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Designed Different: Meet the Mountain Hut Maker

Even for a veteran designer like Thilo Alex Brunner, Head of Design at On, making the transition from creating high-tech running shoes to building a minimalist hut thousands of meters up in the Swiss Alps represents a challenge. Thilo discusses his vision for the hut and deep dives into its unique design.


Accessible only by foot, the On Mountain Hut sits some 2,500 meters up in the mountains. Just getting there is a feat. So you can imagine that designing and building a hut that blends into the imposing environment and offers guests a once-in-a-lifetime experience was even more difficult. 


Created from scratch with an entirely minimalist ethos, it features all the facilities you need and nothing you don’t.  We want this hut to be the perfect place to enjoy the Alps in all their glory; to switch off and reset away from the hustle and bustle of daily life; to go back to your source. 


These mountains have had a profound impact, not just on our company, but on our co-founders too. David Allemann, Olivier Bernhard and Caspar Coppetti all feel at home here, and all three still find the Alps to be their finest source of inspiration and ideas. No pressure then, Thilo. 



Hi Thilo, what was your main goal when creating this hut? 

I had several goals: first, to enable people to have the ultimate hiking or trail running experience by allowing them to stay in the most beautiful place over night. Second, to make people aware of what an extraordinary place this watershed of three different river systems actually is. And, finally, to show off the spectacular Engadin home of On, of course. 

Part of the ‘back to the source’ idea is to demonstrate just how few things are needed to have – hopefully – the stay of a lifetime. Reduction as ultimate luxury. 



Can you tell us a little about some of the key features?

The staircase is the link between nature and the structure built by humans. You literally walk up the mountain and into the hut. The staircase is, at the same time, well, just a staircase but also a viewing platform and an opportunity to sit, relax and dine. 


But my favorite part has to be the bed, on the mini mezzanine, which overlooks the whole valley. From the outside, the hut is covered with reflective façade elements made from metal which allow the hut to blend into the environment.


What materials have you used, and why? 

It’s mainly a modular, wooden construction that we came up with. Window frames and façade elements are made from metal. Easy to be put together and easy to take apart again. Cozy on the inside, protective on the outside. That’s about it.



How did your experience as a high-tech shoe maker influence the design of the Hut? 

My team and I are designers at heart. Design never stops. It’s an attitude which influences many aspects of life - material or not. While high-tech shoes might be what we do every day, we are also interested and active in many fields of design: from shoes to apparel, from accessories to spatial design and, as in this case, even micro architecture. 


Design is a universal process and vocabulary that can be applied to many objects and situations. It works best when it creates a wholistic picture.


What the shoes and the hut definitely have in common is that there is nothing redundant.


What would you say is your personal highlight from the project? 

Working in a company and a design team that are so versatile.



Where did you find inspiration for this project?

That’s a personal one. I’ve always had two passions: spending time in nature doing sports, namely freeskiing, mountain biking and trail running on one hand, and my love for the urban environment, street culture, design and products on the other. 


My profession as a designer lets me bridge these quite different areas of interest in a very natural and authentic way. That’s where a lot of my inspiration comes from. I think growing up very close to the Alps is a defining thing.


What sets On design apart from other brands? How is this reflected in the On Mountain Hut?

We are a global company and we want people to have a fun experience with our products. But we are conscious about our great Swiss design heritage which often gets associated with keywords like rationalism and reduction too.

Our goals and our origin both define us to a certain level. It’s this duality that keeps our design work in an intriguing balance.

Mind that the word ”functionalism” begins with “fun”, actually! What we’ve been doing in shoes and apparel now shows in this project: we provide a unique and fun experience in a very rational way. 


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