Gravity-defying Hub of Huts by noa* stays cantilevered between the earth and sky

The Hub of Huts sauna and pool extension by noa* takes the form of a mountainside village in Italy, as a cluster of upright and inverted gable-roofed cabins on a suspended walkway.

by Jincy IypePublished on : Nov 22, 2022

Cantilevered architecture has always been a feature of fascination for many (including myself). Regardless of its reason of inclusion, varying from rationally extending a building, impressive bouts of structural engineering or as glorious visual spectacles, albeit non-functional. Hefty in form, but seemingly, lightweight in appearance, most cantilevers literally, live on the edge, airy, magical, and excitingly defying gravity.

A cluster of cabins, upright and upside down, evoke “the architecture of a mountain village” for the Hub of Huts | Hub of Huts by noa* | STIRworld
A cluster of cabins, upright and upside down, evoke "the architecture of a mountain village" for the Hub of Huts Image: Alex Filz

Taking over the already aesthetic skyline of South Tyrol in Italy, the Hub of Huts designed by noa* network of architecture is both daring and delicate in its cantilevered form. A cluster of modern cabins evoking the alternate dimension, existing in parallel to the human world, the Upside Down from the hugely successful American sci-fi Netflix series, Stranger Things; it is described as “the village upside down” by its creators. The project reveals a seemingly simple yet impressive feat of engineering, bringing to mind the orange steel framed Richard Rogers’ Drawing Gallery, hovering ever so slightly over the Château La Coste vineyards in France.

Visitors gain access to the Hub of Huts through a suspended walkway | Hub of Huts by noa* | STIRworld
Visitors gain access to the Hub of Huts through a suspended walkway Image: Alex Filz

noa* returned to Hotel Hubertus in Olang, for their latest South Tyrolean realisation, following their iconic, expressive design of a glass-bottomed, cantilever pool (2016) in Valdoara, Italy, which was imagined as a rock stranded between the earth and the sky.

  • The Hubertus Hotel pool by noa* network of architecture (2016) | Hub of Huts by noa* | STIRworld
    The Hubertus Hotel pool by noa* network of architecture (2016) Image: Courtesy of noa*
  • The highlight of the hotel is its sky pool, floating like a natural rock over the accommodation | Hub of Huts by noa* | STIRworld
    The highlight of the hotel is its sky pool, floating like a natural rock over the accommodation Image: Courtesy of noa*

“After the iconic cantilever pool, a new suspended platform defies gravity law by overturning the concept of wellbeing,” shares the design and architecture firm based in Germany and Italy, who were assigned this new project in 2019, to design a building extension dedicated to wellbeing. “It was not an easy task for a building that had already found its symbol in the swimming pool, yet this served as inspiration for the new project,” they add.

Underside of the Hub of Huts | Hub of Huts by noa* | STIRworld
Underside of the Hub of Huts Image: Alex Filz

Up or down is a matter of perspective

In their initial research and site visits, the team of architects deduced their design concept for this Zen-like refuge, based solely on the context of the surrounding, and the geographical landscape reflecting resplendent in the swimming pool—"to materialise what one sees mirrored on the surface of the water, as if the image were a transient rendering ready to be converted into reality. It is a concept that plays with the horizon line, the perception of upside-down, and the points of view,” they reveal.

The Hub of Huts features micro swimming pools as part of its wellness programme | Hub of Huts by noa* | STIRworld
The Hub of Huts features micro swimming pools as part of its wellness programme Image: Alex Filz

Architect Gottfried Gruber, who supervised the project, reveals that there are several observable similarities between their earlier design of the swimming pool, and the new wellness platform—"both are supported by wood-clad pillars which have the same inclination, and both are smaller structures that are detached from the main building. They are both characterised by a floor plan with slim proportions, and house wellness-related functions.”

The Hub of Huts bases itself on an interplay of perspectives | Hub of Huts by noa* | STIRworld
The Hub of Huts bases itself on an interplay of perspectives Image: Alex Filz
The Hub of Huts, an extension of Hotel Hubertus, is conceived as an upside-down village | Hub of Huts by noa* | STIRworld
The Hub of Huts, an extension of Hotel Hubertus, is conceived as an upside-down village Image: Alex Filz

noa*’s founder and the architect in charge of the project, Lukas Rungger, explains further, “The essence of this project is the overturning of horizons, with the resulting effect of wonder for the observer. If you think about it, however, changing perspectives is a common exercise in wellness areas, where, depending on whether you are lying in the sauna, sitting in the relaxation area, or diving headfirst into the pool, the views are constantly changing."

Inside the Hub of Huts | Hub of Huts by noa* | STIRworld
Inside the Hub of Huts Image: Alex Filz
It is a somewhat surreal project for us: you start with a simple sketch, a house in its simplest and best-known type in the Alpine setting, the gabled roof, and turn it upside down: conceptually a simple move, but one that completely overturns expectations. The result is a very compact structure, astonishing, even more so if you think of the world of wellness: for this effect of wonder, we speak of overturning concepts and expectations. – Gottfried Gruber, Lead Architect, noa* network of architecture

Constructed and completed between March to June 2022, the contemporary architecture is located on the southeast side of the façade, in a position symmetrical to the pool design, and remains detached from the main building, akin to its architectural inspiration. The platform hovers 15 metres above the ground, strictly supported by two pillars clad in larch logs, similar to those that punctuate the façade’s behind.

The platform hosts nine solo microstructures crowned by gabled roofs | Hub of Huts by noa* | STIRworld
The platform hosts nine solo microstructures crowned by gabled roofs Image: Alex Filz
The interiors of the Hub of Huts features an earthy, simple materiality and colour palette | Hub of Huts by noa* | STIRworld
The interiors of the Hub of Huts features an earthy, simple materiality and colour palette Image: Alex Filz

Guests gain access to the Hub of Huts through a thrilling, suspended walkway, which opens up to the newly constructed relaxation area accommodating upto 27 people. The platform hosts nine solo microstructures in total, for about 30 people, crowned by gabled roofs, and housing the functional programme of the hospitality design across two levels. The more surprising one is the lower one, "where the horizon undergoes a 180° rotation, and the huts appear to be anchored upside down,” shares noa* network of architecture. The upper floor features three huts along with the outdoor pool (which is considered as one structure according to the architects), while the lower floor hosts five cabin designs.

The outdoor pool of the upper level | Hub of Huts by noa* | STIRworld
The outdoor pool of the upper level Image: Alex Filz

The two levels of the hospitality architecture are made distinct with their varying treatment of privacy, with the primarily exposed areas placed above, and protected ones underneath. The floor upright includes two cosy whirlpool baths, two panoramic showers and a changing room, while the upside-down one was conceived as a textile-free area, with the central, enclosed part housing the foyer. From here on, visitors have access to the soft sauna, the Finnish sauna, a shower cabin, an ice mist shower, and a third outdoor pool, with envy-inducing views of the surrounding Italian landscape.

The interiors frame views to the surrounding mountainous landscape | Hub of Huts by noa* | STIRworld
The interiors frame views to the surrounding mountainous landscape Image: Alex Filz

"The lower level of the platform causes a feeling of estrangement in the observer. As one descends, the temperature rises and the environment becomes more protected. It feels like a descent into the centre of the earth, with the poles reversing,” Gruber elaborates.

The space resulting from the inverted roofs was in principle, deemed as leftover, so noa* chose to include technical compartments for the pool and saunas, instead of creating a dedicated space for the same elsewhere, and increasing construction systems and costs. “We also altered the initial dimensions slightly so that the saunas would have their own technical spaces as close as possible. The same applies to the equalising tanks of the pool,” adds Gruber.

  • The wellness design features saunas with tiered, timber seating | Hub of Huts by noa* | STIRworld
    The wellness design features saunas with tiered, timber seating Image: Alex Filz
  • One of the three swimming pools with views to the Italian landscape | Hub of Huts by noa* | STIRworld
    One of the three swimming pools with views to the Italian landscape Image: Alex Filz

The German and Italian architects reveal their decision to work with inverted pitched roofs was based on formal as well as functional reasons: first, was the desire to reproduce the architecture of a snow-capped mountain village, closely followed by the practical need to allocate in the inverted roof, the swimming pool’s water purification system and the sauna’s seating tiers. “Moreover, the offset of the huts and the alternating orientation of the roof ridges allow a 360° view of the landscape, the real centrepiece of the project,” Gruber adds.

The cabins are clad in aluminium panels of brown shades, while the insides are done in fair timber | Hub of Huts by noa* | STIRworld
The cabins are clad in aluminium panels of brown shades, while the insides are done in fair timber Image: Alex Filz

The chosen colour palette and simple materiality of the Italian architecture harmonise with the mountainous scenery—the cabins are clad in aluminium panels in brown tones, along with thick slabs formed by a steel load-bearing beam structure. A brise soleil system screens the windows, which are also realised in the same material and colour. The floors inside the simple interior design is done in light beige ceramic, while the floors of the relaxation room are done in oiled white oak.

The upside-down huts include technical compartments for the pool and saunas | Hub of Huts by noa* | STIRworld
The upside-down huts include technical compartments for the pool and saunas Image: Alex Filz

For a wellness spa, the cantilevering volume would presumably make those with even a slight phobia of heights (like me), incredibly anxious. So how is safety ensured for such guests? Gruber answers, "architecturally, of course, all the safety measures required for a structure of this type have been observed. For those with a phobia of heights, it is fascinating that while the structure from the outside seems to hover in the air, from the inside, the guest does not perceive this situation of exposure at all. There is a feeling of extreme immersion in the landscape, of a calm and rooted structure, and there are no situations where it seems to lean into the void.”

Axonometric conceptual diagram | Hub of Huts by noa* | STIRworld
Axonometric conceptual diagram Image: Courtesy of noa*

“In this new assignment, noa* has been able to revive the imaginative drive from which Hubertus was born, designing a platform that, with its 20-metre overhang, marks a new floating outpost between heaven and earth. A project where the force of gravity seems to vanish to make way for unexpected scenarios,” concludes the design team, who strive yet again, to continue and relay their own architectural expression and identity through this exercise of designing cantilevering forms. Bookmarked by its magnificent mountainous surroundings, the Hub of Huts revisits and experiments with the typology of wellness, suspended gentle and optimal on an ecologically sensitive site, inspired by and in continuity of the significant design of the swimming pool.

  • Site plan, upper-level and lower-level plans | Hub of Huts by noa* | STIRworld
    Site plan, upper-level and lower-level plans Image: Courtesy of noa*
  • (top to bottom) South elevation, north elevation and longitudinal section | Hub of Huts by noa* | STIRworld
    (top to bottom) South elevation, north elevation and longitudinal section Image: Courtesy of noa*

Project Details

Name: Hub of Huts
Location: Olang (South Tyrol), Italy
Surface Area: 460 sqm
Volume: 917 cu m
Year of completion: 2022
Client: Gasser Family
Architect and Interior Designer: noa* network of architecture

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