A MOUNTAIN CABIN, DETACHED FROM THE TERRAIN AND ATTUNED TO ITS NATURAL ENVIRONMENT, ACCOMMODATES LIFE UNDERNEATH. IT’S THE LATEST PROJECT BY SAN FRANCISCO / OSLO-BASED MORK-ULNES ARCHITECTS IN NORWAY.
Casper and Lexie Mork-Ulnes (Mork-Ulnes Architects) have recently completed Skigard Hytte, a mountain cabin for themselves and their children in Kvitfjell, a ski resort in Norway that was developed for the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. Perched upon the ledge of a steep mountain and framing panoramic views of
the valley and river below, the cabin connects to the ground lightly, protecting both the natural terrain and the occasional sheep taking refuge from the weather underneath the house. Its architecture references elements of the local vernacular tradition, reinterpreting them in a rational and inventive project.
Skigard Hytte is the first ground-up project that Casper and Lexie Mork-Ulnes have built for their own family. They met 20 years ago on a ski trip and have always shared a love for the mountains, snow, and skiing. They lived in San Francisco and relocated to Oslo in 2011, where they converted a former billiards room in a castle into their residence. With two kids, Lucia (13) and Finn (11), and dog Lupo, they decided to build themselves a cabin in the mountains where they can fully embrace the outdoors-lifestyle of Norway.
After securing a 2,000-square meter site in Kvitfjell ski resort, with sweeping views of the valley, Casper and Lexie began to give shape to the retreat they had always wanted for themselves: the main dwelling with a guest annex, and giving every room a view out. Familiarizing themselves with the unique qualities of the site while camping and being awoken by cows and sheep at their tent’s door, the architects decided to give the house an unusual but straightforward configuration; by lifting it on thin CLT legs and allowing the grass and sheep to remain below, they also created a raised viewing platform above the nature. The location of the cabin gives the family the opportunity to leave directly on skis to reach for the slopes or the shops and restaurants.
An architect’s house can afford to be a laboratory for ideas, a crucible of invention. Casper and Lexie allowed themselves to push the boundaries and experiment with design and material strategies that clients might not have the appetite to test.
The program was to have a three-bedroom cabin plus sauna and an annex that gave guests private space to retreat.
Deferring to the natural landscape all around, Skigard Cabin engages the outdoors in a spectacular fashion. Two facing 6 meter-long floor-to-ceiling walls of glass provide the open-plan living, kitchen and dining area with a grand vista, creating the experience of being outside, exposed to the ever-changing scenery. The large southoriented glass wall allows low winter sun to illuminate the house during the day. In addition to the glass walls, a skylight at the apex of the frustum ceiling channels natural light into the living areas. The first approach to the house is walking up the stairs to the veranda, where one
first experiences the spectacular view through a portal clad in heart pine. There are two doors on either side of the portal which open to the main house (left) or guest annex (right). Upon entry to the main house, one finds a hallway with direct access to a mud room where one can remove outer layers of clothing and shoes and enter the house. Under the first frustum skylight, the entry hallway also accesses the childrens’ two compact bedrooms and bath. After walking through the compression of the hallway space, one walks back into nature finding a room composed of two long walls of glass - with views of the valley and ski slopes on one side and woods and meadow on the other. The great room houses the main communal space containing kitchen, lounge and dining area. At the end of the great room one finds the master suite - with bathroom and sauna. On the other side of the veranda, the guest annex contains a bedroom, bathroom, spacious lounge area, and sleeping loft.
This cabin in Norway, with its extraordinary rationality and its ability to redefine the relationship with the snowy fields and with nature, represents yet another opus in Mork-Ulnes Architects’ coherent portfolio of works. MUA’s designs testify to the office’s strong bicultural mentalities: a blend of Scandinavian straightforward practicality and Californian openness to innovation. Casper and Lexie Mork-Ulnes prove once again their ability to design projects where the ideas of the architect and the interior designer are distilled and refined in perfect balance. The Skigard Hytte project witnesses this quality where a careful attention to the interiors becomes one with the general architectural composition.