High up the Julian Alps, in the mountains of Slovenia, Premica Architects have turned a former World War 1 bunker into a shelter for mountaineers. In another part of the country, a beautiful shelter replaces a 50-year-old refuge with a dramatic design and panoramic views.
Anže Čokl, a dedicated alpinist and climbing instructor, spends around 100 days in the mountains every year and thus knows plenty about both.
We spoke to Anže about these two wonderful shelters, the fantastic (and very modern) design of each, and what we can expect when we visit (because we just have to visit!).
Tell us more about the shelters. How did you first hear about them? Where are they located?
‘Both of the mountain cabins are actually called bivouacs in Slovenia, located in the small country between Vienna (Austria) and Venice (Italy). It is a very diverse country with many mountains at the eastern-most part of the greater European Alps range.
‘Bivak na Prehodavcih (BNP) is located in the Julian Alps (northwest Slovenia), very close to the Slovenia’s highest mountain, Triglav (2864 metres) at the height of 2071 metres. GPS: N46,358529//E13,792261 in the Triglav National Park.
‘Bivak pod Skuto (BPS) is located in the Kamnik Alps (north Slovenia), under the prominent peak in the range called Skuta (2532 m) at the height of 2045 metres. GPS: N46,359746//E14,567995
‘I knew of both alpine shelters as a climber first, years back. Both of the shelters were not nearly as marvellous as they are today, however they still offered the much-needed shelter from the storm and cold. This is actually the whole essence of these small alpine cabins: to offer shelter when most needed such as in foul weather, or on longer tours both in summer and winter, especially when days are shorter and approach to a climb or a mountain takes longer due to deep snow, heavier backpacks etc.
‘For the BPS alpine cabin, I was involved with the project from the beginning to the end, supporting the architects and designers with ideas and real-life experience in regard to certain details as to how particular problems should be solved to function properly in the high alpine world with loads of snow, strong winds and changing weather.
‘My last visit of the BNP alpine cabin was just months before the actual shelter was built atop the old bunker. This particular bivouac lies in the mountain area that was very active in between the wars by military, whereas in very close vicinity during WWI was raging with the infamous Battles of the Isonzo’.
Tell us about the interior of them. Are they modern? Insulated?
‘Both cabins are quite modern, with BPS even more so with the striking lines. Both are well insulated and blend nicely into the micro location they are situated at. As aforementioned, bivouacs should only serve people to help them reach their goals and should not become the goal of the hikers itself.
‘Therefore there is very limited comfort inside – only the basics, really. Both bivouacs offer a place to rest, to shelter from a storm and to spend a night in the wild mountains far away from the crowds, with views for the gods’.
Are the bunkers open to everyone? Do you have to book them in advance?
‘None require booking and both of these can be seen on daily trips. There are also other guided trips along the battle lines atop the mountains – very interesting hikes indeed!’
Tell us more about your photography. What kind of themes are you most interested in?
‘Being an accomplished alpinist and skier for over half of my life and paraglider pilot and speed-flyer for the last half of a decade, the great outdoors and mountains in particular feel like home; it’s in the mountains that I feel most comfortable shooting both video and stills. The more challenging the conditions, the more memorable the experience!
‘They say I learn quickly and really love working with great adventurous people. I started shooting adventures that I had my friends join me on and doing what I am most passionate about: climbing, skiing, expeditions, adventure trips. Therefore, adventure sports photography became my biggest passion! I do however love to take photos of anything that grabs my attention, time permitting of course. Shooting amazing places in the mountains where bivouacs fit just right in is just one of these!’
What other cool designs/architecture can we expect to see from you next?
‘I am currently involved helping with the design of a new bivouac that has a position in the very center of the Triglav National Park and it’s my opinion that it’s one of the most beautiful places in Slovenia. The bivouac will replace almost a century-old tiny cabin that was built by hands of alpinists that brought all material up there on their backs! What amazingly strong climbers they were. I actually can’t wait to finally see this bivouac standing at the end of the summer season as it will be out of this world – the design at that location and the views – out of this world, really!’