Innovative cottages with low footprint


Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Interior Architecture


Is it possible to build cottages without ruining nature? The new concept TraceLess by Snøhetta draws inspiration from old construction techniques and available technical solutions for off-grid cabins. The concept has a low climate footprint and leaves no lasting traces in the terrain, hence the name TraceLess.

Technical details

Destination, Recreation, Sustainability
Design Proposal
Hovden, Norway

Sætersdalen AS

Cottages: 400 m2, footbridges: 40 m2

Photo: Snøhetta/Ramka

The first pilot, consisting of two clusters with four cottages and a technical unit, is planned near the popular recreation area Otrosåsen at Hovden in Setesdal, Norway. The cabins are placed on piled stones and connected by a network of footbridges raised above the terrain with the necessary infrastructure, such as water and electricity, underneath. By using carefully placed footbridges and traditional piled stone fundaments, permanent changes to the landscape are avoided.

The clusters act like micro ecosystems harvesting electricity and heat from the sun and water from the rain. The residents must live on nature's premises and not the other way around. Another important part of the concept is accessibility. The rental cottages are universally designed, allowing a broad range of visitors to experience living close to nature. In addition, the technical solutions are already proven solutions that are available in the Norwegian market. In other words, a TraceLess cottage is something you can draw inspiration from and build yourself.

Photo: Snøhetta/Ramka

2 Traditional construction method

Staying at the cabin during the weekend, and spending time in nature is a tradition many Norwegian values. There are close to half a million cabins in Norway. And there is a limit to how many new cabins the ecosystem can tolerate with the associated infrastructure. The usual construction method is blasting the area to make a foundation, which creates wounds in the landscape and affects biological diversity. In addition, material use, transport of materials and services, and heating leave an unnecessarily high climate footprint. The TraceLess pilot explores alternative forms of development that balance the symbiosis between man and nature and promote collective experiences. Therefore, the TraceLess concept is founded on three pillars of sustainability: Economic cooperation, social conditions, and climate and environment.

Using pile stones is a several-hundred-year-old local building technique used to construct traditional Norwegian storage houses, without blasting out the terrain. Materials are sourced and crafted locally and based on reuse and leftovers from the wood industry.

Photo: Snøhetta/Ramka

3 Togetherness

The compact 6 x 6 meters cottages can accommodate up to five people each and are designed with elementary needs in mind: A place to be together, sleep, wash, and share meals. The layouts are inspired by traditional hunting and fishing huts and are available in two variants. Both are designed with the social aspect in mind and are named Åre and Ete (Norwegian for eating) after the pleasures of joining for a meal. In the Åre cottage sleeping areas are centered around a low hearth, while Ete places the dining table in the center. Togetherness is also central to the design of the outdoor areas. The footbridges weave the outdoor space together and invite you to play and spend time together.

Photo: Snøhetta/Ramka

4 More reuse, less consumption

Sun and rain are harvested on the roofs, making the cottages self-sufficient with water, heat, and electricity. The technical solutions focus on placements and systems that do not leave permanent marks on the terrain with buried tanks, piping, or infiltration ditches. These solutions affect the lifestyle and use of the cabins. Due to limited access to water and electricity, residents must continuously keep aware of their consumption. Such knowledge is gained of how simple actions, like reducing water consumption and using more environmentally friendly soaps, can make a positive impact on the environment without affecting the quality of the experience.

On the technical side water consumption is kept down by using water-saving systems. Water from showers and hand washing is cleaned and recycled into gray water. The toilets' vacuum system is a hygienic solution that uses a minimum of water compared to traditional water closets.

Each cottage is equipped with a combined PV and solar collector system, which converts the energy from the sun into heat and electricity. Harvested heat is used to keep the cabins warm and tap water hot. By running the system in a cycle, the roof panels are kept warm ensuring melted snow filling water tanks during the winter.