In 2015, the Messner Mountain Museum, a museum dedicated to the history of the mountains, was completed by Zaha Hadid Architecture in South Tyrol, Italy, at an altitude of 2,275 metres. From June 2013 to July 2015, the construction site was full of feats, as Peter Irmscher, architect and engineer at Zaha Hadid Architecture, tells us. In connection with the theme of issue 446 of L'Architecture d'Aujourd'hui, "Architecture goes wild", the engineer shares with AA his memories of an extraordinary building site.
What were the biggest technical challenges of this project?
There were two main difficult topics. First was building in such an extreme place on the top of an alpine mountain with just a gravel road reaching the site. The building also needs to withstand extreme weather conditions you will find in winter like temperatures, wind and snow. So our design ambitions and the detailing of it will need to provide sufficient resilience under these conditions. The second difficulty is to find the right craftsmanship to execute our design and quality requirements and a rural region. In both cases, we found the right local partners, either experienced enough in building in these altitude and locations or willing to develop the right skills and technics to deliver the project as requested.
In this environment, the construction phases could be slowed down by bad weather and more unpredictable to carry out …
Absolutely, we were just able to build within a time window during late spring, summer and early fall. The site is also located in the middle of a skiing area with the slopes crossing the only road up there. Our client was the operator of these ski lifts. Since the site can just be reached via this gravel road and the clients priority was to keep the slopes opens, construction was limited to off season time. But even in spring times and early fall, we had to pause construction through extreme temperatures and snow fall. But for me, this was by far the site with the best views.
Do you have an anecdote, an unexpected moment, to tell us about this construction site?
Well, there are two little anecdotes regarding the site. As mentioned, the museum is located in the middle of this very popular skiing area with more than ten thousand visitors during the weekends. And the museum is open to these skiers. While choosing the right materials for the interior, we had to consider the skiers will enter the building in their hard plastic boots and the surfaces have to withstand them. That was a new experience for me. The other anecdote was the problems at the beginning to get the concrete on site in time to pour it. There was just this gravel road up the peak and at the beginning we were a bit nervous if the concrete is still good to pour and with the right quality for our proposed geometry in situ , once it made its way up. But we were working with a very skilled contractor and the result convinced us, that it is possible.
Video of the construction site of Messner Mountain Museum by Zaha Hadid Architects © Kronplatz, Video Production by MK Timelapse