Nestled in the Swiss Alps above Monthey, Switzerland, the Eco-Chalets coexist with the mountainside allowing for an environmentally preserved hospitality experience amongst the alpine landscape. The minimalist chalets are conceived to receive families and groups wishing to spend a few days in the mountains. Made entirely with Swiss materials and products, the larch wood paneled exterior, and interior millwork by a local fabricator, creates a seamless transition between the structures and mountainous environment while also evoking the design of a traditional Swiss chalet. A central bloc containing all services separates the volume of the chalet with the night part composed of 3 bedrooms on one side and the day part with the entrance, dining room and the living room on the other side. The primary design goal for the project was to design 21 low-cost, sustainable chalets that explored the ideas of ritual, wellness, and connectivity. From the onset, sustainability was a driving force in the design. Early studies looked at ways the chalets could be economical in materiality, size, and heating techniques. It was decided early on that the chalets would be prefabricated off-site by local vendors, to better control these objectives. The footprint of the chalets was intentionally limited to minimize the impact on the land. All of the chalets are energy self-sufficient. Water from the surrounding springs is collected and converted to power by hydro turbines that in turn supply the chalets. Each chalet has an air to water heat pump coupled with radiant heating in the floors allowing for constant low heat consumption. Energy-efficiency is also reflected in the passive sustainable design and materiality of the chalets. Exposed concrete flooring provide thermal mass for heat absorption during the day and release during the night. Large, triple-pane windows allow for natural daylighting. The building envelope is constructed to provide maximum heat retention in the winter, while window penetrations are oriented to provide cross-ventilation during summer months. The 21 units are all prefabricated off-site, using local vendors in a big effort to reduce carbon emissions and construction waste, while increasing the energy efficiency of the building with controlled construction over-sight. Local construction companies and vendors were used for the site and foundation work, with total construction time taking 3 months for the single-level chalets and 4-5 months for the two-level ones. The building envelope is constructed to provide maximum thermal and sound comfort to combat the harsh winter conditions. It is layered with wood paneling, external laths, OSB panels, a wind barrier, and two layers of insulation. Large, triple paned windows in the envelope are oriented to provide cross ventilation during summer months. The scale of the openings also allows for natural daylighting and access to the outdoors. Each chalet sits atop a socle like foundation allowing for unobstructed views of the valley and mountains and gives a floating sensation to the inhabitants. The interior material palette is minimal so as not to distract from the views. Walls and ceilings alike are clad with raw OSB panels and left untreated, eliminating additional VOC’s from paints and sealants. Larch was sourced from local Swiss forests and used to clad the entire exterior. It will weather and patina with time, allowing the material to evolve and extend its life cycle. The changing color is seen as a design benefit, camouflaging the chalets with the landscape over time.
Founded in 2004, Montalba Architects is a multi-disciplinary firm with studios in Santa Monica, CA and Lausanne, Switzerland producing select architecture projects. The studio’s work ranges in scope and context, from rural landscapes in the Swiss Alps to the dense urban scapes of New York and Los Angeles. By embracing a humanistic approach that considers not only a client’s needs and site considerations, but also the cultural and economic environment, solutions are realized that are contextual, yet conceptual in their intent, effect and appeal. Each project emphasizes experiences by creating environments that are both socially responsive and aesthetically progressive.