Børge Ousland knows a thing or two about getting away from it all. One of the most accomplished explorers of our time, he has skied across Greenland, scaled peaks in the Himalayas, crossed the Patagonian Ice Fields, circumnavigated the North Pole in a trimaran, and trekked solo across both the Antarctic and the Arctic.
In 2010, he started out on an altogether different adventure, with the purchase of a 55-acre island in the Norwegian arctic. A few years later, he decided to open it up to visitors, collaborating with architect Snorre Stinessen to create the Sea Cabins — four modern pods that sit right on the water’s edge. Three are on the old stone jetty, and one above them on a natural ledge, but all feature walls of glass that blend the inside world with breathtaking views of the Grøtøy strait and the dramatic peaks of the Lofoten mountains.
The island offers a completely unique travel opportunity — a resort for arctic adventure and exploration — and the cabins have been much lauded for their unusual setting and dramatic style. In fact, they’ve been awarded eight international prizes for architecture, including the 2016 Architizer A+ Awards, and we’re certain they’ve been added to quite a few bucket lists.
It’s hard to look at pictures of the cabins without wondering how they were built, so we were very pleased when we had the chance to ask Børge more about them.
Why did you buy Manshausen Island?
Børge Ousland: “Originally, I bought the place for private use because I liked the nature and everything you can do there, like kayaking, trekking, diving, fishing and climbing. Also because arctic Norway has this amazing light, with midnight sun in the summer and polar night with northern lights in the winter. Gradually, the idea of sharing it with others came to me. The concept is to open up the space towards nature and let it come inside.”
It’s a little unexpected to hear of a polar explorer creating something so fixed in place. What compelled you to put down roots like this?
BO: “I actually look upon my expeditions as a form of art, the lonely ski track, the experience, the images I bring back. I come from a family of artists and have always been attracted to good design, architecture and exciting concepts. But I had no plan to do something like this before I bought Manshausen. It’s just one of these opportunities in life; the secret is to see it and make it happen. One of my driving forces is to be creative.”
The architecture of the cabins is stunning. Have you always been interested in design?
BO: “Yes, I have always been interested in design, down to the smallest details. I have designed a lot of expedition equipment in the past — sleds, clothes, tents, sleeping bags, and other practical solutions.
“The concept with the Sea Cabins is a mixture of a spaceship and a boat. The spaceship as the cockpit where you are in the lead seat, with an unbroken view to the surroundings on three sides. That’s also why I built the huts quite far apart, so that each could have their own private sphere. A boat for function and minimalism. The huts are quite small, but everything you need is there, when you turn, or move. There are functions and details that are taken from ship design. The architect Snorre Stinessen and I worked two years on this to get the concept right. I was probably a difficult client, but he is just so good and creative, and was always open and willing to listen to my ideas.”
I understand you are in the process of building some more cabins. What are some of the challenges when you cantilever cabins over rocks and water?
BO: “Yes, we are now building three more Sea Cabins, and later planning another two with a new design. On Manshausen, the weather can be quite rough, the sea can run high, and the wind can blow a man off his feet. The fundaments have to be really well made, so we drill down thick steel pipes into the rock and fill them with concrete.
“We also need a certain height above water to avoid the full moon tide entering into the huts. The fundaments are built during the winter, under difficult and sub-zero conditions. Luckily, I have some good local guys that are used to the elements and know what is needed to make it all strong enough. The large glass windows are also a challenge, weighing 200kg a piece; they are moved in place by hand, on a cantilevered scaffold.”
How does your brand of tourism co-exist with the landscape around it?
BO: “Our activities are eco-friendly. Most people do hikes on the nearby islands or the mainland, and kayaking is also a popular activity year round. In the kayak you are warm and snug, and our double kayaks are as stable as your bed at home. Some people also like to visit the nearby cave or go fishing. We like to use nature also for harvesting and serving fish that we or our guests have caught.”
When you’re not crossing continents solo and circumnavigating poles, what do you look for when you travel?
BO: “I like genuine experiences, things that are not made for tourist purposes alone. I therefore like to go off the beaten track. I always want to be on the outer side of the fence, interacting with nature. It’s the connection with the elements and the nature that attracts me when traveling. That said, people are also a part of the experiences, listening to and learning from others.”
Børge Ousland’s Sea Cabins are available to rent from February to the end of October. For further details, click here.