JVA’s contemporary buildings in wild norwegian landscapes
Norwegian architecture firm JVA designs buildings that are in osmosis with the surrounding landscape. In response to the demands imposed by wind, snow, altitude or endless horizons, they invent new typologies that are magnified by the natural elements.
An angular structure that braves the ice of Spitsbergen, a writers’ hideaway cabin or a mountain refuge with a panoramic view are typical of the buildings designed by Norwegian architects JVA (Jarmund/Vigsnæs AS Arkitekter), all of which are marked by their osmosis with nature. “Our approach is like a detective arriving at a crime scene: we linger over the tiniest detail, we carry out enquiries, we dig,” exclaims Einar Jarmund, co-founder of the firm. “We work on very specific architectures, taking into account the weight of the environment, and if our scheme seems like the only possible one, it means we’ve found the right solution!” That solution has to “take into account the climatic and geographic conditions,” for the forces of nature are immutable and dictate their laws, insists Jarmund.
The Okstindan mountain refuge,1 200 metres above sea level, is emblematic of this philosophy. Baptized Rabot Tourist Cabin (after French geologist and geographer Charles Rabot), this complex, resistant structure in locally sourced wood was shaped with regard to the behaviour of snow and the direction of the winds. Built by the local community, it’s entirely self-sufficient, even though it’s connected to neither the water mains nor the electricity grid. Yet it can shelter 30 people. Rising from its roof, two chimneys echo the surrounding mountains in their pyramidal form. “The topography is the base, the geology, of the architecture. You have to understand the way nature behaves in order to take it into account,” continues Jarmund, before adding, “Architecture is never seductive when it’s simply ‘designed.’ You have to experience it in a precise context, open it up to every human interpretation possible, allow it to live. Above all else, architecture is a tool for organizing life, and for allowing human fulfilment. Architecture mustn’t just be ‘satisfactory’ but exciting, inclusive, with unexpected twists, like a good film script.” In accordance with the times, JVA also talks about an architecture “in good health,” and insists on the architect’s responsibility towards nature: “We have to find solutions so that architecture doesn’t jeopardize the planet, but on the contrary respects and preserves it.” It’s for this reason that JVA mostly uses wood, exploring the ecological, aesthetic and structural qualities of the material – wood that’s been bio-sourced or recycled, which the architects describe as an “enormous CO2 trap.”
Another project, the Aluminium Cabin (2013) – a summer home by the sea in the Vestfold – stands like a sort of “mirage” installation among the rocks. Covered with a layer of aluminium that’s resistant to salt spray, the house reflects the landscape and the sky, like a chameleon changing colour in accordance with time, fog and frost. “Architecture has the beauty of a silent language. If it’s too ‘styled,’ it becomes disruptive. We try to stay as invisible as possible,” says Jarmund.
Even more adapted to its environment, the Svalbard Science Centre in Longyearbyen on the island of Spitsbergen takes into account the “physiological and psychological need for protection that you feel in Arctic latitudes,” as Jarmund explains. “Designing a window in such a hostile environment can quickly lead to irreparable consequences, or positive ones! Without architecture, human life isn’t possible in the Svalbard archipelago. Architecture allows survival; therefore it has to take into account the natural conditions in order to become the mediator between inside and out. In Norway, more particularly, being an architect means resolving a duality: that of architecture’s need to be part of nature but also the need to afford protection from it. Like a strange animal, it lives in nature, and nature returns the favour!”