In the lush forests of Norway, outside the city of Oslo, design and building teams at the prestigious Snøhetta group have built the stunning Outdoor Care Retreat in order to provide those who visit its location with a natural and calming experience where they fully relax and heal from the stresses of daily city life. The structure itself appears to lean towards not just the beautiful trees, but also the bubbling sound of the Sognsvann creek. This bolsters the peaceful aesthetic of the entire space, both inside and out of the retreat itself.
Despite its apparently remote location, this retreat itself actually sits only a hundred meters down the road from Norway’s largest hospital, Rikshospitalet, which is the Oslo University Hospital. The retreat was originally built as part of a collaboration between two of the hospital’s important branches; the Department of Psychomatics and CL-Child Psychiatry.
The space is most often used in two primary ways. Firstly, many patients stay there as a quiet, semi-private place to enjoy low pressure treatment and quiet contemplation of different kinds. Secondly, many patients use the retreat as a welcoming, comfortable place to spend time with friends and relatives away from more intimidating hospital settings.
The retreats cabins are actually open to any patient connected to the hospital for their treatments or care. The retreat is not, for example, reserved for individuals who fall only into certain disease groups (even though reservations for the rooms are managed through a booking system, similarly to a leisure retreat).
In contrast to the monumental size of the main hospital, this affiliated retreat is a mere 35 square metres of space made primarily of natural materials. The buildings of the retreat itself were purposely built by designs to mimic the playfully haphazard construction of wooden stick cabins that children might make during an afternoon playing in the woods.
The purposely asymmetrically designed buildings that make up the retreat are formed as though they’re made of skewed building blocks. This includes the much larger main structure, which is expected to turn grey with time and weathering. This was purposeful too, designed to help the building begin to blend in with its beautifully natural surroundings as though it’s part of the landscape itself as well.
Because Snohetta has long made an overt commitment to creating only socially sustainable designs, particularly when building public spaces, the retreat’s cabins are entirely accessibly for users of wheelchairs and other kinds of mobility devices. The angled entrance, which is made of black zinc, is even large enough to fit whole hospital beds if necessary!
Inside, the cabin features a main room, a slightly smaller room that is most commonly used for treatment and conversation time, and a sizeable bathroom. The interiors are clad entirely in stained oak which gives a comfortable sense that the outdoors have been brought right inside. Natural colours and materials aren’t the only feature, though. In the empty movement space, colourful and uniquely shaped pillows are available to be stacked and moved around freely. This is intended to give children the chance to build forts, climb stacks, or simply lie down and enjoy a view of the trees and sky through the main room’s circular ceiling window.
Should visitors wish to actually physically open the space to nature even more than large glass windows, natural materials, and skylights already do, those windows can slide open fully. This allows damp, calming forest smells and the sounds of trickling water to wander right into the cabin, which is particularly refreshing on warm days that feature a breeze.
This cabin retreat might be a fully integrated space that operates as part of the main hospital’s campus, but its slightly more remote location allows it to feel like a place all its own. The natural aesthetics and open air spaces feel almost magical and give visitors of all ages and experiences a safe, calm place to simply breathe.
Photos by Ivar Kvaal