The Primitive Hut to the High-Performance Modern Retreat


I grew up with camping as an integral part of life - from staying at deer camp to many trips through Scouting as long as 30 days out. There have been too many overnights to count, including more than a few spent sleeping in high places.  Being up in the mountains above tree-line, or on the side of a sheer cliff face is often called a bivouac (or “bivy”) by climbers. Although far from comfort, these places award a magic that cannot be found in more civilized places. You only bring the absolute necessities, which allows time to think, reflect, and live in the moment.

Mountain climbing may not be for you, but the idea of escaping town and finding solace in nature is not an unfamiliar concept. Today, with the crunch of technology’s demands, many people are finding modern ways to unplug and remove themselves. A simple life, close to nature does not take many sacrifices with today’s technology. Tiny homes on wheels and “off the grid” shelters are providing new capabilities to extend our escape. 

Many of us are studying times past, shedding excess stuff, and flying toward living in this ideal full-time. To understand the home away from home, we need to first journey back and visit The Primitive Hut.

"The Primitive Hut" from  The Essay on Architecture

"The Primitive Hut" from The Essay on Architecture

The Primitive Hut: In Thought

In Europe, during the Enlightenment, thought  itself was felt to embody the supreme form of being. It was during this time that many first began to consider architecture beyond its physical proportions and construction. The  Primitive Hut concept was proposed by Marc-Antoine Laugier, the French philosopher and author of The Essay on Architecture, first published in 1753. 

“The Essay on Architecture” provides a story of man in his 'primitive' state to explain how the creation of the "primitive man's" house is created instinctively based on mans need to shelter himself from nature. Laugier believed that the model of the primitive man's hut provided the ideal principles for architecture or any structure. It was from this perspective that Laugier formed his general principles of architecture where he outlined the standard form of architecture and what he believed was fundamental to all architecture. To Laugier, the general principles of architecture were found in what was natural, intrinsic and part of natural processes. 
Quote from:

A Home Away From Home

Europeans and Americans have historically built homes away from home - to allow retreat from culture's chaos. After WWII, the French used abandoned military bases along the coast to spend time away from their countrymen and families.  This was the genesis of Club Med, which provided a way to " people from their day-to-day constraints in ways that enabled them to rediscover themselves, recharge their batteries and get back to basic pleasures.” 

Le Club Méditerranée (circa 1950)

In the United States many families have traditions rooted in the natural resources surrounding them too. Where I was raised, the Quachita Mountains of southeast Oklahoma provided many opportunities for outdoor recreation. We lived on 10 acres and had immediate access to a backyard creek, pasture, and barn. I was fortunate!

Now in Oklahoma City, I say with sadness, that nature is a bit farther away. The good news in that my family and I are looking toward a move to Colorado in the next few years, and we will be closer than ever to all kinds of outdoor adventures! What kinds of places are near your town? Where do you go for vacation/holiday?

High-Performance Modern Retreats

I don't often get excited when thumbing through a magazine, but while looking through the a recent issue of Architect magazine, my heart skipped a beat.

As the adage goes "beautiful floor plans do not make beautiful buildings, but beautiful buildings always have beautiful floor plans.”  My observations are that great buildings have a concise space hierarchy and organization that tends to jump off the page. This might be subjective, but I know beautiful when I see it. 

This floor plan was centered around the kinds of interactions that bring us closer together and extends the foot print outdoors to large porches. It captured expansive views from the interior and seemed fit for passive solar heating.  With a few tweaks, I felt the design could work very well for a PHIUS+ Certified Passive House design here in the southern plains.


The layout of the 1,000 sq ft Gapahuk "cabin"  as it's labeled by Snøhetta drew me in to its potential as an option for those wanting to downsize or rightsize to a home that is just right for them. It would be an ideal small house for a small family, empty-nesters or even young professionals. I believe the 1,000 sqft footprint is a model to study. Over the next 20 years, our aging Baby Boomers and Millennials are going to want this kind of simple living. Even Gen-Xers like me want to simplify and reconnect to reality and be closer with immediate family.

Norwegian Life and the Gapahuk

People from the Scandinavian countries have a refined sensibility and world think very differently from American culture. It is important to show how the home should be designed for pure, family interaction. I feel we have lost the way from our vernacular roots much more than Northern European culture. 

I asked a college classmate from Norway, Erik Werner, if he could can share anything about the traditional gapahuk. His reply was that “Gapahuk is, as far as I know, traditionally just a simple wind shelter”. Here is a link to a Google Image Search, if you would like to see what inspired Snøhetta Architecture in the design our our modern family retreat cabin. From an Okie's perspective it looks like a fire-pit or campfire partially surrounded by a wind brace.

rik also shares the relationship between gapahuk and modern living might be summed up from this song. He stated, "This song was an obscure reference. It is a Norwegian artist, Silja Sol, singing a song by Swedish band Bob Hund. To me, it represents a merger between these two cultures; the wild and the urban. The modern and the ancient.

Hjerteskjærende rett

By Bob Hund, Silja Sol
{Translated Lyrics}

Think of something sick and dangerous that makes you happy
I will read your mind now,
word by word, line by line
Think of something soft and lovely that makes you weak
I will pick your evil flowers,
petal by petal, day by day
It feels so right
Heartachingly right

We do it all wrong in a completely wonderful way. You feel so right

Heartachingly right
You do it all wrong in a completely wonderful way. (Aaaah) Think of something soft and lovely that makes you sick
I will pick your evil flowers,
Put them on a picnic blanket
I will catch lightning in the bottle that makes you whole
And I will follow you to the last drop
Beyond good, right and wrong
It feels so right
Heartachingly right
We do it all wrong in a completely wonderful way.
You feel so right, heartachingly right

You do it all wrong

In a completely wonderful way. (Aaaah) It feels so right, heartachingly right
You do it all wrong (Aaaah) in a completely wonderful way.

Lyrics by Bob Hund

Til Vi Møtes Igjen (Until We Meet Again)

Next, we we will jump back in with both feet on the Mesta Park historic renovation project. I’m excited to share more on the design process and work with Oklahoma City Historic Preservation officials. Ground has only recently been broken on the foundations, so once we wrap up the design process, we will be covering the construction for many months ahead. 

Until then, please have an Enlightened week! 

Club Méditerranée advertisement (circa 1971)

Club Méditerranée advertisement (circa 1971)