Architecture and nature as medical treatment: Snøhetta’s Outdoor Care Retreat


Ivar Kvaal,

Kristiansand, Oslo,

Rifugio, Hospitals,


The treatment for extended care patients in some of Norway’s most important hospitals includes spending time in the woods, in contact with nature but in the sheltered, protected environment of Snøhetta’s Outdoor Care Retreats.

Architecture and nature as medical treatment: Snøhetta’s Outdoor Care Retreat

In the film Avatar, all living beings are connected to their environment through a vast network which gives them their strength and health. This vision is not so far from the truth, as anyone can confirm after noting how the elements and aspects of nature affect our mood.
Norway’s Friluftssykehuset Foundation funded a programme developed in partnership with the Psychosomatics Department and the Child Psychiatry Department at Oslo University Hospital and the architects of Snøhetta for the creation of strong>Outdoor Care Retreats where patients enjoy the beneficial effects of nature as part of their treatment programme.

Outdoor Care Retreats are special refuges for the body and the mind where extended care patients can book time to spend with their families in a home-like atmosphere or simply contemplate nature. The facilities are designed to be accessible even to patients confined to bed or to a wheelchair. Protected and sheltered in the Outdoor Care Retreat while at the same time surrounded by trees, patients can relax and observe the changing seasons, colours and sounds of nature in order to face their treatments with a new calm and consciousness.
The available spaces are small, built on a human scale, only 35 square metres, contrasting with the monumental appearance of hospital buildings. Patients, and particularly children, are housed in a space reminiscent of a treehouse. The refuge is part of the hospital, but its isolated location in the forest, the materials it is made of and its overall appearance ensure that it appears to be a separate structure, a place that fascinates young patients and offers adults a momentary escape from their regular treatment programme.

On the inside, the space, covered entirely in oak panelling, includes one main room, two smaller rooms and a bathroom. The furnishings are integrated into the interior design, as are the flip-up tables; the only movable furnishings are big cushions that children can play with. The floor-to-ceiling glass, windows at different levels and circular skylight help make the most of this effect of total immersion in nature with different views of the landscape. On the outside, the main wooden structure gets darker with the passage of time, so that the refuge blends perfectly into its surroundings. At the moment the Friluftssykehuset Foundation has built and donated Outdoor Care Retreats for only two hospitals, but the intention is to supply every Norwegian hospital with similar spaces. The first refuge was built near the Sognsvann River, only one hundred metres from the entrance to Oslo University Hospital, Rikshospitalet, Norway’s biggest university hospital. The second, shown in the photos on this page, is located near Sørlandet Kristiansand Hospital, by a pond in a beautiful forest of oak and birch trees.

(Agnese Bifulco)

Project: Snøhetta snohetta.com
Timeline: 2015-2018
Location: Oslo and Kristiansand, Norway
Client: Stiftelsen Friluftssykehuset
Project Funding: Sparebankstiftelsen DNB, Gjensidigstiftelsen, Bergesenstiftelsen and the Children's Foundation OUH and the Norwegian Parliament
Providers of Sponsored Building Materials: Kvadrat, Kebony and Lindal Gruppen

Images courtesy of Snøhetta, photo by © Ivar Kvaal

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