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Refuge du Goûter: Highly energy efficient autonomous mountain hut

Wyróżniony Przypadek December 2015
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The new innovative and eco-designed Refuge du Goûter is located at 3,835 meters altitude. The building is 1000 m below the summit of Mont-Blanc and is on one of the most frequented mountain climbing routes in the area. It is one of the highest mountain huts in Europe. The original existing structure dated from 1962. It was reconditioned in 2013 as it was considered inadequate and dilapidated.

The original building was located at the end of the Aiguille which is an ascending route and resulted in a dangerous barrier for mountaineers below due to rock and avalanche falls as well as very strong winds and low temperatures (reaching 250 km/h and -40ºC on  site). Another issue was that the building was permanently under snow cover, with only narrow sides showing from its rectangle shape. For this reason, the new building has been erected in a new location 200 meters above the Aiguille du Goûter and below the snowy ridge.

Designed to accommodate 120 people, the building´s new shape is an ovoid supported by a steel structure of pillars (see design plans). It is made from wood and metal cladding and represents a real constructive and technical feat challenging the laws of nature. Apart from its futuristic appearance, the egg-shaped building has a specific orientation which now offers less wind resistance than the old parallelepiped one. The snow slides off the building´s structure and accumulates in a reduced area behind the building.


Design concept: eco-friendly and low-carbon building

  • All wood frames (spruce, white fir and larch) are sourced from the French Alps, mainly from the Saint Gervais forests.
  • The steel structure and wooden components were prefabricated in the valley to limit helicopter traffic and were designed by taking into account the appropriate transport as well.
  • Renewable energy (solar, photovoltaic, biomass) was used and innovative technologies put into place (remote electricity management, cogeneration, snow melting and wastewater treatment) which follow ecodesign rules and  offer maximum autonomy for the supply of power, heating and water.
  • Educational visits for local schools are organized to show students how such low-carbon projects are set up.


Energy Concept: energy production on site and integrated systems to obtain full autonomy

The shelter is designed to operate for three months a year (June to September) according to the principle of total energy autonomy applying maximum management of available resources and energies. The advanced technologies used in this building are:

  • solar thermal collectors on the roof used for domestic hot water and melting snow.
  • photovoltaic panels on the façade used to produce electricity
  • CHP with biomass cogeneration using vegetable oil (rapeseed) for thermal heating and electricity (main source)
  • dual flow central ventilation of high efficiency to obtain the maximum comfort. Its speed automatically varies depending on the number of occupants. The system is coupled to the high-isolated building envelope (very low u-values) and ensures the minimum thermal requirements of heating and even takes into consideration the heat generated by the occupants.
  • vacuum toilet system with recycling of sewage and wastewater treatment. The sanitation part was one of the most complex to design in view of the altitude and lack of oxygen (40% lower than sea level). With a vacuum evacuation system, toilets use only 1.2 liters of water per use. The processing technology used is like that in submarines. The vacuum suction toilets, the biological treatment, the oxygenation and filtration membrane, the active carbon passage and the UV treatment allow recycling in toilets and urinals and evacuation of water free of bacteria to the exterior.
  • sewage and wastewater recycling treatment based on a technology used in the French Navy.
  • gas storage used in the kitchen for cooking and extra gas in fuel for cogeneration (The exception to the all renewable production).



GPS: 45°51'12.0"N 6°49'48.2"E

Aiguille du Goûter, Chamonix / Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, France.


Project team

Project management:

  • Federation Francaise des Clubs Alpins et de Montagne - FFCAM (French Alpine Club): Owner and investor


Architect design:

  • GROUPE H (Architect Association): Architectural work, steering unit and OPC
  • DECALAAGE (Architecture): Architectural work and construction management


Structural design:

  • Charpente-Concept (Engineers and Designers for timber frames): Calculation on wood structure, exterior joinery, steel structure, stainless steel cladding, steering unit and construction management
  • Betech (Construction company): Calculation on rock foundations


Thermal consultants:

  • Cabinet Strem (Fluid engineering): Calculation for ventilation, heating, water production and sanitation, high and low electricity voltages and kitchen equipment.
  • Albedo (Design company): Dynamic thermal simulations and environmental quality of the building


Environmental consultant:

  • Cabinet Denizou (Economist): Studies on consignments interior wood joinery, metalwork, ceilings, walls, paint, flooring, furniture, signage


Time schedule

Construction: January 2010 - June 2012.  The construction started in spring 2010. The mountain hut was built over consecutive three spring-summer seasons, five months a year due to the extreme weather conditions. The construction was finished in the summer of 2012.

Delivery and inauguration: September 2014.

The last operational season of the old mountain hut was summer 2013.


Surface areas / building use

The new hut is a four-storey building with a total of 681 m2 of usable floor area (720 m2 Gross floor area - GFA).

The use for each level is:

  • Level 0: entrance, locker rooms, reception and system room
  • Level 1: living rooms, panoramic dining room and kitchen
  • Level 2: infirmary, bedrooms and staff apartments
  • Level 3: bedrooms

A toilet is included on each level.


Construction costs

Building cost is 5,5 M€:

  • Renewable energy systems: 800,000 €
  • Study and design: 400,000 €
  • Rest of the building (foundation, construction and materials): 4,3 M€

The cost was 51% funded by the FFCAM (Fédération française des clubs alpins et de montagne) and 49% by the following public authorities and partners: the French State, the Rhône Alps regional authority, the European Community, the Haute Savoie General Council, the Saint Gervais commune, ADEME and the Water Agency.


Envelope performance

Average U-Value: 0,14 W/m2K

More details:

  • Exterior walls: 0.142 W/m2K
  • Floor: 0.188 W/m2K
  • Roof: 0.9 W/m2K
  • Windows: 0.139 W/m2K


Energy consumption

Primary energy need:  50 kWh PE/m2year

Primary energy need for standard building:  400 kWh PE/m2.year

Final energy consumption: 32,8 kWh/m2.year (obtained in 2013). Disaggregation of final consumptions obtained in 2013:

  • heating: 4 kWh/m2.year
  • hot water: 3,9 kWh/m2.year
  • cold water (melting system): 13,6 kWh/m2.year
  • electricity: 11,3 kWh/m2.year


On-site energy production (obtained in 2013):

  • Renewable Energy Production (25.900 kWh – 79% ):
    • thermal: 21.500 kWh (100%)
    • power: 4.400 kWh
  • Non-renewable Production (6.900 kWh – 21%):
    • electrical: extra fuel for CHP
    • thermal: gas for cooking


Expected energy bill cost/year: 1.200 €


Energy systems

Heating system: Combined Heat and Power (CHP), Water radiator, Fan coil, Solar thermal

Hot water system: Solar Thermal

Cooling system: Water chiller, Fan coil

Ventilation system: Double flow heat exchanger

Renewable systems: Solar photovoltaic, Solar Thermal and Biomass (in cogeneration with CHP)


Low carbon emissions

GHG in use: 5 KgCO2/m2.year

GHG before use: 319 KgCO2/m2.year

Building lifetime: 50 years

GHG reference: 569 KgCO2/m2.year


Awards and recognitions

One of the winners of the Iconic Awards 2013 (

One of the winners of the Unifa Contract 2014 (

One of two winners of Green Building Solutions Awards 2015 in the Users' Choice Award category (


Additional Links

Project description (old brochure):

Project description (video from C21 GBA 2015):

Documental (video in French language):

Picture portfolio:


Article review:



Original source Construction21 (C21)


Lessons learnt

The harmonious façade design fulfills the objective of an important building integration challenge in a protected area of European interest, the Mont-Blanc mountain. The building integration takes into consideration these 3 main factors: structure, technology and weather conditions, all of which contributed to the decision of the actual egg shape design. This case study demonstrates leading edge technology in architectural terms for high-energy efficiency and energy autonomy in France while respecting the approach of eco-friendly design and quality.

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