The concept of shelter is one of the oldest and most important themes in the history of architecture – architects have been designing places to shelter, be that temporary or long-term, for millennia. For Belgian architect Michiel De Backer and Slovakian architect Martin Mikovčák, shelter signifies a place where you can recharge from the stress of modern life as well as reconnect with nature. With a mission to “to reinvent the way people live their lives”, their aptly named practice Ark-Shelter designs prefabricated, modular residences for natural settings. To get an idea about their work look no further than the mountain cabins they recently completed for Hotel Bjornson in Demanovska Valley, a forested region in the Low Tatras mountain range in central Slovakia. Nestled amongst tall spruce trees, right next to a ski slope, the timber cabins are a paradigm of stripped-down sophistication, cozy minimalism and contemplative ambience, allowing guests to unwind in comfort, while effortlessly immersing them into the abundant nature that surrounds them.
Bringing together a team of architects, engineers and craftsmen, Ark-Shelter’s modules are entirely prefabricated in the Studio’s workshop, their modularity allowing for infinite transformations that guarantee that the needs of every single project are met. For Hotel Bjornson, the brief entailed the design of 11 double cabins to be located in close proximity to the main building, which the team has thoughtfully laid out in an arced configuration, enabling them to face away from one another in order to ensure for both privacy and unobstructed views. Built on stilts instead of concrete foundations and featuring green roofs, the timber cabins seamlessly integrate into the forest whilst at the same time leaving the natural landscape totally intact.
Each cabin consists of two independent guest lodgings that can nevertheless be united courtesy of their sliding wall partitions. A spacious living and sleeping room with expansive views thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows is complemented by an entry hall, children’s room and bathroom. Featuring mirrored layouts, there’s an uncanny sense of spatial playfulness once the partitions are retracted. The project also includes an extension to the hotel’s restaurant and a cluster of saunas and relaxation rooms built from four Ark-Shelter modules.
Swathed entirely in wood, with oak floorboards and spruce wall and ceiling panels, the interiors of both the cabins and wellness centre embrace an austere aesthetic of Scandinavian minimalism – all clean lines, simple forms, no décor – while evoking warmth and cosiness. The minimalist interior design allows the views of the forest and adjoining ski slope to take centre stage, as well as attest to the Studio’s commitment to low-tech architecture.
The large glazed openings, many of which open up onto private balconies, means that guests sleep under the night sky and wake up with the sunrise, an experience that enables them, as Ark-Shelter co-founder and architect Martin Mikovčák explains, “to rediscover their lost sense of daily life and restore their natural biorhythms” – an objective that goes straight to the heart of Ark-Shelter’s definition of shelter as a place of escape and protection as well as reconnection with nature.