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Alpine Architecture

After a recent trip to Italy, one particular region and style of architecture stood out to us. The northern region of Italy is covered by the Southern edge of the Alp mountainrange or the Dolomites.

Since this region is so mountainous, it receives a significant amount of cold weather and snow.

People have been living in this region for hundreds if not thousands of years.

With the experience of living in such snowy regions, these people have learned many lessons about designing homes for such climates.

The little homes or huts have stood the test of a very harsh climates.

Many of the huts were most likely used as permanent housing year round however, now, most appear to only be used as ski huts during the winter season.

In this blog, we will discuss some observations we've made studying these little mountain huts.


A majority of these huts are constructed of wood. Either logs or other types of wood paneling.

Occasionally, the base of these huts are built from concrete or stone most likely to protect the base of these structures from snow heavy snow stacking against the base.


Suprisingly enough, the slope of the roofs were far less steep than we expected. The roofs appeared to be more in the realm of 3:12 to 4:12 in slope. Our guess is rather than shed the roof of the snow, the intention is the keep the snow in the roof. Most likely there was no real form of insulation but with several feet of snow, this helped to insulate and keep much of the heat inside the hut.

In addition to the low slope, they provide very long roof overhangs. This is to push and snow that does shed as far away from the walls of the house as possible. If the walls are constructed of wood, it is best to prevent any snow from making direct contact with the wooden walls.


Again, most roofs are constructed from wood shakes or shingles. What was interesting for many of the huts, the interior portion was composed of wood shingles, while the outside or areas over the eaves, was constructed of long wood slats.

We have two thoughts for this roof composition.

Again, at the shake area, the snow is meant to stay or stick to the roof. They do not want the snow to shed so they can keep the insulating thickness of the snow thickness over the house.

At the eaves, most likely they want the snow to shed or slide off the house. This is most likely to prevent the thaw and freeze cycle from building up ice dams at the eaves. In other words, when the body of the house heats the snow above, water will trickle down or to the edges of the eaves. If snow is present, the water will slow down, cool off, since the eaves will be colder, freeze and create ice dams.


Many of these huts had some very interesting gutter systems. Most were composed of half of a small log hollowed out. Since the gutters were so heavy, very stout metal brackets were provided for support.

Perhaps one of the most interesting features is many of these gutters extended three or four feet beyond the roof line. Most likely to push any water as far away from the structure as possible.


Many windows were very small. Most likely to prevent heat from escaping thr structure.

Additionally, shutters were provided to protect the windows from large storms and when the cabins are not in use during the summer.

So what can be learned from the designs that have existed for centuries in these snowy reagions? Are there any lessons we can apply to our mountain architecture within the US?

Thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment below!

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