This Young Berlin Design Duo Created their Perfect Summer Cabin

In the unlikely event of being a passer-by in the remote landscapes of Scandinavia, the Summercabin in Finland, situated in a forest next to a lake, provides an inviting yet unexpected sight. Such a sight is only bestowed upon those lucky enough to find it, though, since Berlin design duo Studio Politaire placed it amidst dense vegetation. “It was important for us not to dominate nature,” Timm Bergmann explains.

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Timm and his colleague Jonas Becker went on holiday between studies to the location in 2012 and came up with the idea of erecting a cabin. After carefully planning, sustainability in mind, they erected the simple but functional building by themselves, together with friends. Its low-key design coincides with its purpose: being a place to withdraw from busy and complex city life, a space flooded by natural light and operating without running water or electricity.

Together with Timm and Jonas, we took a stroll around the Summercabin in Finland.

THE PLUS: How did you scout the location?
Timm Bergmann:
My mother is from Finland, so my family is originally from this region. During the holidays I always came to my parents’ summer-cabin. In 2012, Jonas and a few friends joined me to Finland. We went fishing to the lake where the cabin is now. While we were fishing, the idea came up to build a small shack right at this place. In the evening we continued the idea with a few beers in the sauna. Fortunately, my mother owns a plot on one end of the lake, so we didn’t have to acquire any land.

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TP: Jonas, how did the project take shape?
Jonas Becker:
In the beginning, we analyzed the plot very precisely. It is a very swampy area and the lake basically continues beneath the woods. But beneath the bottom is solid rock which varies in depth between 1-20 meters. We chose a small open site which is close to the lake and in a reasonable distance to the next path. The solid rock under the swamp starts in an average depth of only 2.5 meters, so it was easy to build a foundation on.

TP: What are your thoughts on the relation between the building and the nature surrounding it?
JB:
The connection to the surrounding nature was and still is very important. It was basically the main reason we chose this site. All around the cabin we have various views on the lake, open swamp, dark forest and birch trees. This, and because of the daylight, is also why we have so many windows. This is also the case with our external compost-toilet and wood-storage.
TB: We wanted to have as many different impressions of our immediate environment as possible. It was also very important for the cabin to be hidden behind a line of trees so the untouched landscape of the lake stays as it is. It is important for us to not dominate nature.

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TP: How did you deal with the dense vegetation? Did you have to cut down trees to create space?
TB:
No, it was an open site with a few wind fallen trees. All the other trees we left close to our cabin. We wanted to have the cabin in the woods and not on an open field.
JB: Nonetheless, we needed to cut down some trees for the footbridge. We also cut small trees from a field to found our footbridge down to the solid rock beneath the swamp.

TP: What is your view on sustainability in design in general?
TB:
We think it is the most important topic in architecture and design in general. Over thirty percent of CO2 emissions are caused by the construction industry. Especially steel and concrete have a huge impact. It is the task of architects and engineers to find more ecological ways to build in the future. There are already a lot of ideas all around the globe, for example the growing knowledge of high-rise buildings made of wood is interesting and has a lot of potential.
JB: But it is not only about reducing CO2 or putting more insulation on the walls. It already starts with good design. If you have a building or object you like, you are willing to maintain it. A lot of buildings are torn down because they don’t function anymore or people just find them ugly.

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TP: In your description, you state “the summer house sees itself as a quiet observer”. Why did you prefer this concept instead of it being more dominant?
JB:
The untouched nature around the lake is very beautiful. When we go there, we usually want to come down from city life and just enjoy the nature. We have enough dominant architecture in the city. The nature is one of the main interests of coming to the cabin, so it should be the main focus to preserve and respect it.

TP: How does the cabin’s design reflect this idea of withdrawing from the busy life in the city?
TB:
We both like living in a city and having a range of opportunities. Still, the cabin is a nice way to reflect our own consumer behavior. Coming to the cabin means waiving electricity and running water. The next grocery store is 15km away, and it’s relieving to have less. Thus, instead of having fancy underfloor heating we installed a small wood stove with a window. We don’t need running water, we wash ourselves in the sauna. And we do not need 45sq m per person – this is the German average – 26sq m sufficient.
JB: Even though the floor plan may look a bit complicated, the cabin is equipped with simple functioning spaces. There is the entrance with a wardrobe, the kitchen with the dining area, the couch space and the bedroom with a big shelf. In addition, we have a second entrance as a changing-room and the sauna. Each space is arranged in the most practical way. There are no corridors, just the space each room needs.

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TP: How did the design and construction process influence your relationship?
JB:
Obviously, it is sometimes exhausting to have different opinions. But in the end, arguing always improved our work. Over the years, we have come to know each other very well and how the other thinks. The project improved our friendship. We like working together and we will continue with new construction projects.

TP: Which materials did you use for the cabin, especially the wood?
TB:
Out of man y reasons we tried to work as much with wood and wood-based materials as possible. It is sustainable, locally produced, cheap, easy to work with, long-lasting, climate-neutral, forgiving, reusable and produces a pleasant living-comfort. Due to our lack of construction experience, it was the easiest way to go with.
JB: Mostly we used timber followed by 18mm pine plywood-plates. We used recycled newspapers for insulation. Still, it wasn’t always possible to construct with wood. The foundation is constructed with concrete filled steel-pipes. Obviously, this isn’t sustainable, but we took the compromise by implementing foundations as robust and long-lasting as possible. To us it’s even more important for it to be re-constructable.

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TP: Where else did you have to refrain from using wood?
JB:
In the sauna and around the wood-burning stoves we needed to obey the fire regulations by using different materials. In this case it was important for us that the materials are recyclable. But adding different material like metal sheets or bricks also produces a different atmosphere and nice details, which we really like.

TP: What were your biggest challenges during construction?
TB:
The doors. We built our doors on our own. They were heavy and complex, which extended the work considerably. Also, the weather was difficult sometimes.

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TP: Where or how did you come up with the green sofa?
TB:
As is the case with all of the cabin’s furniture, our green sofa is a leftover from my grandparents. Due to our tight budget, we could not afford to buy furniture. This is why we planned with the given furniture. Before we started designing, we measured all of it.

TP: Did Finnish culture and traditions influence your design choices?
TB:
Breathing new life into old furniture by bringing it to the cabin is one of these influences! Of course we did a lot of research on Finnish traditions and cultures and got inspired by traditional and modern architecture. But in the end, we already had the same philosophy by building with wood, having a sauna and eating pike from our lake.

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Photo by: Andre Boettcher

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