A Refuge in the Mountains

A service building in the heart of the Italian Dolomites, designed by the two brothers behind Pedevilla Architekten.

Text—Juliette Leblanc
Photos—Gustav Willeit

Let’s begin with a quick geography lesson. The independent province of Bolzano, in northeastern Italy, is more commonly known by its German name, Südtirol. German? Yes, because this part of the country, along the Austrian and Swiss borders, is home to a predominantly German-speaking population.

Here, in the city of Brunico (Bruneck), architects Armin and Alexander Pedevilla have set up shop. After finishing their studies in Graz, Austria, and opening their respective studios, the brothers — driven by a common interest in alpine construction — returned to their home in 2005 to found Pedevilla Architekten.

For them, traditional skills are a key element, along with durability of materials. So they prioritize local materials and craftspeople. “For us, this isn’t an intellectual choice, but rather an emotional one. We want our projects to age with dignity.”


The area, with its breathtaking backdrops, is home to the National Park of the Belluno Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Traversing the rugged landscape is the Kreuzbergpass: a mountain pass through the Italian Alps situated at an altitude of 1,636 metres, between the provinces of Südtirol and Belluno.

This is where construction began, in 2020, on a service building designed by the Pedevilla duo, in collaboration with Willeit architektur. The building aligns with the silhouette of mountain summits and blends naturally into the neighbouring geology. It is tucked into the heart of Meridiana di Sesto, an enormous natural sundial. This, therefore, is also the ideal site to observe a striking phenomenon that occurs once a year: on the winter solstice, the position of the sun aligns, successively, with five summits, each named for the hour that designates it: Nove (9), Dieci (10), Undici (11), Dodici (12), and Una (1).

The building is situated strategically at the easternmost entry point to the national park and includes sanitary facilities as well as a kiosk with information on the numerous hiking paths and alpine refuges. It also serves as a shelter from the rain and snow.

The external structure, made of concrete from local dolomite rocks, reflects the sun like a lighthouse on the horizon. The internal core of the building is made of hand-carved larch wood. Solid amber glass elements link the two materials and offer a visual reminder of larch resin.

The result: visitors feel safe and comfortable, despite the often harsh climate.


The steep gable roof mirrors the transverse angle of the mountains in the background,  which augments its visibility from a distance, turning it into a visual signpost. The awning, rather low in contrast, makes the building less imposing as you walk toward it, creating an “inviting and pleasantly secure effect,” in the words of the two architects. Two corridors — a wink at the name of the place, Kreuzbergpass — cross the width of the building and transform it into a veritable portal to the mountains. These openings onto the immensity of the surrounding landscape create the impression that the outside is inside, and vice versa.

The pass is no stranger to innovative alpine construction. The current road, which offers a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains, was built in 1930 and paved the way for joining the two provinces that flank it. More notably, classical-era Romans originally took advantage of the relatively moderate elevation of the pass — and built the first paved road here. The Pedevilla brothers’ design connects them to this time-honoured tradition.

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