Builds Tent-Like Refuge on Italian Alps

Pinwheel Shelter, Oulx, IT / Bivouac Stefano Berrone - EX

Situated high in the mountains of Italy, the Pinwheel Shelter stands as a testament to the innovative design of architecture studio EX. Using prefabricated CLT panels and aluminum cladding, EX has created a refuge that not only blends seamlessly with its surroundings but also embraces the principles of reversibility and lightness. Founded by Versaci and Andrea Cassi, EX is a design workshop based in Milan that seeks to merge art, landscape, and technology through architecture. Their vision for the Pinwheel Shelter was to create a structure that offers breathtaking 360-degree views of the alpine landscape and leaves minimal impact on the environment.

Pinwheel Shelter, Oulx, IT / Bivouac Stefano Berrone - EX

From above, the shelter takes on the shape of a pinwheel, with its folded wooden and aluminum shell gracefully blending into the rugged terrain. This unique design allows visitors to immerse themselves in the beauty of the surroundings while providing a discreet presence on the scree slope. Michele Versaci, the founder of EX, explained their approach to the project, stating, “We have aimed to create a structure that is fully reversible and minimally invasive.” Inspired by lightweight alpine tents, EX has developed a dry system that can be assembled in just four days and easily disassembled when needed.

Pinwheel Shelter, Oulx, IT / Bivouac Stefano Berrone - EX

EX established the shelter in memory of Stefano Berrone, an alpinist who tragically passed away while speedriding. Situated in the Upper Susa Valley between the towns of Oulx and Bardonecchia, this location holds a special significance for both him and his family. Designed to serve as a crucial resting point along a high-altitude pathway prone to sudden storms and other weather changes, the structure’s form and orientation were carefully planned based on an analysis of sun exposure, wind patterns, and the unique alpine setting, resulting in a structure that sits low to the ground. “We strived to create a strong connection with the alpine environment through a land-art approach,” Versaci explained.

Pinwheel Shelter, Oulx, IT / Bivouac Stefano Berrone - EX

Prefabrication and structural elements played a key role in the project, with extensive exploration of various folding structures and origami techniques. Externally, the shelter features a cross-laminated timber (CLT) structure clad in aluminium, with vibrant red openings that stand out against the snowy surroundings. Its tent-like shape allows it to be partially buried under snow, with only the entrances visible. Supported by a steel base resting on four prefabricated plinths, the shelter’s structural shell is easily assembled and disassembled. “The aluminum shell of the bivouac creates an atmospheric architecture that interacts with the alpine light, rock colors, and surrounding snow-covered slopes,” Versaci noted. This dynamic interplay of reflections responds to the ever-changing weather conditions, enhancing the overall experience of the shelter.

Pinwheel Shelter, Oulx, IT / Bivouac Stefano Berrone - EX

The shelter was designed in a radial layout, featuring four wings converging around a central symbolic fireplace. The dimensions utilized are evocative of the dimensions of traditional Japanese tatami mats. Within each wing, the ceiling height is lowered, requiring occupants to stoop while utilizing the areas, similar to the experience of being inside a tent. The design allows for the accommodation of eight to ten beds on the elevated wooden platform.

Pinwheel Shelter, Oulx, IT / Bivouac Stefano Berrone - EX

The walls, constructed of wood, were painted in a shade of red, establishing an internal ambiance that brings to mind the sensation of being inside a tent, enhanced by the way light filters through the openings. The Pinwheel Shelter stands as a testament to the ingenuity and creativity of EX, showcasing its ability to merge architectural design with environmental consciousness. As visitors step inside this mountain refuge, they are greeted not only by stunning views but also by a sense of harmony between human-made structures and the natural world.

Image courtesy of Tomaso Clavarino