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This house is an extension is to an original cabin dating from the late 1800’s, located on the shore of the lake Övre Gla in the nature reserve Glaskogen in Sweden. According to Swedish building regulations it is not allowed to build along the lake shore, but an exception is made if it is an extension to an existing building. Although a maximum floor area is allowed in that case. A second priority from the building regulations is its proximity to the border of the estate. In this case the extraordinary location along a stream, this forms part of the site boundary. The building should stay 4 meters clear of the site boundary.

To use the maximum of possibilities given by the building regulations we made an extension to the cabin that can evolve, the building can literally adjust itself to its environment depending on weather conditions, season or the number of occupants. The extension unfurls like a butterfly; during the winter it’s a cocoon, compact with a double skin against the cold. During the summer the building can change its form or, like a butterfly, unfold its wings for extra shelter during rainy days. The windows of the cabin’s head can open wide and on the cantilever of the moving part one can sit above the meandering stream, listening to the murmur of the stream. Returning south in the winter, the head back of the cabin is pulled in, and the cabin is, once again, no bigger than is allowed.

When the space is at its biggest, the senses are aroused to the max: living above the water of the stream.

The organic shape of the house blends naturally into the setting of the rough forest. Since the building is only used for 4-6 weeks per year on such a beautiful and unspoiled location, it was important not to make a building that was able to disappear in its surrounding, without having to hide the house. By using red cedar wood that greys naturally into the colour of the surrounding rocks this was achieved. Seen from the lakeside the windows are hidden in the skin of the building, therefore no reference of a house is visible when the house stands alone in the forest. During the years to come moss might grow on the wooden roof as if it is a big granite rock.

Traditional roofing materials (called ‘stickor’), common in Sweden many years ago, were used in a contemporary way. The red cedar shingles that form the lizard-like skin of the cabin have been imported from Canada. This might sound odd in a land where trees stretch out as far as the eye can see, but the local timber is soft and needs to be repainted pretty much every year to keep it in good condition. Whether lashed by rain or covered in snow, the cedar skin of the cabin will emerge resplendent each summer. In due time, the wood of the cabins skin will have a grey appearance fitting itself smoothly in the rough rocky forest landscape.

The amorphous structure with the hornlike chimney and the undulating lines of cedar shingle skin lends the building a reptilian appearance.

Closely following the biomorphic curves of the rib cage, the interior walls are finished with pine lattice. The walls of the retractable extension are covered in reindeer hides, turning the living area into a sensuous fur-lined cave. Inspired by the Sámi culture of the northern Scandinavia, this treatment acts as excellent insulation. During our visit to the Sami tribe in the north of Sweden, we found out that they are masters of recycling, one of the most important ingredients of ecology. In their cold and empty landscape they live with only the reindeer. After its death the animal is completely recycled; they eat the meat, re use the bones for tent structures or ‘sunglasses’ and the skins are used for tents, clothes and shoes. This is living in total harmony with nature. Within our design we wanted to bring tribute to this way of live!

There are few hours of darkness during the Swedish summer, but light fixtures were carefully chosen to blend with the natural surroundings. Footsteps in the living area cause Ingo Maurer’s ‘Birdie’ chandelier to tremble overhead. Above the kitchen and dining area, custom red polycarbonate ceiling fixtures were inspired by the aurora borealis.

The house is almost a CO2 free design. Its environmental footprint is small: cooking is by propane gas; heating by a wood-fuelled stove, whose chimney sticks out of the house’s retracting head; and the lavatory is a hut, without so much as a septic tank, reached via a path through the trees. The building is built from certified wood only, all structural wood an interior finishes from local supply. The stream feeds a hot-tub and is used for bathing; the bath water is heated by an underwater wood stove. The lighting is powered by solar panels, and the sense of space far greater than you might imagine.

Houses normally only come alive, or appear to express emotions, in fairy tales or stories by Edgar Allan Poe, yet this one does both, while the fact that it tucks its head in when the temperature drops and hibernates under the snow in winter makes it all the more enchanting.

Project Data