The People Hostel

Les Deux Alpes / Isère

The first hotel in the French Alps built using cross laminated timber.

The building was built using cross laminated timber (CLT) panels, as an extension to an existing structure. 

The People Hostel is a one-stop hostel concept offering the accessibility of a youth hostel, the warmth of a guest house, and the style and comfort of a boutique hotel, all at affordable prices. The establishment has 362 beds and was financed by La Foncière Hôtelière des Alpes (CDC group), built by Adim- Vinci Construction France, and is operated by France Hostels.

Youth hostels are undergoing a revival and are currently extremely popular. Accessibility, a warm welcome, style and comfort are the watch words for a more modern, broader offer incorporating accommodation, services and recreational areas. Far from the austere and uncomfortable image associated with them in the 1970s, these new-generation youth hostels are much more like traditional hotels, but target a younger, more dynamic clientele.

A new history

The former UCPA holiday centre, built in 1962 by L.H. Laye, was a functional project, typical of the period, crowned with a butterfly roof. However, not only had the building become technically and energetically obsolete, but it was also poorly situated on the plot of land. Anchored at the rear of the plot, there was no interaction with the public spaces to the north around the entrance to the village, despite the strong presence of the facade. The aim of this new project was to radically transform the building’s architecture and image and adopt a homogeneous style across the complex as a whole (the new and existing buildings).

The programme includes a wide range of accommodation options with four, six and eight-bed dormitories and private double rooms. There are similar numbers of both types of room with 43 dormitories and 45 double rooms. The service spaces include ski lockers, the kitchen, areas for recreation and relaxation, and eating areas.

The two-building disposition allows for the programme to be very clearly distributed. The dormitories and shared spaces are housed in the existing building, renovated and raised, whilst the double rooms are found in the new building. The services are located on the ground floor of the existing building, which is rounded off in an oblong form. Between the two, the circulation spaces are organised vertically to meet regulatory requirements on comfort and security.

Mountain architecture

The project involved renovating and adding new floors to the existing building and building a new one. For the project as a whole, the architects proposed a style which is contemporary but faithful to the archetypes of mountain architecture.

The first step was to create a specific silhouette, obtained through the interplay between the complex, fragmented rooftops which break down the overall mass, creating a landscape of smaller, juxtaposed roofs. This is evocative of the overlapping rooftops which characterise mountain villages, where proximity is synonymous with protection. 

Work was also done on the materials used for the facade, based on the stone – wood – sheet metal combination used in traditional constructions. In some parts of the Alps, roofs are built with flagstones rather than sheet metal, but this is not the case in the Romanche valley, in particular in the villages which make up the resort (Mont de Lans and Venosc).

The stone, used here with lap joints as facing, brings a touch of nobility to the base of the existing building.

A singular outline has been created using the balcony railings and patterns worked into the wood. This perpetuates a long Alpine tradition, used for better or worse in many contemporary constructions. 

The system chosen for the People Hostel uses small larch timber tiles (4 centimetres squared) juxtaposed with variable spacing (single or double spaced) to produce a design across all of the main facades. 

The design remains abstract but introduces a circular pattern into the overall composition which is very angular. The decorative nature of this lace-like woodwork is enhanced and strengthened by the dynamic movement of the shadows it casts, transforming the balcony as the light changes through the day and the night. This effect is accentuated by the balconies, systematically placed in front of the rooms, which give depth and width to the facade. 

The wood is treated in two ways to accentuate this perception. The timber tiles used at the front of the balconies are treated with grey stain to obtain a uniform colour and increase their durability. The interior wood, protected from the weather, is covered with a golden surface coating.

A certain finesse

The absence of overhangs gives the volume more marked edges and removes the shadows these would cast on the facades. The architectural form is cleaner and more contemporary, the thickness of the roof structure is masked and is not directly visible on the facade. 

It is important to remember that buildings at altitude must be fitted with roofs adapted to the mountain climate, composed of two distinct layers: the snow guard and the sealing, with ventilation in-between. They must also be able to withstand heavy loads requiring particularly sturdy framing to cope with any eventual overhang.

The roofs and gables are clad with dark grey aluminium fitted with standing seams. This “made-to-measure” system means all the details of the facade can be positioned coherently: the timber tiles, festoons, balcony balustrades, guardrails, window recesses and window sills.

It closely resembles the finish obtained by fitting zinc roofs with standing seams but is better adapted to the high-altitude weather conditions.

This procedure offers a high-quality alternative to the standard steel panel solution used for most roofs in French Alpine resorts and is only slightly more expensive.

Although from an architectural perspective steel panel roofs are not a problem as such, the joints, ridges and flashing required to fit them are thick and ungainly, unlike the standing seam solution which produces a very elegant finish offering a certain finesse.

A novel construction method for the French Alps

This construction method has never been used for this type of programme in the Alps before. Appearances can be deceptive, and although many buildings in the French Alps use a lot of wood on their facades, they are all built from concrete. Apart from a handful of chalets, there are no tourist facilities or hotels made of wood. This is certainly paradoxical, as Alpine wood (which now has its own label) is one of the major forest resources in France, and the association between the mountains and wood is an obvious one.

Mountain construction on the French side of the Alps is all about masonry, although the Tyrol and Voralberg show us that another way is possible. The work of the architects and engineers from the Tectoniques group follows on from the Austrian experience of wood construction.

The cross laminated timber (CLT) panels used to build the People Hostel are an Austrian innovation, now used in France, notably under the impetus of the firm Woodeum which supplied this project.

CLT is used for all the floors and the load-bearing walls in the new building.

The load-bearing walls on the additional floors were built with a traditional wood framework to avoid overloading the existing structures.

The CLT floors were assembled in a specific way to manage the acoustics. They are composed from the bottom up of CLT 200 mm panels with the underside visible + a honeycomb filled with sand + rigid rockwool insulation + concrete screed + carpet. Based on the first months of use, this assembly appears to be effective, fully compensating for the natural shortcomings of wooden floors in terms of acoustic performance.

Raw materials and visible networks

Inside the building the architects wanted to leave the construction materials visible and to flaunt their intrinsic qualities. The central concrete core (stairwells and lift shafts) has been left unpainted. The CLT panels are visible on the ceilings of the rooms and the vertical walls of the circulation spaces. In the same vein, some of the ventilation and electricity networks have been left visible.

The interior deliberately contrasts with the type of decoration typically used in mountain hotels, which continues to mask the interior, with fake wood veneers and an overload of signs and symbols associated with the mountains. 

Hostel complex, with renovation, extension and construction of two additional floors to the old UCPA building

Client: ADIM Lyon
Original project concept: Woodéum
Operator: France Hostel
Operational PMA: Theop
Financing: CDC through the Foncière hôtelière des Alpes
Financing PMA: Alpes Conseil Assistance

Total floor area: 3,140 M2
Budget: 6,100,000 Euros ex. VAT

Architects: Tectoniques architectes

Design and Engineering:

Quantity Surveyor, HVAC, Electricity: Tectoniques Ingénieurs
Wood Structure: Arborescence
Concrete Structure: CEBEA
Acoustics: DBVIB
Kitchen designer: Pimant
Building control: Veritas
Geo-technician: KAENA

Photographs: Renaud Araud (royalty free photos)

Main materials:

– Cladding and metal roofing: Standing seam aluminium section ALUCOLOR grey RAL 722 matte
– Stone: grey Alpine granite, with flush joints
– Wood cladding: grey weathered larch treated without solvents

– Interior carpeting: Flotex

Main contractors

– General Contractor: Arbonis
– Heating, ventilation and plumbing: Thermaged

– Electricity: Cegelec
– Metal roofing and cladding: Bourgogne couverture
– Interior woodwork: CBMA
– Exterior woodwork: ARBOR
– Partitioning and lining: ML Construction