Norwegian Architects, Jensen & Skodvin Create Woodland Escape with Minimal Environmental Impact

Richard Friswell
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ARTES: This is such an unusual structure, projecting so much of the natural beauty of its surroundings, that it attracted my attention at a recent Scandinavia House exhibition in New York. I just had to contact you. Tell me a bit about the inspiration for the Juvet Landscape Hotel.

J&S: The Juvet Landscape Hotel is located at Valldal, near the town of Åndalsnes in north-western Norway. Passing tourists are attracted by a spectacular waterfall, in a deep gorge near the road in Gudbrandsjuvet. The client, Knut Slinning, is a local resident. The idea emerged as an opportunity to exploit breathtaking scenery with minimal intervention, allowing locations which would otherwise be prohibited for reasons of conservation. fine arts magazine

ARTES: How did the client, Knut Slinning, and your firm come to work together?

J&S: The client, Knut Slinning, comes from the coastal town Ålesund, about 100 km west of Gudbrandsjuvet. He is a property developer. He has owned a cottage in Gudbrandsjuvet since late 1980’s. He listened to our first presentation of ideas for the site (part of a national tourist road project Gudbrandsjuvet viewing platform, http://www.jsa.no/galleries_index_2.html) where we, amongst other things, proposed a ‘landscape hotel’. This idea originally came from another project we did, in the Aurland valley further south, in the Sognefjord, but it is still not realized there. About two years after our presentation in Gudbrandsjuvet, Knut Slinning bought a farm with a river, close to the waterfalls in Gudbrandsjuvet, and he asked us to help him realize the landscape hotel idea. We did the zoning plan (he is allowed to build 28 rooms on his property) and have now realized the first seven rooms. A small spa will be completed this summer as well, very close to the river, with one wall just in glass in each of the saunas, relax rooms and massage rooms.

ARTES: Of course, the green theme is on everyone’s mind right now, but what inspired you for this particular design?

J&S: We wanted to create rooms that does not have the conventional borders (the walls), but which offer an experience that is as large as the landscape—a mountainous gorge three-to-four miles wide in this case. To create this, we worked a lot with the windows so that as much as possible of the “bordering” or “enclosing” effect that a window and its framing usually gives were eliminated, or made as small as possible. This is intended to give an effect of being in a large and grand landscape (not merely looking at it), but maintaining absolutely private, while also being protected and warm.

Instead of the conventional hotel, with guest rooms stacked together in one large building, the Landscape Hotel distributes the rooms throughout the terrain as small individual houses. Every house has one or two walls that are entirely built in glass, making the experience of being in the space truly breathtaking. Through careful orientation, every room gets its own exclusive view of a beautiful and unique piece of the landscape, always changing with the season, the weather, and the time of day. No room looks out at another, so the rooms offer the ultimate in privacy, even though curtains are not used.

At the moment there are seven units completed, but with the possibility of adding 21 additional, according to the master plan. All the rooms have slightly differing designs, as a result of local topographical needs and vegetation, as well as to maximize the requirements for privacy and the best possible views. Construction was carefully planned to eliminate the necessity of blasting of rock or altering the terrain in any way. In this way, the rooms become the least invasive addition to the existing topography.

ARTES: Each room seems to have its own character. Why are the rooms laid out differently?

J&S: We did not want to use dynamite, we wanted a project that could be removed without leaving scars in the landscape, and therefore we regarded the houses as guests on the site. Basically we discussed a lot what each single room should contain. All the rooms are slightly different because of the typography and conditions on each plot, but with same basic services.

ARTES: The construction and interior design considerations must have been a challenge, given the rough terrain and harsh winter conditions. How did you solve those problems?

J&S: The units are over-engineered for harsh winter conditions, built with massive spruce construction (85mm in the walls, 120mm in the roof and the floor), as a finished reveal on the interior (roof and walls). On the outside there is pine panel, treated with iron vitriol, which creates a chemical process on the surface of the wood that resembles ageing; the wood turns grey in a couple of months because of a reaction with the daylight.

The modular units are intended for summer occupancy only. Each building rests on a set of 40mm massive steel rods drilled into the rock, with existing topography and vegetation left largely untouched. The glass walls are set against slim frames of wood, locked with standard steel profiles, using stepped edges to extend the exterior layer of the main glass surfaces all the way to the corners.

The interiors are treated with transparent oil with black pigments, so that reflections from the inner surface of the glass wall are minimized. Shelves, benches and a small table are all built by the same massive wooden elements to maintain a certain degree of deliberate monotony, serving as a visual counterpoint to the complex nature views outside and to keep the visual presence of the interior at a minimum.

ARTES: Tel me a bit more about J&S’s commitment to green design and how you optimized those guidelines in this project?

J&S: Today’s concern for sustainability in architecture focuses almost exclusively on reduced energy consumption in production and operation. At Jensen and Slodvin, we think that conservation of topography is another aspect of sustainability deserving of attention. Standard building procedure requires the general destruction of the site to accommodate foundations and infrastructure before building can commence. Conserving the site is a way to respect the fact that nature precedes and succeeds man. Also, dutiful observation of existing topography produces a visual ‘reading’, where the geometry of the intervention highlights the irregularities of the natural site, thus explaining both itself and its context in a more powerful way. In this way, a sustainable connection is established between structure and site.

The hotel had a planned opening for summer, 2009. A small spa is being built very close to the river, with two saunas and a massage room. It is inserted into the ground, but with glass walls facing the view of the river and the mountains.

ARTES: Thank you for your time. The photographs themselves were breath-taking. I hope I can get to see the finished project someday soon.

Client: Knut Slinning; Project Architects JSA: Jan Olav Jensen (pl), Børre Skodvin, Torunn Golberg, Helge Lunder, Torstein Koch, Thomas Knigge; Landscape Architect: Jensen & Skodvin; Static Consultant: Siv. Ing. Finn Erik Nilsen; Year Planned: 2004 – 2009; Year Built: 2007 – 2009; Status: Under realization;  Area: 800m2; Cost: 2 Million Euro

All photographs courtesy of Jensen & Skodvin Architects. For more information, see: The Juvet Landscape Hotel website at: www.juvet.com

or contact Jensen & Skodvin at: www.jsa.no

(Jensen & Skodvin Arkitektkontor AS, Sinsenveien 4D, 0572 Oslo, Norway)

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