by STIRworldMay 04, 2022
Sitting at a tailor-made spot to catch the Northern lights in all their glory, the Fleinvær Refugium is designed with precision and preempted planning, to be perched upon sensitive terrain. The Arctic cabin-architecture remarkably develops in tandem with the beautiful, virgin terrain, characteristic of Norwegian architecture. While unmatched natural sights lend to the novelty of the structure, the architecture responds to the terrain in materiality, in form, even in coming together. The latter is particularly evident in the way the structure was planned and its construction executed: a marked deviation from convention and functional linearity. “During the first phase of the design, it became evident to everyone involved that a piece of nature so vulnerable, delicate and architectonic in itself had to be saved from excavators and demolition machines by means of planning and re-organisation of the programme,” states an official release by Rintala Eggertsson Architects, on the approach they took to have the building sensitively settle into the land it drew from.
As a consequence and contrary to convention, the entirety of Fleinvær was planned in unitary, solid blocks. Each of the individual functions of the ‘building’ in a non-traditional sense constitute a building on their own: the sauna is located on a pier by the waterfront, the main cabins are at the bottom of the hill, and the primary workspace is at a recess in the hillside. The architects cite the functional morphology of the place as closely resembling a number of fishing villages along the coastline, that have been there since the earliest days of the already sparse settlement in the archipelago along the northern edge of Norway. The buildings acquire the definition of a “man-made installation”, interestingly, and are treated with a certain ‘lightness’ according to the capacity of the terrain and prevailing wind directions. “We have taken care to inflict as few wounds as possible on Fleinvær. We achieve this in part by making good pathways, spaces between the houses, and a common fireplace. This steers traffic away from the isles' more sensitive areas,” explains Sami Rintala.
While this lends an interesting new perspective to “living with nature” in pockets around the planet wherein nature itself is a ferocious being, what this also does, in essence, is eliminate any virtual occurrence of a “negative space”. All circulation is cast outside the main structure, which impressively may also be seen as an additional step to connecting with nature. Imagine being witness to the Northern lights after a late night of work, walking up to your cabins to retire for the day!
The structural highlight of the entire hamlet-like development is a small cabin set aside on the top of a singular column. Referencing the vernacular architecture of the indigenous Sami people in the area, the Njalla and its pitch are beautifully framed in a series of tangerine-coloured external frames, in turn framing views of the cluster of buildings and the horizon. Like the tip of an iceberg, immediately visible but harbouring much more as one proceeds closer, the Njalla aptly “completes the composition”.
Away from massive footprints of civilisation, a picturesque site brings with it a unique set of challenges. The design and execution for Fleinvær was processed in four separate design-build workshops for the structures. Given the remote and sensitive nature of the site, all material had to be transported to the island, and then carried to the site itself by manual force. Wood, in that case, was a rather natural material choice owing to its sustainable and carbon-binding factors, along with an extreme ease of ‘malleability’ on site. Two expertly qualified craftsmen, Andy Devine and Ruben Stranger, assisted with crafting the wooden edifice to finality, being involved in every process of erecting the cabins by staying at the archipelago till the project’s fruition.
Other interesting structural and spatial details line the development with a similar agenda. A former waiting room in the old docks has been refurbished to now accommodate overnight guests, along with holding sanitary functions. The four sleeping units, further upwards, are shared spaces comprising two relatively shorter and wider units with twin beds, along with two other that are taller and narrower, containing twin bunk beds. A pathway leads through these lodges and into the heart of the Immersion Room; the concert room and the canteen. The Njalla structure houses the project’s ‘Room of Reflection’, perched atop the trunk of a chopped tree, inspiring freedom through isolation. The foundations of all structures are stated to be ‘minimalised’, consisting of steel columns curved at angles of 15 degrees, so as to maximise the possibility of height-wise adaptation to the terrain, and minimise impact on-ground. The Refugium now impressively serves as an important source of income for the small community of 30 odd people living on the islands.
The genesis of the project lay with musician and composer Håvard Lund, who commissioned the project as a collaborative space for art, including his own, to foster among natural inspiration. Interestingly, the site also serves as a muse for one of his more cosmic-sounding albums featuring brilliant touches of Indian classical music, called Blix by Lund. Designed as a collaborative effort between the two prominent architecture firms, Fleinvær Refugium is also strangely an embodiment of the art it seeks to foster. “Fleinvær got to me from the first moment. For such a long time I had lived so close to this paradise, without having the slightest idea it existed. It was like being in the place where the sun sets. Beautiful and weathered, a 'rock n roll'-nature that hits you right in the face,” recalls Lund on his first encounter with the archipelago. Nestled within the Norse landscape, with a shore on one hand and extensive, meadow-like greens on the other, often covered under a blanket of snow during the harsher months, the timber edifice often resembles a meticulously painted composition. The location and setting beg to be captured from any perspective. The peace it invokes in turn speaks volumes of Lund’s own musical odyssey, traversing galaxies through compositions.