The luxury of splendid isolation


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 2 2017)

The eye glides over the green valley to the grey rock and the view vanishes between the white trunks of a couple of birch trees, its silver leaves dancing in the wind. High above in the sky buzzards are circling and you can hear the nearby creek gurgling softly. Nothing here disturbs the all-encompassing nature. Even inside the Juvet Hotel nothing distracts from the view over nature, as two of the walls of the hotel room are made of glass, which appear to let trees and rocks come inside. Europe’s first landscape hotel is situated on the grounds of an old farm called Burtigarden in Valldal near the town of Ändalsnen in the northwest of Norway. Here, nature and architecture are entering a unique symbiosis.

Many will remember the hotel from the blockbuster movie “Ex Machina”, in which a young programmer is invited to the lonely estate of a company director to test the artificial intelligence of the female android Ava. Next to the protagonist, the house with its strict modern architecture, located in its rugged landscape and only reachable by helicopter, plays one of the main parts in the film. In reality the hotel, whilst situated in the Norwegian landscape, is still in close proximity to the extensively signposted local landscape routes, which lead tourists to the most beautiful parts of Norway and which have been supplemented by art, design and architecture. Thus, Juvet was created too, as the architects Jensen & Skodvin designed part of the landscape route at the viewpoint “Gudbrandjuvet” near Burtigarden. Back then, they had the idea for a fitting guest accommodation in the area. Fortunately, the old farm of Burtigarden had just been sold to Kurt Slinning, who did not quite know what to do with it. So the development of the landscape hotel began. 

The building consists of an old restored farmhouse, which is used as a common room for all guests and provides a space for big events, such as weddings, for example. Built in 1870, it has been renovated with great attention to detail in its original style. ”Luckily we found a photograph of 1880 which made it possible to design the house exactly to its original appearance’”, says Knut. “Of course inside we adapted it to the needs of modern times.” There is a kitchen, as well as bath and bedrooms.  The hundred-year old barn has also been restored and renovated. The new areas were assigned new functions: the cowshed has been turned into a dining and living room with an open fire, the pig sty is now a kitchen, and the hayloft has become a lounge area. There is an additional tiny mill house. Now it is the smallest hotel room and as it is positioned down at the Valldal river, it offers the most exclusive view. Here you can lie on your bed and through open doors watch the river trickle past.

Adding to the old buildings, new, futuristic ones were set into the surrounding landscape. Every building is a room in its own right. Seven of which are double rooms, cubic wooden structures called “landscape rooms”. At least two of the walls are made of glass, inviting the surrounding landscape inside. They offer an unbelievable view onto the area, the valley, the river and the gorge below Burtigarden. The cubes are reminiscent of sheds or weather shelters, yet are very luxuriously equipped. Inside, all the rooms are kept dark, the walls treated with oil mixed with dark pigments. Thus, the reflection of the walls in the glass panels can be minimised. Shelves, benches and a small table are made of the same solid wood to create a monotone effect in contrast to the varied landscape. The aim is to reduce the visual distraction as much as possible – the landscape is the star, which attracts all the looks. “We want to create the impression that the rooms are as boundless as the surrounding landscape”, the architects explain.

Two “birdhouses” serve as single rooms of the hotel, which are even more minimalist in their architecture than the landscape rooms. They were built in the style of the old “Stabbur”, which were Norwegian block huts used as larders. The constructions recall birdhouses waiting for the return of migrating birds, as they are located on the slope above the other buildings and are built on stilts.  On one hand this was determined by the sixty percent incline but on the other, it is also in keeping with the old stabbur, which in that way were protected from mice and rats. “We wanted to show here how little we really need to make us feel comfortable,” say Jensen & Skodvin. “The rooms do not have more than eight square metres, but have a comfortable bed, a small bench, a shower and a toilet. The light is wonderful and the big windows let the nature come inside. From the bed you look out onto the mountains and they appear to be only centimetres away. You are so close to nature, you may be able to see the moss grow.”

In the orchard of Burtigarden you can find the last room, a small mountain hut. It offers space for two people and is modelled on the Norwegian shepherd huts, in which the shepherd boys used to live. As children they had to take the cows, sheeps and goats in the summer to the mountain pastures. Shepherding was a vital part of agriculture and only finished in Norway in the 1950s.  Both the Mountain Cabin as well as the Mill House have neither electricity nor running water. Here you live in nature like in the past.

The Juvet Hotel is placed in the centre of a natural conservation area. After extensive discussion and investigation with nature experts, permission was given to build up to 28 room cubes. It was possible to build them without changing the terrain or blasting rocks. Unlike other hotels, which involve the construction of one big building with many rooms, here hotel rooms were built as single, individual buildings into the landscape -wherever this was possible without topographical changes. This way the buildings fully integrate into the terrain. “In leaving the landscape as it is we respect that nature comes first and man follows,” the architects point out.

These days the efforts for sustainability in architecture are focused almost solely on reducing energy consumption with regard to both production and usage. However, to preserve the topography of an area is another aspect of sustainability which deserves attention. Before a standard building is erected, the terrain has to be prepared to create a building infrastructure. Only then the building process as such can be started. Knut and Jensen & Skodvin tried to avoid this.” By respecting the topography of a terrain we achieve that the manmade geometry accentuates the irregularities of nature and highlights its structure and context. It achieves a sustainable connection between structure and location.”

The building process lasted five years altogether until the old farm buildings were also restored, and the cultural landscape was preserved and arranged. All the work for the interior design - carpets, materials and furniture – has been carried out by local craftsmen in Valldal. The only task which required outside help was fitting the windows. “As we carefully prepared the new design, it was always very important to include the surrounding land and its cultural landscape with its traditions,” said Knut Slenning. “However, as much as we want to preserve the old, we must not forget, that we, too, are a part of history. Architecture and aesthetics should clearly indicate that we also left traces.”

It does not come as a surprise that the Juvet Hotel strikes a new chord with and touches the people who pass here. “People can look at so many photos of our house, Burtigarden and the landscape on the internet”, says Knut,” but as soon as they really arrive here, they are totally overwhelmed every time.”

Picture credits © Hotel Juvet

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