In the process of learning the life of the tectonics, we were to choose a detail that we liked.

My optics instantly went to Snøhettas Norwegian Reindeer Pavilion. As an architectural studio with a nordic realm, i think that they create contemporary tectonic architecture. This is my thoughts on the pavilion supported by some sketches.

Tectonics through detail in contemporary architecture

analysing of the Wooden Core in Snøhetta’s Norwegian Reindeer Centre Pavillion

Morten B. Kristensen Stud.polyt 1. semester MSc. Architecture & Design, Aalborg University, DK

ABSTRACT The detail of the wooden core in the Norwegian Reindeer Centre Pavilion is analyzed with the goal to reflect and reveal its tectonic quality in comparison to the scale of the architecture. The analysis results in an exposition on how the detail strengthens and embraces the tectonic in the architectural whole.


In the younger part of my life, details in the everyday life always caught my attention and my utter dedication. Later establishing a forging relationship with architecture, the same dedication to details keeps capturing my attention. And as I over time have understood, it’s not easy to make architecture tectonic. This paper is the result of a theoretical understanding of the course Studies and Experimentation in Tectonic Culture at Aalborg University, and an attempt trying to find qualities and principles that form tectonic architecture.

The aim of the course and paper is to get an understanding of what tectonic culture and quality is through a critical analysis of a spatial detail, through relevant theories, architectural movements and physical experimentation of the tectonic studies. (MSc01-ARK F2012 Study Guide: 18)

The chosen spatial detail is the wooden core in the Norwegian Reindeer Centre Pavilion, designed by the architectural studio Snøhetta.


As a methodological approach, Analysing through scale, developed by Marie Frier Hvejsel in her dissertation INTERIORITY – a critical theory of domestic architecture and introduced though the course, is utilized. This seems suitable to the spatial detail, as it is a mix between architecture and furniture (Hvejsel 2010: 72, 81). Furthermore the tectonic theories of Kenneth Frampton and Gottfried Semper is utilized and discussed to get the required understanding of the tectonic culture through the analysis of the spatial detail. The question I stumble upon, and hope to find an answer to through the paper is as follows:

Is it possible for an architectural whole to be tectonic, when the interiority is build on perceptional experience rather than structural transparency?



3.1    Function

In the Norwegian Reindeer Pavilion the Wooden core is a part of the overall function to provide shelter and dwelling to behold the nature and the wild reindeer (Snøhetta 2011). In a more analytical sense, this means, making the infinite, ever expanding scale of nature comprehensible to the human scale.

By clearly defining the spatiality of the pavilion in the nature, almost as a surgical incision, it seems as a human made mark in the surface (Lootsma 2009: 4). The contrast between the inner warm organic shape, and the edged cold outer shell, creates a human recognition, which is in accordance with Sempers definition of the human spatial idea, where there is an urge for dividing inner life from outer life (Semper, 2004: 248). Furthermore the organic shape is articulated is such a way, that it furnishes the outside and inside of the pavilion with interiority, thus creating the function of pausing and sitting. The massive spatial perception of the wooden core and the contrast in the lightness of the outer shell of the pavilion creates direction in the space, making the main function of the pavilion – framing the view with a distance, making the scale graspable.

3.2    Emotion

Approaching the pavilion through the raw and rugged landscape, the contrast of the outer shell and the inner wooden core, both covers and reveals the inside, creating an enigmatic feeling, and a desire for revealing the inside (Lootsma 2009: 4).

When entering through the small opening in the wooden structure, the edges of the window capture the nature, almost as a structural easel holding the art. Semper articulates this, as he describes not the structure as the primeval perception of space, but the details between, original as woven enclosure, as the spatial concept (Semper, 2004: 248). Focusing on the wooden core and its sweeping milled form, there is created a cave that makes shelter for the visitor. And as Werner Geissberger states: “The man is a nest-making creature. His original home is the sheltered cave.” (Blaser, 1985: 7). This makes the structure seem safe and makes it identifiable to the human spatial conception of home.

Remembering Marco Frascari’s terminology of comparing architectural details to a sentence, concluding that as words define the sentence, so do the architectural details define the architecture (Frascari 1984: 3), the wooden core seem as a binding detail in the architectural whole’s identity in the nature, as the form resembles the wear from the harsh climate (Snøhetta, 2011). Further stated by Frascari, an architectural detail is always a joint, being the encounter of materials or a formal porch connecting the inner and outer space (Frascari 1984: 2), the wooden core is truly a detail, as the warmth of the wooden core is meet by the coldness of the steel shell, and the shell being the formal connection to the outer space of nature.

As exemplified in Dimitris Pikionis’ work, and later by Steen Eiler Rasmussen, it is crucial that the experience of the detail supports the gesture of the architectural whole, and this is done in the wooden core through its scale and materiality, making it more comprehensible in comparison to the nature (Frampton, 2011: 9). By making the wooden core an experience for not only the eyes, but all the senses, with the clear contrasts in materials and scale, a direction is created which is needed for the human body in the way we experience space (Frampton, 2011: 11).

3.3    Realm

The pavilion is placed in the spectacular nature of the outskirts of the Dovrefjell National Park, elevated 1250 meters above sea, looking at the Snøhetta mountain massif.

The Dovrefjell is a sanctuary for wild reindeer. The land is also consciously important for Norway. The area is even a part of the Norwegian constitution, therefore the realm of the pavilion is not just psychical but also, and very important, cultural (Snøhetta 2011).

If we zoom out on the realm of the architectural studio, the use of breaks, distinctions, differences, paradoxes and contrasts, as in the pavilion, is a way of working that Snøhetta adapts to make their architectural whole clearer. With a precise attitude Snøhetta realise that the cultural architectural scale exceed human capacity, and that the way of making their buildings a mark in the world, is to have pin pointed contextual awareness, and to develop the outputs with electro-technologic tools (Snøhetta et al. 2009: 189-190). The pavilion is a direct applicable example on this way of processing contextual data through technological tools (Snøhetta 2011), and the result of this is what I would call modern craftsmanship, which is a key element in the tectonic architectural whole (Frampton, 2011: 4).

If we zoom further out, we come to a point, where we can see the big picture of this kind of typology. The pavilion framing nature seems as a more and more global phenomenon. This comes out to the question. With the need of a structure to translate nature for us, have we as humans lost our connection to nature? Or is it a need of dressing the body’s nakedness? (Semper 2004: 247)

3.4    Construct

The pavilion consists of three kinds of materials, steel, glass and wood. The steel is the material of the sides and ceiling, while leaving the front of the building in glass, together creating the outer shell. The wood is the inner core that is logs milled out and placed on a scaffold beneath. This contrast in materiality creates in the spatial conception what Frascari defines as a negative joint, which makes the gesture clearer, that it is the detail and scale in nature that should have the full attention (Frascari 1984:11). This is also the only obvious joint, and it is articulated with the dramatic contrasts to emphatize the gesture. By not revealing that the inner core is build with a scaffold beneath, it perceives a great massiveness in the wood logs materiality, and becomes the perceived supporting part in the building. According to Semper this kind of building technology have existed in statues since ancient times, and he even states that the wall merely is the underneath support. The true wall is the artfully decoration hereof. (Semper 2004: 248-249) This structural scaffold would not please Frampton. But in another way, the perception of the structural system is intact, with no contradictory elements, as Frampton frowns upon (Frampton 2011: 19-21). The real hidden structural system is steel columns and beams in the outer shell, with slabs ensuring transversal stability. The solution is the result of economy, where the cost of a massive wooden core construction would be much bigger than what the construction in steel costs. It is also a result of the urge to build with highly contextual awareness, and an archetypal Snøhetta parameter – utilizing the modern technology (Snøhetta et al. 2009: 189-190).

3.5    Principle

In the retrospective of the analyses, the nectar of the spatial detail is revealing. Some scales exceed the human capacity, resulting in not really being able to see their potential without help. By humanizing the detail in form, scale and materiality, and stage it with piercing contrasts and paradoxes, the beyond-human-capacity scale suddenly becomes graspable, and even enjoyable.


In this architectural whole, it is the experience that determines if the tectonic exists in the spatial detail. Even though the structural transparency isn’t accurate, the utilization of technological development has made it possible to sustain a structural perception that embraces the architectural whole, and enhances the furnishing gesture. This is in my opinion the contextual, successful tectonic solution with the economic pressure.

The tectonic theories exist in many versions, all with an opinion justified by other theories, but as the polychrome discovery of classical architecture falsified neoclassical architecture, you could proclaim that the answer to tectonics is ever-changing. And as Blaser acknowledge we are in a time of rapid change due to new materials, cultural changes and technological improvement (Blaser 1985: 7) which points out the need of evolution in tectonic theories over time.

This is the modern legacy, and by fusing the context with technology, it’s my opinion that the experience of the architectural whole is making the spatial detail indispensable and the building tectonic.