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.
Familiarising 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 project is a site specific response to the context and the cultural landscape. It stands as an example of how architecture can convey past knowledge into the present, creating an affective link with the built landscape.
The grass top of the cabin recalls the traditional sod roofs, common on rural log houses in Scandinavia until the late 19th century. Listed by the local planning regulations as one of the few materials allowed for roofs (in addition to slate or wood), the fuzzy top, moving with the wind, helps soften the otherwise rigid rectilinear geometry of the cabin.
The exterior cladding of the cabin is made of skigard, a 3 meter long quarter cut log that is traditionally laid out diagonally by Norwegian farmers as fencing. While referencing rural architecture, the rough facade makes the cabin fit in within the rugged landscape and forested vegetation. In the winter when the gaps in the skigard siding fill with snow, the house is given a new and softer expression.
Mork-Ulnes Architects decided to raise the cabin not just to have some protection from the elements while maximising natural light and views, but also because they didn’t want to ruin the terrain with the earthwork required for a conventional foundation.
A notable feature of the house is that every surface is clad in wood. The unconventional roughness of the exterior log Skigard siding is matched by an almost wholly homogenous interior space where light and smooth solid pine paneling creates an intimate and cosy feel, offering few distractions to take the eyes away from nature outside.
All of the cabinetry and custom furniture is made of three-layer cross-laminated pine sheets. The all-wood materiality also creates a unique wooden olfactory quality to the house.
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 south- oriented 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.