by Amarjeet Singh TomarMar 13, 2023
When I first read Irish dramatist, poet and writer William Butler Yeats's poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree, as a 12-year-old, it urged me to imagine a life in seclusion, away from the chaos that perpetually pervades an urban life. Yeats's persistent longing for a slow life devoid of the quotidian demands of society, reflected delicately in his poem, validated my desire to disappear from a world that had begun to seem extremely daunting as a pre-teen. While a craving for peaceful locales often seemed to sit in contrast against representations of juvenile aspirations, predominant in popular culture, real life interactions have helped subvert this perception. The bustle of daily lives in a fast-paced society nudges almost all of us to daydream of cottages stationed along a brook, or a wattle and daub hut sitting miles away from the nearest trace of human habitation.
Channeling these latent desires, Rever & Drage, an architectural studio based in Oslo and Flekkefjord, designs modestly sized residences and hospitality buildings in their Norwegian locale. The studio, founded and headed by architects Eirik Lilledrange, Martin Beverfjord, and Tom Auger, regularly builds structures that derive inspiration from vernacular architecture, historic design principles, and regional examples of art, craft, and design. Lilledrange, Beverfjord and Auger syphon their collective learnings on subjects of architectural theory, semiotics, wooden construction, colour philosophy, architectural history, mathematics, communication technology, computer technology, prefabrication and facade composition, to visualise structures on cliff edges, valleys and hillsides. Employing both locally sourced accoutrements and industrially produced raw materials, the Norway-based studio constructs buildings that offer enviable views to the waterfalls, mountains and valleys, proximate to their coordinates.
Rever & Drage’s most recent project, Cabin Nordmarka, too, is a minimalist structure, existing in secluded wilderness, and offering panoramic views into the wild. For the cabin, the architects drew cues from the tradition of building modest retreats in the outskirts of cities, meant for usage as temporary residences while hiking, hunting, or fishing. Pondering on the inspiration that guided the design of the cabin, the architects shared, “There is a long standing tradition for the small retreat in architecture. Historically, this kind of building has served as a shelter whilst doing different kinds of recreational activities.” Further describing the influences that helped narrativise the details that make the cabin, the studio added, “Since the days of Thoreau's Walden, however, the small retreat, or bolthole, has also been a goal in itself. Typically to escape the stresses of everyday life. For the modern city dweller, this may well be a permanent urge.”
In enlisting one of the cabin's inspirations in the tradition of boltholes—a place meant for hiding and emergency escapes—the studio also justifies its location in Nordmarka, a densely forested region in northern Oslo. Sitting snugly in the wilderness that surrounds the cabin, one can remain assured about their privacy and seclusion. The interiors of the small residence is simply designed, too. The plan of the floor is divided into four rectilinear zones, each of which leads up to the other. The entrance of the cabin leads to the kitchen, which further leads up to the living and dining area. A step up, and one enters the bedroom. Finally, a ladder leads up to the fourth zone, which is the designated play and sleep area for the kids. The bathroom and storage area is accommodated underneath respective levels. In using steps to segregate the different zones, the architects were able to avoid the usage of walls altogether. The resultant plan is open, small in size, and easy to clean and maintain. Instead of building a structure that could be emphatically apparent in the quaint locale, Rever & Drage built a cabin that becomes one with the site and that is dedicated to providing expanded views of the woods, lakes, the sunset, and the sky.
The wood, steel, and glass cabin is held sturdy in the Nordmarka forests with the help of six steel bolts drilled into the bedrock. The modest size of the structure and its unique foundation technique helps lower the cabin’s environmental impact on the site, and presents the possibility of transporting it to a different site with very little effort. Explaining the process of transporting the cabin to a different location, Auger shared, “The procedure of moving the cabin would require a big crane truck to lift the cabin off the bedrock onto a trailer. The main benefit of this type of foundation technique is however the minimal environmental impact it has on the site.”
The Nordmarka cabin sits adjacent to an older cabin of the same size. While the remake and enlargement of the older cabin was initially considered, it was later cast aside since the client wanted to preserve it in its original mien. This led to the creation of a new structure with modern facilities, which, sitting next to its older counterpart, helps form an angled courtyard oriented towards the main views in the southwest. While the Nordmarka cabin, with availabilities of water and electricity, is meant for primary usage, the traditionally built old structure provides additional space for living and sleeping.
Delineating the requirements that guided the planning of the cabin, Auger of Rever & Drage explained, “The design emphasises on the qualities of the site and the existing cabin including a commitment to the main views to the southwest. The new cabin therefore has windows in this facade that relate to the windows of the old cabin. At the same time the client wanted to have an undisturbed view towards the sunset. To avoid conflict between these two goals a bench is placed in front of the open glass corner, concealing the latter from the outdoor area.” The bench also holds a steel support for the roof. This helps avoid the addition of a support in the glass corner, and hence, offers undisturbed views of the foliaged landscape.
When asked what the studio’s future plans are, Auger shared, “I think the project is a good example of a cabin with a small footprint and with minimal environmental impact which at the same time solves the basic needs of a cabin. We would be happy to work with similar projects in the future.”
Seated in the quaint locales of Norway, Rever & Drage’s projects stand humble with respect to the monumentality of nature and its several components. One can imagine a modest yet convenient life in these quarters. The studio’s practice prompts us to think of design and architecture interventions that can help facilitate biophilia in our unique locales.
What innovations can you undertake to enable a life closer to nature, a life reflected in Yeats’s resounding words, “...And live alone in the bee-loud glade. And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow…”
Name: Cabin in Nordmarka
Location: Nordmarka, Oslo, Norway
Area: 29 square metres
Year of completion: 2022
Architect: Rever & Drage
Design team: Tom Auger, Martin Beverfjord, Eirik Lilledrange
Built by: Bjørn Vike and Jo Toftdahl