We are all familiar with the archetypal image of a cabin nestled in nature. No matter how you picture it, be it deep in the forest, nestled by a lake or perched on a verdant hillside, staying in such a place is the ultimate way to reconnect with nature, a basic human need made all the more pertinent during the lockdowns, social isolation and mental anguish of the two exhausting years of the Covid-19 pandemic. Dutch designer Caspar Schols has taken the concept one step further by designing a versatile wooden cabin with hand-movable walls and windows that can be completely opened up to its surroundings if weather permits it. Championing adaptability, the design of ANNA Stay also promotes sustainability and modularity, so it comes as no surprise that it won two prestigious awards, namely the 2021 Architizer A+Awards Project of the Year Award and the 2022 World Hotel Building of the Year Award at the World Architecture Festival (WAF) in Lisbon.
ANNA Stay’s story began when Schols’ mother asked him to build her a garden cabin. A trained physicist turned architect, Schols had been exploring ways in which people could live closer to nature for a long time, so this was the perfect opportunity to put his ideas into practice. The result was a wooden pavilion with two protective sliding shells, an inner shell made of double glass and an outer shell made of wood, both of which can be parted in the middle and wheeled outwards and inwards. Named Garden House, the project gained so much popularity that Schols was able to further develop his design with the goal of creating “a sellable, fully habitable house, as a flatpack that could be built and re-built anywhere in the world”. Fast forward a few years and a couple of prototypes, ANNA, as the cabin was named, was officially launched in 2020 with its first foray into the hospitality industry a year later when ANNA Stay launched at Holenberg at the Maashorst nature reserve in the Netherlands.
What makes the cabin unique is how easily it can adapt to weather, mood or occasion. In the winter, the insulated wooden shell keeps the warmth inside; while in the spring and autumn, the glass shell allows beautiful views of the natural landscape while keeping the rain and cold outside; and when the temperature allows it, both shells can be opened up to make the interior part of the surroundings. Furthermore, by being able to slide both shells along the structure’s length, occupants can choose to open up the living or sleeping area.
As simple as the idea seems, the realization of ANNA entailed a lot of innovative technical features and ingenious engineering solutions including uniquely designed extrusion profiles to ensure that the wooden and glass shells always slide perfectly and remain water- and wind-tight, aluminium rails with an integrated wind labyrinth, and a combination of Accoya wood, birch ply, and aluminium that restricts the expansion of the cabin’s moving parts to less than 1 millimetre in a range of climates and conditions. Add in its modular design which allows most of its unique parts to be produced locally, via a digital file, on CNC machines and 3D printers, and you have a cabin that’s elegant in both concept and design; a kind of “small, light, flexible, thin, invisible architecture that gives life”, as Schols says.