Of Light, Wa­ter And Rock: A Ca­bin On The Fjord

VOGUE (Italy) - - LETTURE - by Fran­ce­sca Mol­te­ni

In this re­mo­te cor­ner of Nor­way, na­tu­re is an un­ta­mea­ble for­ce ma­de of light, wa­ter and rock, end­less sun­se­ts and in­fi­ni­te skies. We are in the fjord of Lan­ge­sund, on a small island that can on­ly be rea­ched by boat. The­re are no tra­di­tio­nal hou­ses he­re, ju­st small woo­den ca­bins ne­stled among the rocks and sea. Lo­ca­ted two hours from Oslo, to­day the­se dwel­lings ha­ve been tur­ned in­to sum­mer cot­ta­ges for wee­kend ge­ta­ways, or whe­ne­ver the Nor­dic cli­ma­te of­fers mil­der spells. “We ca­me to this island ma­ny years ago and fell in lo­ve wi­th it. We re­no­va­ted an old ca­bin, whi­ch see­med li­ke a kind of spa­ce­ship among the ve­ry ano­ny­mous lo­cal buil­dings,” says Søl­ve Sund­sbø, one of the be­st-kno­wn pho­to­gra­phers of our ti­me, born near Oslo and ba­sed in Lon­don sin­ce 1995 (Vo­gue Ita­lia is de­di­ca­ting a one-man show to him at Pa­laz­zo Rea­le in Mi­lan from 15 No­vem­ber to 16 De­cem­ber, cu­ra­ted by Ales­sia Gla­via­no and Mi­chael Van Hor­ne). Ex­pe­ri­men­tal and ver­sa­ti­le in his pho­to­gra­phy, Sund­sbø has al­so car­ried out a com­plex pro­ject he­re in Lan­ge­sund, over­co­ming ma­ny re­stric­tions to build a work of “Sa­va­ge Beau­ty”, li­ke the pho­tos he shot for the ex­hi­bi­tion of the sa­me na­me de­di­ca­ted to Ale­xan­der McQueen at the MET in New York.

Li­mi­ta­tions can re­veal unex­plo­red po­ten­tial, whe­ther it’s in a fa­ce, a dress or a pie­ce of ar­chi­tec­tu­re. And the re­sult is al­ways a sur­pri­se. This is the ca­se on the Nor­we­gian coa­st, whe­re strict plan­ning la­ws on­ly per­mit the re­sto­ra­tion of pre-exi­sting buil­dings by the sea. “We bought this old hou­se that was fal­ling to pie­ces, but we left it emp­ty for a long ti­me as we couldn’t work out what to do wi­th it. In the end we asked an ar­chi­tect friend for so­me help. May- be you’ve heard of him. He works for the Snø­het­ta stu­dio.” Sur­pri­se, sur­pri­se! It’s the world’s mo­st fa­mous Nor­we­gian de­si­gn prac­ti­ce, whi­ch star­ted as a col­la­bo­ra­ti­ve work­shop in­te­gra­ting ar­chi­tec­tu­re and land­sca­pe. Snø­het­ta (whi­ch is al­so a moun­tain in cen­tral Nor­way) are the ar­chi­tec­ts be­hind the Bi­blio­the­ca Ale­xan­dri­na in Egypt, the re­de­si­gn of Ti­mes Squa­re in New York, and the new buil­ding for the Nor­we­gian Na­tio­nal Ope­ra and Bal­let, to men­tion ju­st a few of their works. “We met years ago when I was an ar­chi­tec­tu­re stu­dent and Søl­ve was an as­si­stant pho­to­gra­pher. We used to jo­ke that I’d de­si­gn him a sum­mer hou­se,” says An­dreas J. Ny­gaard, the stu­dio’s se­nior ar­chi­tect. “Then I gra­dua­ted, joi­ned the Snø­het­ta team in 2000, and ni­ne years la­ter I re­no­va­ted his hou­se, whi­ch clings to the rocks fol­lo­wing their cur­ved con­tours. So yes, in a cer­tain sen­se we can say it’s a pro­ject by the Snø­het­ta stu­dio, as we’re al­ways see­king a strong con­nec­tion bet­ween ar­chi­tec­tu­re and land­sca­pe.”

Mea­su­ring ju­st 75 squa­re me­tres, the hou­se is small be­cau­se its foot­print could not be en­lar­ged. But it is mul­ti­func­tio­nal, and abo­ve all it blends in­to the sur­roun­ding na­tu­re from “in­si­de out and ou­tsi­de in”, ope­ning up bound­less and spec­ta­cu­lar views of the sea. Ho­we­ver, wi­th ano­ther li­mi­ta­tion po­sed by the par­ti­cu­lar­ly hi­gh ti­des in spring­ti­me, the on­ly thing the hou­se could do was hug the rocks. “Over ti­me the hou­se has adap­ted to our chan­ging li­fe­sty­le,” con­ti­nues Sund­sbø. “At fir­st my wi­fe Ma­ry An­ne and I didn’t ha­ve any chil­dren, but now we ha­ve four! Eve­ry­thing is ve­ry co­sy, in­ten­se and con­cei­ved for li­ving out­doors.” In other words it’s all about sim­pli­ci­ty. The sa­me ap­proa­ch al­so emer­ges in the way the hou­se fi­ts in­to the sur­roun­ding land­sca­pe by be­co­ming a com­ple­men­ta­ry part of it. “The th­ree be­drooms are de­ta­ched from the cen­tral bo­dy of the hou­se, tur­ned 90 de­grees from the main axis and gi­ven a slight twi­st, whi­ch is em­pha­si­sed by the sky­light at the en­tran­ce,” ex­plains Ny­gaard. Wi­th no cor­ri­dors, lo­ts of gla­zed sur­fa­ces and no wa­ste, eve­ry­thing is spa­rin­gly built to mea­su­re in bir­ch wood, “li­ke the cot­ta­ges of the 1970s”, adds Sund­sbø. The­re are no TVs, com­pu­ters or Wi-Fi ei­ther, free­ing up ti­me for back-to-ba­sics ac­ti­vi­ties su­ch as fi­shing for crabs or swim­ming – ideal for Sund­sbø’s chil­dren Max, Au­gu­st, Fe­lix and Kla­ra, aged bet­ween 6 and 15. “The pho­tos I’ve ta­ken por­tray our ho­li­days. They’re ju­st ho­li­day snaps, so I ne­ver thought of doing any­thing wi­th them. But it’s al­so true that I don’t col­lect stamps, ma­ga­zi­nes, art­works or things in ge­ne­ral. I ju­st col­lect the snap­sho­ts that I’m ta­king all the ti­me. I don’t think the­re’s spa­ce for mu­ch el­se in my li­fe.”

Pho­to­gra­phy was Sund­sbø’s de­sti­ny. Du­ring his edu­ca­tion he con­si­de­red igno­ring this vo­ca­tion, but then he de­ci­ded to nur­tu­re it by en­rol­ling at the Lon­don Col­le­ge of Prin­ting. “I rea­li­sed I had to be what I wan­ted to be – a pho­to­gra­pher – and that any­thing is pos­si­ble. It real­ly is a big world. I li­ke wha­te­ver al­lo­ws me to ex­plo­re and ex­pe­rien­ce new things. For me this is the be­st sour­ce of in­spi­ra­tion.” Over the years he has im­mor­ta­li­sed his sum­mers, his chil­dren gro­wing up, wa­ves cra­shing again­st rocks, di­ving ga­mes, fi­shing trips, sha­do­ws and jag­ged coa­stli­nes, cold sea on skin, fee­lings of bud­ding free­dom. All in a snap­shot. I re­mind him of Le Cor­bu­sier, who used to swim na­ked by the rocks of Ro­que­bru­ne-Cap-Mar­tin, whe­re he built his Ca­ba­non. The Swis­sF­ren­ch ar­chi­tect wro­te: “On 30 De­cem­ber 1951, on the cor­ner of a ta­ble in a small re­stau­rant on the Cô­te d’Azur, I sket­ched the de­si­gn for a ca­bin as a pre­sent for my wi­fe’s bir­th­day, and the fol­lo­wing year I had it built on a rock bat­te­red by the wa­ves.” The skies of the Nor­th Sea are not li­ke the Me­di­ter­ra­nean. The tem­pe­ra­tu­re of the light is dif­fe­rent, too, and the nor­thern sun ne­ver scolds. But the­re is so­me­thing spe­cial about Nor­way’s sum­mers. You can li­ve in a spa­ce­ship and spend the who­le day per­ched on a rock. And li­ke Le Cor­bu­sier, Sund­sbø cho­se this ar­che­ty­pal hou­se to be one wi­th na­tu­re. (Trad. An­to­ny Bo­w­den). ¥

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