Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.
The Red Mountain Resort in Iceland by Johannes Torpe Studios
January 31st, 2018 by Sumit Singhal
Article source: Johannes Torpe Studios
Captured by the mystique and mystery of the Icelandic landscape, where, according to local mythology, ‘invisible people’ and ‘half-men, half-trolls’ are believed to roam, Johannes Torpe Studios has designed a place of unparalleled harmony. The Red Mountain Resort is a proposal for a spa and wellness retreat that offers guests a sensory escape into the solitude and seclusion of the breath-taking Icelandic nature; a place that is earthly and otherworldly at the same time.
Situated on the Western peninsula of Snæfellsness, at the point where the river mouth runs out to the sea, the resort faces ‘Snæfellsjökull’, a majestic glacier covered stratovolcano. The mountain is home to the Icelandic saga about Bárður Snæfellsás, who is said to have left the chaotic world of men behind to live in solitude inside the glacier. His transformation is the inspiration for the overall concept of the Red Mountain Resort. As an interpretation of the Icelandic saga, the studio has created a poetic journey that possesses a parallel between the inner emotional journey of the guest and the outer experience of the nature.
Off the beaten track
Stunning mountain and volcano views and vast grassy wetlands flowing with winding rivers lead you to the resort. Subtly camouflaged within the landscape, the building seems to magically appear just as you arrive. “We wanted to create the illusion that one is entering another world when they arrive at the resort. It is a world that awakens and stimulates your senses in ways everyday life doesn’t have the capacity to do”, says Johannes Torpe.
Transformation and exposure to nature
The resort is designed to invite guests on a journey of self-discovery, just like that of Bárður Snæfellsás. The journey is facilitated by an architectural concept that explores the interplay between nature and architecture, and their combined capacity to provide the necessary triggers for an inward journey. The architecture is hence designed so as to expose the guest to nature in various ways, whilst maintaining a sense of protection and basic principles of shelter. Numerous panoramic views remind guests of nature’s presence; her power and her fragility, her hostility and her warmth. Sky courtyards enclosed by glass panels invite the rocky landscape inside, while the lagoon literally flows through the reception, blurring the line between outside and inside.
Impermanence, movement and constant change are key words and the idea is to invite the guests to become a part of a natural transformative process. The building itself additionally undergoes its own kind of metamorphosis through its exposure to the elements, becoming visible over time through the patina of the materials.
The spa experience
The spa is the heart of the resort and the centre of the transformational journey. Key emotional states experienced by Bárðar on his transformational journey are instilled into the space and, as guests engage with the different functions of the spa, are experienced through various expressions of nature. The element of steam is a motif in the spa that symbolises the fog that arises in the saga every time Bárðar experiences an emotional change. Other natural elements are further captured to create wind tunnels, fire baths and ice pools that represent the unpredictable extremes of Icelandic weather.
The resort’s outdoor lagoon is designed to look and feel like a natural extension to the nearby river. It is outlined with shallow passages, areas with currents, and still water pools. The further one moves through the lagoon the more one is rewarded with solitude and the opportunity to become totally immersed in nature.
Traditional construction techniques turned inside-out
The architecture is designed with close consideration to the site and local resources. “We wanted to create a building that has the potential to encapsulate a sense of timelessness through the utilisation of historical construction techniques and the incorporation of elements from the landscape of which it is built”, Kit Sand Ottsen explains.
The studio explored the tradition of Icelandic turf houses built by the first Norwegian settlers, experimenting with ways of creating a modern interpretation. The emerging idea was to turn the construction inside-out. Turf houses are wooden structures insulated by a thick wall of turf – in other words, a light structure with a very heavy base. The studio inverted this structure by creating a heavy concrete structure enclosed by a light base of glass. As a natural extension, the relationship between positive and negative space has been explored, and throughout the building there is a clear contrast between light-weight and more heavy building volumes.
The building itself is an industrial interpretation of the rocky landscape with heavy geometric shapes shooting up from the ground like sculptural rock formations and tall steam-chimneys that are an architectural take on geysers.
Concrete is chosen as the primary material and is treated with a red pigment that mimics the hue of the surrounding landscape. The concrete is applied to create layers of contrasting rough and smooth textures and form patterns inspired by those found in the layers of the turf houses. Selected parts of the rooftops are covered with grass like the traditional building techniques of the area. This both intensifies the notion of a building that is closely related to the history of the site, and adds to the sense of a hidden destination that discreetly rises from the landscape.
Drawing from the rich heritage of Icelandic Folktales, a sense of surrealism and the concept of imaginary realms is additionally infused into the space. The use of reflecting glass on the building’s exterior creates a mirror effect, evoking the illusion of a building that disappears into the landscape. Portals and tunnels are additionally dispersed throughout the building to enhance this otherworldly and magical atmosphere.
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