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Norwegian mountain architecture

Traditional features like log walls and tiny windows are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Norway's latest mountain lodges and cabins increasingly have new and exciting designs.

A few years back, the Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT) opened a self-service cabin with an unconventional design. Called Skåpet, the ultra-modern cabins serve as the gateway to the trail network in Frafjordheiene on the south side of the Lysefjord.

“The mountains here are cool. I saw a little frog on the way up here. It made me scream so loud that my mum thought I saw a snake," says nine-year-old Rikke Benaglia Petersen with a smile.

She and her mum Rebecca are in the kitchen of the main cabin at Skåpet preparing Afghan Bolani, a type of flatbread, in a frying pan. A mild and appetising aroma of fried food fills the cabin, which is the first on the hike known as the Lysefjord round trip. This week-long hike includes world-famous attractions such as Preikestolen (The Pulpit Rock), Kjerag, and the 4,444 steps at Flørli.

“We spent about an hour and a half getting up here. We’ve been on lots of hikes in the mountains and we think it’s fun,” says Rebecca.

A more modern design

DNT owns, operates and maintains more than 550 lodges and cabins across the country, hosting overnight guests from all over the world. The cabins have long been associated with traditional, solid timber construction with small-paned windows and grass on the roof, but Skåpet represents a new generation of cabins with modern architectural designs featuring large windows and zinc-clad walls.

In addition to the main cabin that has a common room, a kitchen, and sleeping quarters for twelve people, you’ll find a sauna with an outdoor shower, outhouses with toilets, and six smaller cabins for sleeping. Each of them has enough space for you (and four other guests) to have some peace and privacy and to comfortably enjoy a view of the mountains through large floor-to-ceiling windows.

An architectural awakening

According to outdoor adviser at DNT, Endre Kleiveland, the new way of thinking about how to design lodges and cabins started with the refurbishment of Turtagrø Hotel in Luster in 2002 and with the building of the new Preikestolen Fjellstue lodge in 2008. 

“Nationwide, we have seen that architecture has had significance for both the attention garnered and the number of visits the cabins receive,” says Kleiveland.

DNT is behind many of the cabin projects, but there are multiple forces that have come together to form a new era of modern cabins with cutting-edge designs. The innovative thinking by those who own and operate some of the more iconic cabins has clearly helped inspire others. In additon, “Norway has many good architects who know the time is right,” says Kleiveland.

The Tungestølen Lodge was rebuilt after being ravaged by a hurricane in 2011. The new cabin, which opened in the autumn of 2019, was designed by renowned architectural firm Snøhetta.

“Our biggest wish is that our architecture helps people get out more and enjoy the outdoors. The new cabins can also play a part in creating an extra dimension – something you have never seen before,” says senior architect Anne Cecilie Haug at Snøhetta. “Nature is the most important thing. The architecture should form the basis and be an exciting element in nature.”

More sustainable

DNT aims to get more people out on hikes while also taking care of nature. New building projects in Norwegian nature therefore carefully consider the environment, energy solutions, choice of materials, and functionality, all of which play a key role.

“These are structures that are closely linked to nature, and which take into account the environment in which they are located,” says Kleiveland.

It doesn’t go unnoticed when cabins with a new twist pop up, and this has sparked a debate about what some see as tampering with the romantic image many have of traditional Norwegian mountains. In Kleiveland’s opinion, such debate is a positive. He stresses, however, that consideration of the local population and sustainable tourism weighs heavily, and that the authorities and the industry would never initiate projects that are unwanted locally.

Many of the new cabins have already become icons. The Rabothytta cabin on the north side of the Okstindbreen glacier in Hemnes in Helgeland is a good example. DNT’s cabin number 500 has now become a destination in itself for many visitors.

“The cabins are an added highlight of the trip, and yet another reason to go to the mountains. At the same time, it is not a goal in itself for the cabins to be innovative, and DNT will not only be building these types of cabin in the future,” Kleiveland emphasises.

The cabins are there to provide shelter and make guests feel safe, warm and protected from the often harsh Norwegian climate. At the same time, the surroundings must not be shut out, and many of the new cabins have large panoramic windows.

But, as Anne Cecilie Haug at Snøhetta says: “The nicest views of nature will always be the ones you enjoy outside.”

A philosophy of openness

Anne Cecilie Haug also points out that technological developments make it even easier to use low-impact construction methods in remote areas. In other words, it's easier to protect the environment these days, even when building far off the beaten track.

The architect finds it fun to create an alternative to traditional cabins and likes the idea that you can experience something that was made specifically for the space in which it is located.

It's also important to Haug that everyone is welcome at the Trekking Association's lodges and cabins in Norway.

“We at Snøhetta love working with the philosophy that what we create will be open to everyone and that no one is excluded, no matter who they are,” says Haug.

Panoramic views

Flye 1389 is a rest area and viewpoint situated at the highest point of Valdresflye in the Jotunheimen mountains.

The café has panoramic views in every direction. Enjoy local food from Valdres and Gudbrandsdalen while admiring amazing views of mountain peaks, including Besshøe, Høgdebrotet, Tjønnholstinden and Rasletinden.

The road to Flye 1389 is closed in winter due heavy snowfall. The building actually disappears completely under the snow every winter!

The café is wheelchair accessible.

Architect: Knut Hjeltnes sivilarkitekter MNAL AS

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