In the vast expanses surrounding a fjord in western Norway, a tiny cabin dissolves into the rocky, heather-shrouded terrain. The shelter, built for prominent businessman Osvald Bjelland to use during hunting excursions, was a unique undertaking for Oslo-based firm Snøhetta.
The property, which has been in Bjelland’s family for generations, exists more than a half-mile above sea level. Trees, unable to grow at such altitudes, yield to heartier shrubs and mosses. In wintertime, snowdrifts can pile more than 15 feet high. To further complicate matters, there are no roads nearby; one can only reach the site on foot, on horseback, or by air.
This inhospitable environment dictated how the cabin would be structured and built, resulting in a highly choreographed construction process. The hut was built in the lowlands by a local carpenter, dismantled, and then flown piecemeal by helicopter to the site to be assembled again. The builder even had a separate cabin flown in so that he could live on the site during construction weeks.
“Because it’s such a beautiful and remote area we wanted a building that blends with the scale and the shape of the hills around it,” explains senior architect Margrethe Lund. Two teardrop-shaped steel beams make up the frame and are connected by hand-hewn timber planks. The designers covered the roof with native grasses and made an exterior wall from local stones, camouflaging the hut, so “you would only see the small curve, which could be mistaken for being a rock or a hill,” says Lund.
The interior follows the exterior curve. A sheltered entrance at the tallest end of the structure leads into a compact service area for food preparation, storing cookware, and hanging damp clothes after hikes. Above it, the architects inserted a mezzanine bunk level where a notched, totem pole-like column serves as a ladder. Drawing from old Norwegian tradition, a monolithic open hearth, made from two conjoined slabs of stone, is the centerpiece of the cabin. A bell-shaped hood hovers above, diverting wood smoke through a chimney. Custom furniture, which functions as both seating and bedding, huddles close around.
Extraordinarily, in spite of its 375-square-foot size, the architect says the cabin can accommodate up to 21 guests. “It’s comparable to a sailing boat,” Lund says of the close quarters. Once inside, looking out through a glazed facade, it is possible to feel both embraced by the landscape and at the edge of the world.