Imagine you’ve just emerged from a complicated surgery. Days, perhaps weeks in a hospital room follow. You’re weak, vulnerable, and impossibly bored. Do you think healing would come faster in an industrial hospital room filled with harsh light, the sounds of a busy building just out your door, as you breathe recirculated air? Or in a cozy wood cabin, with views of trees, trails nearby, a fire pit, deckside chairs, and the sounds of a river replacing the beeps and intercom of a hospital? The latter, right? Health permitting, of course.
That’s the idea behind Norway’s Outdoor Care Retreat cabins. Located at Oslo University Hospital, Rikshospitalet, and the Sørlandet Hospital Kristiansand, they are radically different approaches to a hospital stay that put nature at the forefront of healing. Rather than spending days at a time in a lifeless hospital ward, patients instead stay in a woodland cabin, just one that’s less than 1,000 feet from the hospital. Far enough to forget about the hospital, but close enough to receive treatment from hospital staff. A respite from both modern life and the omnipresent weight of being monitored in a medical clinic.
The cabins were designed by world-renowned cabin and hut architecture firm, Snøhetta, based in Oslo, and funded by the Friluftssykehuset foundation. The firm worked with hospital experts to design cabins that encourage healing. The structures are built to allow plenty of natural light to flood the living and sleeping spaces, leaning on studies that suggest natural light helps patients relax, lessens depression, and maintains a healthy sleep cycle, which can speed healing. Biophilic design, a theory that natural elements woven into the built environment are beneficial for psychological health also factored into the approach to the cabins.
Both buildings are 376 square feet and have a room for sleeping, a bathroom, and an open living space that can also serve as a treatment room. The units are, of course, wheelchair accessible. Families and patients can relax on decks facing trees and a babbling creek, roast marshmallows on a campfire, and gaze at stars at night. The cabins are built of simple wood that will gray with age, blending seamlessly into the forest.
The cabins opened in the summer of 2018 and are something of a pilot project. The first patient to stay there, Solveig Sigmond Ræstad, convalesced in the Oslo cabin after a transplant. She’d previously been hospitalized for a heart operation and recovered in a traditional hospital room. She compared the healing and relaxing effects of the cabin versus the modern hospital.
“I really wish I had [the cabin] before [my transplant operation],” she says. “It’s beautiful. It’s secluded. I could go there and be myself instead of a patient. You don’t have everyone watching you, coming in and out. Being in a hospital is a toll on your boundaries. They wipe your ass. It’s nice to have some freedom from that.”
The cabins were built with the recovery and treatment of children in mind as well, who often find regular hospitals frightening. But who wouldn’t prefer a woodland cabin, child or adult? With some doctors prescribing hikes and time in nature as therapy, it was only a matter of time before cabin therapy also starting hitting prescription pads.
Weekend Cabin isn’t necessarily about the weekend, or cabins. It’s about the longing for a sense of place, for shelter set in a landscape…for something that speaks to refuge and distance from the everyday. Nostalgic and wistful, it’s about how people create structure in ways to consider the earth and sky and their place in them. It’s not concerned with ownership or real estate, but what people build to fulfill their dreams of escape. The very time-shortened notion of “weekend” reminds that it’s a temporary respite.