FOSEN (NO) - With their first built project, the already famous Fantastic Norway architects have shown that their mastery goes beyond serving waffles from a caravan at the Venice Biennale.
There are not many young Norwegian practices that can measure up to Fantastic Norway in terms of positive attention. And for good reason: with their collaborative methods and playful schemes they have made an innovative contribution to the field of planning and architecture in Norway. Håkon Matre Aasarød and Erlend Blakstad Haffner, who are still in their twenties, dropped out of the Bergen School of Architecture in 2003. They drove north, parked their red-painted caravan in remote coastal towns and invited locals inside for a chat over homemade waffles and coffee. Their aim was to acquire knowledge and generate enthusiasm through dialogue, both in the caravan and in the local press. From this starting point, they initiated several projects that are grounded in, and at the same time amplify, the local identity. This approach earned them an invitation from Aaron Betsky to participate in the recent Venice Biennale to which they brought their trusty caravan, homemade waffles and a display of their method and projects.
The rugged wooden cabin is the duo's first completed permanent structure. Some people might find it a bit too Spartan and not their first choice for a relaxing holiday. But as Scandinavian holiday retreats go, this 77 m2 cabin is actually rather fancy. In Norway, where almost every family seems to have its own holiday cabin, the size and fixtures are often far from luxurious. These days this is perhaps more the result of a preference for the primitive, than of absolute economic necessity. Simple living in close contact with the elements has deep roots in Norwegian culture, although for some time now 'cabin-palaces' have been popping up in all the popular holiday destinations.
This cabin, however, is situated on the remote and weather-lashed coast of Fosen, a peninsula some two hours' drive north-west of the city of Trondheim. Because of the climate, and because Norwegians love their outdoors, a key issue for the architects was to create a variety of sheltered outdoor spaces. In deciding the best location for the house, the architects had recourse to scientific research by the late architect Anne Britt Børve which involved analysing wind and snow activity in extreme weather conditions in order to calculate the optimum height, angle and distance of the various building elements. The Fosen cabin design forces the wind up and over the building volume while simultaneously breaking it up. Although the cabin looks very contemporary, it actually bears some similarity to the wooden houses Børve built in the far north of Norway in the late 1980s. These single-storey, one-family houses were clad entirely in wood and had odd-looking angles that owed their shape to analysis of wind direction and force.
The Fantastic Norway cabin also resembles one of the most famous and best-loved cabins in the history of Norwegian architecture: the wooden cabin in the rocky landscape of Portør, owned and designed by the architect Knut Knutsen. Like Knutsen’s 1949 cabin, the Vardehaugen cabin blends with the bleak landscape by crouching down in a small hollow in the bedrock. Such careful placement of buildings in the natural landscape is still a high ideal for many Norwegian architects. Knutsen’s cabin is strongly vernacular in its window divisions and its use of unrefined wood and stone. Although the detailing of the Vardehaugen cabin also owes something to the vernacular, it is more aligned with the pragmatics of utilitarian 20th-century buildings in the region. The carefully designed interior and exterior spaces of the Portør cabin may have inspired the young architects – both cabins feature small rooms with cosily low ceilings and walls folding freely around the basic activities of relaxing, sleeping and eating. And both have furniture built along and into the walls, creating a variety of pleasant spaces despite the modest surface area.
The Fantastic Norway architects recently announced that they have abandoned life on the road to concentrate on making more built projects. If the charming and inventive Vardehaugen cabin is anything to go by, this is a practice worth watching.
January | 2009 | Norway | Sissil Morseth Gromholt