This retreat was desgined and built by Todd Saunders and Tommie Wilhelmsen. A self-initiated and self-financed project. The main dilemma for emerging architects is finding clients willing to take a chance with young, enthusiastic architects that have limited experience. When we first started our firm, instead of looking for clients we went looking for plots, to build an experimental structure. Doing this, we could pursue our architectural vision in line with our convictions: uncompromising, original and respect for the landscape.
This is our own personal project. We bought this site ourselves in order to create experimental architecture. The constant question for young architects was how to find clients willing to take a chance on enthusiastic architects with little experience? When we first started our firm, instead of going and looking for clients we went looking for a possible site to build an experimental structure. In this way we could pursue our architectural vision in line with our convictions: no compromises, original, and respecting the Norwegian landscape that we live in. Once we made such a project, we knew that it would be easier to find and convince clients that we are competent architects through this use of a real life building as opposed to paper visions of architecture so common among young architects.
We found a site about 2 hours drive from Bergen in Hardanger, on the edge of one of Norway’s most dramatic fjords. We bought this site from the last of our savings. We made a structure that would be a part of the natural surroundings, yet in a sensitive contrast to the dramatic landscape. We divided this retreat into two parts: one for the function of eating and sleeping and another smaller room that could be used for whatever the user desired. A long thin floating outdoor floor connects these two parts. This outdoor floor made the space twice as large in the summer, and connected the two buildings, so that one could walk barefoot from one to the other. The front of this arrangement faces the fjords, but the inner space towards the mountain creates an evening space that can be complemented by a small fire.
We built both structures ourselves together with a carpenter. We finished the smaller building of the two projects. In June we started constructing the second longer structure. This longer structure will be finished in July.
Facts about the retreat
Todd Saunders & Tommie Wilhelmsen together with Mats Odin Rustøy (architecture student and carpenter) built the first phase (atelier/writing room) in 2002-2003. This part is just 15m2.
The second phase began in June 2003 and was completed in August 2003. This section contains and kitchen and common room plus a bedroom with a shower and toilet. This structure was formed so that one can use the roof as a terrace.
The atmosphere of this project
The project is used a retreat for friends and ourselves. It will be a place where one can disconnect. The intention is to have minimalist interiors and amount of technology. Any technology will be supported by natural gas. We hope to use candles as the natural light source. The part of Norway only has about 4 hours darkness in the summer month; the time of year this retreat will be used the most.
This is the nearest one is permitted to build to the waterside. All new architecture has to be at least 100m from the shoreline. We had to apply for special permission to build 80m from the shore. The retreat is approximately 80m above sea level, making for a dramatic relationship to the large fjord in front. On the western side of the site, approximately 30m from the cabin, there are 30m high waterfalls in the Forest that continues in a dramatic stream. One crosses this stream on the up the cabin over an old stone foot bridge.
When one sits on the large outdoor floor the views almost are almost hypnotizing. The site has a church-like feeling to it, with the darker forest in the back, but with a large open light that is to front. The mountains, clouds, and fjord are constantly changing. These are subtle changes that happen through the run of the day that one can sit and be fascinated with.
Location: Kjepsø, Hardanger Fjord, Norway
Architects: Saunders Architecture – www.saunders.no
Team: odd Saunders – Tommie Wilhelmsen
Status: Completed 2003
Photos: Brent Rene Synnevag