The architectural challenge of recovering the highest mountain refuge in Spain

Elorrieta is one of the most emblematic mountain refuges in the Sierra Nevada and is the highest in the entire Peninsula. It is located at no less than 3,187 meters above sea level. It was designed by two engineers, José Almagro San Martín and García Nájera, in 1929 to provide shelter for forestry workers as part of a repopulation plan for the Lanjarón River valley. Although it was just one of the facilities planned for this natural and national park, it soon became a private construction not only because a large part of it was semi-excavated into the rock, but also because it had heating, a water tank, a kitchen and a dining room. and housed up to 14 people.

The chronicles say that it was completed in 1931 after an intense effort to bring the materials to the top. Imagine a journey of almost 20 kilometres with gradients of more than 2,000 metres that were overcome thanks to teams of mules. Although the refuge has been in disuse since the 1990s, there have been several discussions about the possibility of rehabilitating it. And despite the passage of time, the blizzards and the harsh conditions of the high mountains, Elorrieta continues undaunted, crowning Sierra Nevada.

If in the end its possible rehabilitation went ahead, what would the “new Elorrieta” be like a century later? To find out, the company Pladur has decided to use Elorrieta as the attraction for its annual Architecture Prize call. The firm, known for its gypsum boards for construction, has been annually launching a challenge for more than 30 years to students and future architects who are currently studying at one of the Universities in Spain and Portugal. Each call for proposals is different and this year’s “has many things in common with our prefabricated material, for example that it is easily transported since it is light. In addition, it allows dry work, because at 3,000 meters there is not as much availability of water, and easy assembly because it is modular,” said the general director of Pladur, Enrique Ramírez, during the 2024 awards ceremony.

Integration and materials

On this occasion, 900 students from 36 universities in Spain and Portugal participated. The jury, made up of renowned architects, positively valued the projects’ ability to integrate into nature and some ideas such as the use of passive strategies, “or solar gains for example.” “You have to understand what is needed and what the best solutions are when working in such a high place and subject to the harsh mountain climate,” said one of its members. Although, in general, the high quality of all the proposals was highlighted “for their innovation and sustainability.”

winning ideas

The “Infinito Vano” project at the University of Porto, carried out by Liliano Ferreira and Mariana Lima Rocha, won the Iberian Prize for Best Architecture Project. The jury valued, among other things, the creation of a terrace designed for hikers to enjoy the views of the Lanjarón valley. The Award for Best Construction Solution went to “Elorrieta Climate Shelter” by ETSA del Vallés students Eric Moya Soler and Sílvia Prujà Mayà. The effective use of Pladur Systems and Products was highlighted. In the Iberian Mention BIM (Construction Information Modeling) category, where the use of this digital 3D modeling system was valued, the winner was “Al limite”, a project from the ETSA of Seville, presented by Marina Carmona Zabalo, Carolina Carmona Zabalo and Javier González Sánchez.

In addition, the local awards in this edition have been given to 42 students from 18 Spanish universities, to which must be added 11 students from five Portuguese universities.