All six huts were built in the vernacular style of the Valais region.
They are simple block huts made from local larch trees and covered by massive
stone roofs. On a sunny day, their dark and weathered logs fill the air with
a characteristic scent. Three of the huts were constructed between
250 and 300 years ago and the oldest hut is almost 500 years of age:
It was built in 1508 - a mere 16 years after Columbus discovered America.
Four of the huts were erected on a natural ridge, to guard them against avalanches;
a fifth hut rests on top of a large rock. The Riedji comprises an ensemble
of different building types. One hut was originally designed as a dwelling
and four of them as barns. The most striking hut, however, is the Stadel -
a grain storage that rests on six pillars capped with stone plates to guard
the harvest against mice. It is both unusual to find a Stadl at such a high
altitude and one that is so dramatically situated on a steep slope.
The Riedji is connected to the village of St. Niklaus by a cable-car,
constructed in 1937. It is used for the transport of luggage and building materials only
(not for passengers) and it is driven by hydro-power: A barrel of water is filled
on top and released as a counterweight for freight to be pulled up from the bottom
of the valley. The steel cables are 1,000 m long and span 600 m of vertical difference
between the base station in St. Niklaus and the mountain station on the edge of the Riedji cliff.
According to the assessment of a renowned Swiss industrial heritage expert,
the cable car is the oldest of its kind still operating in Switzerland.
A comprehensive renovation, however, will be needed to ensure that this historic
feat of engineering will be preserved for future generations.
A core objective of the Riedji project is to restore the historic substance of the retreat.
For that purpose, a thorough assessment has been conducted: First, a dendrochronological
(tree-ring dating) analysis was commissioned to determine the precise age and different
construction phases of the six huts. In 2003, an industrial heritage specialist
prepared an expertise on the cable car and recommended that it be listed as a
historic monument. In 2005, a group of architecture students from the
Technical University of Berlin spent a week on the Riedji to take exact measurements
of the huts and assess the restoration needs. The following winter, a second group of
students developed scenarios for the modernization of the ensemble. The priorities
for the next 2-3 years will be to renovate the cable car and the oldest building,
to cover three of the huts with the original rock slate roofs that were removed in the 1970s,
to repair the damaged foundation of the Stadel and to restore the network of water channels
traversing the Riedji meadow.