The Vindheim Cabin: Snowbound in Norway
Architect Håkon Matre Aasarød, partner at Oslo-based studio Vardehaugen Architects, led the design of Cabin Vindheim, situated deep in the forest in the alpine landscape near Lillehammer, Norway. The cabin’s concept was simple: To create a cabin that is small and sparse yet spatially rich. The 55-quare-meter (592-square-foot) cabin, commissioned by a private client and completed in 2016, comprises a large living room, bedroom, ski room, and small annex with a utility room. It functions off the water and electricity grids.
Håkon, who earned his master of architecture degree from the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, where he is also teaching today, has been telling us about this project from its very beginning, keeping us abreast of the building progress in emails and photos. What’s more, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation followed the design and construction of the cabin and documented it in a one-hour episode of the program “Grand Designs”. Thus, we are excited to finally show you the result and introduce you to its lead designer, who lives in Oslo, with his wife, Sigrid, and with his two boys, Syver and August.
A conversation with architect Håkon Matre Aasarød
AM When and how did you know you wanted to become an architect?
HMA I’ve always been passionate about drawing. I can easily recall the wonderful and almost hypnotic feeling I had while drawing Star Wars space ships for hours in my childhood. As soon as I got older and realized that drawing houses and objects was a real job, and not just a hobby, I knew I wanted to be an architect. Today, from time to time, I can still get that wonderful, almost meditative feeling while drawing.
“As soon as I got older and realized that drawing houses and objects was a real job, and not just a hobby, I knew I wanted to be an architect.”
AM What professional path led you to where you are today?
HMA Immediately after finishing architecture school, I started my first office, Fantastic Norway, together with my good friend Erlend Blakstad Haffner. Our studio was a red caravan. We drove from town to town for more than three years, giving architectural aid and inviting the locals to participate in creating new strategies and projects for their hometowns. We had a wonderful adventure and got a lot of attention and won many prices for our method of working. But life on the road was also a bit tiring, so in the end, we had to park our ambulant architectural office.
Then we were invited to make a TV series about architecture for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) and worked as television hosts for a couple of years.
After spending so much time on the participation processes and communication, I felt the need to focus on the building part of our profession and, as a response to this, started Vardehaugen Architects.
AM What’s your design style?
HMA When starting a new project, I try hard not to have preconceived ideas about the style or looks of it. I try to focus on the client’s need and on creating interesting spaces and let the style evolve through this.
AM Where do you draw inspiration for your designs?
HMA Our greatest source of inspiration is our clients and the sites we work on. Every client is different; every place is in some way peculiar and unique. We aim to embrace this in all of our projects.
AM What does “home” mean to you?
HMA Home is the feeling of belonging somewhere. The feeling could be connected to a house, a specific landscape, a mountain, or even a group of people. Places where your story lives.
AM What makes you a mountain man?
HMA Growing up in Norway it’s hard not to have a close relationship to the mountains. Throughout my childhood, we spent a lot of our holidays hiking or skiing. Every Easter, my family still goes hiking in the mountains, and every autumn, we collect sheep for my parents-in-law in the mountains of Norway’s West Coast.
AM When are you the happiest?
HMA Nothing beats spending a day with my two kids at our small summerhouse on the West Coast of Norway.
AM What’s on your drawing board right now?
HMA We work with a fairly wide range of projects. In addition to some cabins and villas, we are currently designing a small chapel next to Norway’s second largest glacier, the Black Glacier, a coastal museum on the island of Frøya, and an observation deck at Norway’s most spectacular waterfall, the 280-meter-tall (ca. 920 ft.) Vettisfossen.
The Project: Cabin Vindheim
AM Who are the clients?
HMA A couple in their mid 50s, both of them passionately interested in architecture and design—in addition to skiing and hiking in the mountains.
AM Describe the design in your own words...
HMA The cabin is a basically a gabled roof where the edges of the roof stretch all the way down to the ground. The ceiling runs uninterrupted through the cabin and connects the different rooms. A series of uplifts creates a rich variety of spatial qualities underneath it.
AM What was the client’s premise at the beginning of the project?
HMA They wanted a small cabin that was sparse and compact but at the same time spatially rich and generous.
AM How did you translate the client’s vision into this design?
HMA With the ambition of creating a compact cabin that at the same time had exceptional spatial qualities, we focused a lot on the physical sensation of scale and space. When is a space too tight? When is it too big? We did this by creating real-scale mock-ups of our design solutions in our backyard to ensure a greater understanding of size and proportions in our project. This enabled us to simply take a stroll through our project and get a sense of dimensions and spatial sequences–even before the cabin was built.
AM What was your inspiration for this particular design?
HMA The external shape of the cabin is inspired by the classic motif of snowbound cabins that have only the roof protruding through the snow. When snow covers the structure, the contrast between architecture and nature becomes blurred.
AM What makes this cabin truly special?
HMA During winter, the roof becomes a man-made slope for ski jumping, toboggan runs, and other snow-based activities.
AM Take us there...
HMA The site is deep in the forest in the alpine landscape close to Lillehammer in Norway. The cabin sits between some tall spruce trees, with a nice view toward a lake. During winter, it’s extremely cold there and hard to get to by car, so you have to cross-country ski for a few kilometers to get there.
AM How did the setting and the site influence your design?
HMA The frosty forests in the region are both beautiful and mysterious, and they’re closely connected to traditional folklore and stories about trolls and other strange creatures. When snow covers the trees and stones, they morph into something new. They become characters, sometimes trolls, sometimes just a beautiful and unique sculpture. I find this notion truly inspirational.
“When snow covers the trees and stones, they morph into something new. They become characters, sometimes trolls, sometimes just a beautiful and unique sculpture.”
AM What are the main materials you used, and why?
HMA The classic Norwegian mountain lodges are covered in dark wood, making them seem both solid and grounded. Inspired by this, the cabin is clad in black-stained ore pine. The interior is lighter, fully covered in waxed poplar veneer.
AM Take us inside...
HMA The sloping roof connects the different spaces, making the entire cabin feel more like one large room.
From the main bedroom and the mezzanine, you can even gaze up at the stars and enjoy the northern light, while lying in bed. When resting in the cabin's bedroom, a large 4-m-long (ca. 13 feet) window creates the impression of sleeping above the treetops and underneath the stars. The main living room is also small but has a ceiling height of 4.7 (ca. 15.4 feet) meters under the roof.
AM What was your biggest challenge with this project, and how did you overcome it?
HMA The site is very far off the grid, and simply getting the materials to the site was quite a challenge. But we managed by always planning with close consideration of the local weather forecast.
AM What is your favorite thing about the cabin, now that it is finished?
HMA Lying in bed watching the northern lights above the snowy spruce trees is a really nice experience.
AM What do the clients tell you, now that they have been living in your architecture for a while?
HMA They enjoy the cabin and spend time there every weekend. The only issue is that they’ve had problems with sheep climbing up the roof. However, I’m sure the sheep enjoy it.
AM Final impressions of the cabin?
HMA We designed a couple of birdhouses for the birds living next to the cabin. Local sparrows and starlings enter the nesting box from a small opening underneath the flexible top hatch. △