These Norwegian Sea Cabins Founded by a Polar Explorer Open Up to the Northern Lights
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These Norwegian Sea Cabins Founded by a Polar Explorer Open Up to the Northern Lights

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By Lucy Wang
Perched high above the Arctic Circle, an award-winning retreat on a remote, 55-acre private island is paradise for adventurers and architecture enthusiasts alike.

Breathtaking sea views, wild landscapes, and front-row seats to the Northern Lights await guests at the acclaimed Sea Cabins at Manshausen Island, a one-of-a-kind vacation destination that has recently expanded to include three additional glass-walled cabins and a new sauna.

Founded in June 2015 by Børge Ousland—an acclaimed Norwegian polar explorer who circumnavigated the North Pole and trekked solo across the Arctic and the Antarctic—the Sea Cabins are an environmentally sensitive getaway with seven low-impact cabins designed by Tromsø-based architect Snorre Stinessen.

Located in the protected Steigen Archipelago off the coast of Northern Norway, the remote resort on Manshausen Island is surrounded by a harsh, yet beautiful, environment. All waste is treated on the island, which aims to be completely self-sufficient and off-grid in a few years.

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"Respect for nature and the site is fundamental to this project, and the strategy for sustainable development has also focused primarily on these fundamental principles: minimum impact, size, materials, re-use, traditional and natural principles, waste management, low energy and self-sustainability," explains Stinessen.

The cabins had to be built a certain height above the water to protect against high tide and predicted sea level rise. The structures are elevated on iron rods drilled into the rock and anchored with steel reclaimed from the island.

The new extension, completed last June, introduces three new minimalist cabins set on rocky formations on the island’s north end. Similar to four preceding Stinessen projects, the Sea Cabins are fronted with walls of glass that immerse guests in nature and are strategically placed to minimize site impact and to maximize views.

The cabins are set on rocky formations and oriented for optimal panoramic views and guest privacy. Depending on the time of year, guests can enjoy views of the Northern Lights, the midnight sun, and the continent's largest colony of sea eagles.

Grappling with a short building season and highly temperamental weather weren’t the only challenges Stinessen and Ousland faced. Given the fragile landscape, a very light touch is critical to preserving the area’s natural beauty.

"When approaching a project on a beautiful site such as Manshausen, it is not only the natural beauty that strikes you, but also the fragility of the nature," notes Stinessen. "In harsh climates, such as here, things take a very long time to grow. A tree will take decades and still not reach much of a height—and wounds in the moss will remain for years to come."

A new sauna and relaxation area were built using leftover materials from the first building phase. The sauna was made entirely of leftover cross-laminated timber, a reclaimed window from the restoration of the main house, and is topped with reclaimed slate roof tiles.

In addition to the new cabins and a sauna, the designers revamped old farmland to provide local produce to the restaurant, added landscaping around the seawater pond, and strengthened an existing quay to give fishing boats a place to dock.

Built with cross-laminated timber and partly sheathed in aluminum durable enough to withstand the elements, the cabins feature double-glazed glass.

The custom-made, double-glazed windows are closely sealed to the aluminum facade to prevent leakage of air and penetration of seawater.

"Elements were dimensioned to enable handling by hand during assembly to avoid the need for excess use of machinery, which also would destroy the vegetation in the close surroundings," says Stinessen, who adds that triple glazing would’ve been prohibitively heavy and would have required the use of cranes. "The patches of grass and moss that were affected during construction can be held between two hands."

Entered from the south-facing rear, each cabin was designed to be as compact as possible with a footprint of roughly 320 square feet.

Each cabin accommodates up to four or five guests and includes a bathroom, kitchen with a built-in dining area, indoor and outdoor living areas, two bedrooms, and plenty of storage.

The view from the hallway with the bathroom to the left, the kitchen to the right, and the living area ahead. Directly behind is the additional bedroom with an elevated bed that has a private entrance and can also function as a storage room.

The custom-made kitchen of Corian and birch was designed in collaboration with Terje Lindahl. The fittings are from Vola.

"The whole project and process has been a fantastic journey," says Stinessen, who was brought on to work on the project even before founded his practice. "My favorite parts have been the ability to work in such close interaction with the beautiful and challenging landscape, as well as the dialogue and cooperation with the client Børge Ousland."

The built-in dining table and space-dividing open-back shelving were custom-designed to create an airy and porous feel. "All technical installations and the external coupling points are assembled in the wall between the bathroom and the additional bedroom," says Stinessen. "[It's] prepared for 'plug and play' installation of the shelters."

The floors transition from natural linoleum in the kitchen, hallway, and bathroom to wool in the living and bedroom spaces.

The glass-enclosed living area is furnished with Scandia chairs and a Fjordfiesta table.

With the second phase completed, Stinessen and Ousland will soon begin developing the third stage of their masterplan that will feature "a quite different kind of cabin," says Stinessen.

"The timing would depend mostly on Børge Ousland who right now is very busy with his Ice Legacy Project and preparations for further explorations. He is, after, all a very active explorer."

The resort was envisioned as a base for adventures around the island, of which there are many. Guests can enjoy outdoor activities like diving, kayaking, fishing, mountaineering or take it easy and relax in the sauna, hot water bath, and other social gathering areas.

Manshausen 2.0 floor plan

Manshausen 2.0 elevation

Related Reading: 

Have You Ever Wanted to Stay in a Norwegian Sea Cabin?

A Norwegian Summer Cabin Embraces the Rocky Terrain

Project Credits:

Architect of Record/Interior Design: Snorre Stinessen / @snorre_stinessen 

Builder/ General Contractor/Cabinetry: ConTree