The building of an shelter above 4,000 meters which would serve both as a shelter for mountaineers and as a building for scientific research, was decided in 1889; as a suitable site the Punta Gnifetti -or Signalkuppe (Peak of Signal) for the Swiss - was selected, named after abbot Giovanni Gnifetti, who first climbed it in 1842.
The shelter was designed by Gaudenzio Sella and the building work lasted from 1890 to 1893, when the inauguration took place: it was dedicated to Regina Margherita (Queen Margherita), sovereign of Italy at the time, a mountain lover and great supporter of the work. The original building housed a dormitory, a kitchen and an observatory, contained in a rectangular building of 9.68 x 3.60m built in American larch wood, with triple walls separated by an air gap, roof and floor with double layers, internal and external facing windows (for thermal insulation), with copper cladding and earthering at the four sides of the building (as a defense against lightning).
From 1978 the old shelter, which showed obvious signs of wear, was demolished. The demolition occurred in the same time that a new building was constructed: it was made in sections, so there was a structure always available to workers for shelter and rest, without having to go down to the valley every day. Moreover, seasonal bad weather meant that it was only possible to work during the summer time. The structure of the new shelter was first assembled in Valsesia ( a valley close to the Monte Rosa massif), where individual pieces were numbered, disassembled and then transported by helicopter to the construction site at high altitude.
The shelter - opened on August 30th 1980 - provides over 70 beds in rooms and is equipped with a bar-restaurant, shared bathrooms, lighting and electricity, internet, and a library (built in 2004, with over 350 books and magazines). There is also a winter shelter designed to accommodate 19 persons. Including balconies and terraces, the shelter is 31.35 meter long, 9.40 meter wide and 7.50 meters high, with rooms distributed on 3 floors. On the ground floor there is the entrance hall, the winter room (which also occupies part of the first floor), kitchen, living room, two bathrooms, a small storage room and a technical room with the generator. On the first floor there are 7 bedrooms, a bathroom and a closet. On the second floor there are other 6 rooms: two of them are reserved to the Turin University, and a bathroom.
The shelter is built with American larch and fir and is completely insulated from the mountain thanks to a covering of copper sheet (total weight: 5.5 tons), which also acts as a giant Faraday cage, protecting the interior from lightning and atmospheric phenomenon. The insulation is guaranteed by double skinned walls (the gap in between is filled with mineral wool for thermal and acoustic insulation) and external and internal facing windows.
The anchoring on the ground is made with 18 steel tie-rods (Ø 12 mm) fixed to the rocks on the Italian side and fixed into the ice on the Swiss side. (Note: The Capanna Regina Margherita now is completely in Italian territory, but the border passes just outside it).
Environmental and scientific aspects
In addition to being a weather station, the Capanna Margherita is one of the few laboratories in the world located above 4000 meters and is a center for research into breathing at high-altitude, vascular, metabolic and kidney mechanisms at the base of acclimatization, altitude illness, the limits of training and exercise in thin air. Relatively recent branches of research, with interesting development prospects, include environmental science and climate studies.
Some rooms have been granted to University of Turin, both for the accommodation of researchers and for scientific research laboratories.
In 2002 Capanna Regina Margherita got the environmental certification UNI EN ISO 14001. In order to obtain this certification, the following requirements had to be met:
- an environmental policy with clear target. In the case of Capanna Margherita, these targets mainly consist in the reduction and recycling of waste, proper organic waste disposal, rationalization of energy and water consumption, optimal management of material transport;
- The implementation of an 'open' environmental system management (SGA): it renews itself in a 'continual improvement';
- a test ('audit'), made by an accredited third party authority.
Thanks to eng. Giorgio Tiraboschi for his valuable assistance.