by Jerry ElengicalJun 27, 2022
Originally designed as a guesthouse in the locality of Kontiolahti, Finland, the Meteorite Cabin by Helsinki-based firm Ateljé Sotamaa takes the form of a polyhedral monolith in prefabricated cross laminated timber (CLT), amid a blooming, remote landscape. The project was commissioned by Ulla-Maaria Koivula - Founder and CEO of education technology provider ThingLink based in Palo Alto, California - and is located on her grandparents’ old homestead in the region of North Karelia. Following concerns over the pandemic and raging wildfires across California, the client’s family had essentially relocated to this province in order to live and work there full-time.
Reflecting on her vision for the project, Ulla-Maaria Koivula mentions in a press statement, "Every building materialises our relationship with the natural environment. My inspiration to have a unique wood house built in this country sprouted from the rocky hills and rugged woods of Koli, rich in erratic boulders that also served Finland’s defence during the Winter War.” She continues, "Meteorite reflects the connection my soul has to Finnish nature, and looking through one of its large windows to the misty fields around takes me back to the calm days of childhood."
Appearing as a "dark, mystical object among the trees", every line, vertex, and angle in its prefabricated architectural form is befitting of its name, reminiscent of an irregular celestial mass that has crash landed onto the forested landscape it is nestled within. The abode can be accessed on foot - as was the architects' wish - and is perched atop a wooden platform between rows of coniferous trees, starkly contrasting its surroundings. A relief from the hassles of urban living, the structure overturns norms in the design of rural cabins and retreats, emphasising vertical circulation and visual connectivity over multiple floors. "Meteorite is not a large house, but on the inside it represents a completely new three-dimensional open-concept way of organising living space," says Kivi Sotamaa, Co-Founder of Ateljé Sotamaa in an official release.
Possessing a façade design realised almost entirely in timber, the building is equipped with a roof made of solid wood that has been oiled to resist the wearing effects of the elements. Its three-storey structure can be segregated into two interconnected layers. The first is an internal framework of walls and floors that delineate the primary functional spaces, encased within an arrangement of angular timber panels that compose the polyhedral exterior shell. Voids between the two systems provide a layer of air insulation that is up to four metres in thickness while fostering avenues for communication between different levels. The nexus of this configuration is a 10 metre atrium at the heart of the building, beneath a vast skylight that illuminates the home during the day. Most activity within the cabin revolves around this space, which is both its physical and spiritual core.
"Unlike traditional houses where each room has a specific predetermined purpose, Meteorite’s architecture supports more dynamic relationships between its residents in a variety of life situations. Digital design and new prefabrication and construction technologies enable the creation of unique, aesthetically high-quality ecological wood buildings that add experiential value to their locations,” relays Kivi Sotamaa. As per the architects, at the time of its exhibition at Helsinki Design Week, the residence’s design had captured nearly 60 tons of CO2, significantly offsetting its carbon footprint.
Shared areas such as the kitchen and main living space have been placed on the ground floor. From the cosy entryway, guests will encounter a seating space to one side, with the kitchen occupying the area at the opposing end of the structure. The latter zone features storage and fittings embedded into the side of the central timber staircase. Niches have been carved into the textured wood walls enclosing this zone, creating comfortable nooks for residents to curl up. Upper landings have quiet sit-out spaces with windows oriented towards the exterior landscape. According to the architects, Nordic light wood is the principal material for most of the interior design, which abhors the use of plastic - in keeping with the project’s dedication to sustainable design solutions. The result is a charmingly rustic yet modern fusion that soothes and calms.
Virtually all of the building services and engineering is hidden within the walls themselves. “This was a unique project also in terms of structural design and detailing,” notes Ahti Rantonen, managing director of structural engineering at Vahanen Group, responsible for the building’s structure. He adds, “The living experience in Meteorite will be very close to that of a traditional log house with all artificial materials eliminated. Another key element was the digital design and fabrication process. All parts of the house can be prefabricated and assembled on the construction site, which means they had to be digitally modelled at a highly detailed level and delivered just on time.”
Furniture designs by Bosch and IKEA, as well as pieces designed by Ateljé Sotamaa, feature throughout the cabin. Windows are punctured into the building’s envelope to frame views of the natural scenery in the vicinity and have also been fitted with electrical heating systems, to manage the periodically frigid climates of this part of Northern Europe. One of the project’s most innovative elements is a catamaran-style net lounge on the topmost floor that functions as a creative recreational space, allowing residents to 'float' above the atrium as they engage in thought.
Commenting on the cabin’s current role post completion, Koivula concludes, “We use the house as a creative space for remote work, hobbies, and hanging out together. In the old days, families gathered into a large horizontal kitchen space to be together; we now interconnect vertically with each other and with the surrounding nature. In this time and age with effective telecommunications and speed trains to the metropolitan region, this is a paradise for us to get settled into a good life.”
Name: Meteorite Cabin
Location: Kontiolahti, Finland
Area: 700 sqm
Year of Completion: 2020
Architect: Ateljé Sotamaa - Kivi Sotamaa & Tuuli Sotamaa
Design Team: Filippo Fabi, Irene Pace, Pietro Barcaccia & William Dusen.
Structural Engineering: Vahanen - Ahti Rantonen, Kari Saarivirta and Antti Kalliola
Construction: Lahden Puurakentajat & Joen Kodin Rakentajat.
Lighting: SAAS Instruments
CLT: Hoisko CLT