Europe's last remaining wild reindeer herds roam the beautifully stark mountains of Norway – Viewpoint Snøhetta is where to watch them.
While Lloyd and Kimberly usually cover the architecture beat, somehow this lovely structure never made it to the pages of TreeHugger. And seeing as how I have a background in design as well … and I have a country-crush on Norway … and I seem to write about animals every single day … well I thought “shhh, don’t pass this on to the design writers, save it for yourself, because ... reindeer.”
Then again, it was built in 2011 so it’s not like it is new news – but that doesn’t keep me from thinking that it’s not still relevant. Because Norway and herds of wild reindeer and mod-organic wildlife observation buildings will never go out of style, in my humble opinion.
Officially known as Viewpoint Snøhetta, the structure is located at Hjerkinn on the edge of Dovrefjell National Park. It was designed by the architecture firm Snøhetta – who took their name from Dovrefjell’s highest peak, Snøhetta – it was commissioned by the Norwegian Wild Reindeer Centre North. (TreeHugger covers a lot of projects by Snøhetta, by the way, like the impressive "energy positive" office building Powerhouse Telemark, the Zero Energy House, and the latest addition to the Treehotel.)
I think Viewpoint Snøhetta is just about perfect. Its simplicity of lines – it is a rectangular box, basically, made of raw steel and glass – doesn’t compete with the stark landscape the way that something more ornate would. And in fact, the reflective surface gives the front a constantly changing camouflage skin, of sorts, to blend right in.
Which is important, because it’s a landscape to revere. The Dovrefjell range creates a border between northern and southern Norway – and crucially, it hosts Europe’s last wild reindeer herds, as well as providing habitat for an array of rare plants and animals. Reindeer are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), thanks to a 40 percent decline in population over the past 21 to 27 years. And while there are still a few million reindeer on the planet, most of them are domesticated, rather than the wild ones that roam the Dovre.
And on that note, the mountains themselves garner fond esteem. According to Snøhetta, the Dovre mountains hold a “significant importance in the Norwegian consciousness. National legends, myths, poetry (Ibsen) and music (Grieg) celebrate the mystic and eternal qualities of this powerful place.”
Within the rigid shell, however, it is all warmth; curves and comfort. Visitors must hike for a mile from the parking lot, so naturally it should have an inviting interior. The “bleachers” were made by Norwegian shipbuilders from 10-inch square pine timber beams, which were assembled using wood pegs as fasteners. The result is a part sauna, part driftwood, part Gaudi seating area that mimics the mountains and is likely as good for seating as it is for kids to climb around. The back of the building offers outdoor wooden seating as well. There is also a big Scandinavian fireplace for extra warmth and glow. (I know that wood-burning fireplaces have their problems, but for a seasonal-use, public building like this I’m hoping it’s ok.)
And of course, the glazing on the cake: the floor-to-ceiling windows that afford visitors a view of the landscape and wildlife. Because no matter how beautiful the pavilion is, the real star here is Mother Nature and her herds of wild reindeer.
For information on visiting, go to the Norwegian Wild Reindeer Centre site – and if for you can't get to Norway anytime soon, you can at least watch this very pretty video.