Biotope, a three-strong Norwegian practice based in the Arctic town of Varanger, have designed bird hides since 2009. For them, architecture is "a tool to protect and promote birds, wildlife and nature" - an approach reflected in their carefully crafted, environmentally integrated fragments of the 'invisible': small shelters that must blend into and be absorbed by their surroundings. Their diligent work has seen Varanger become established as one of the best birding destinations in Northern Europe and their unique design solutions are now being sought across Scandinavia.
As what is probably the "world's first and only architectural firm with a special expertise in birds and birding", Biotope are firmly established in a design niche. Tormod Amundsen (CEO), Elin Taranger and Alonza Garbett create practical structures capable of shielding hardy photographers from biting winds, whilst introducing a degree of Nordic design flair. Their skills also extend to designing birdwatching towers, developing nature trails, and building open-air amphitheaters. Their architecture, more than anything, is a manifestation of their passion for the natural world of flight.
The purpose of a bird hide is to allow you approach birds without scaring them. One of their designs, known as the Steilnes Bird Hide, has been implemented across the National Tourist Routes in Norway. Shaped by the elements, the individual character of each site and the creation of the best sightlines are paramount; formal aspects are less important but equally as well thought through. Their designs "carefully balance the need for visibility in order to attract and concentrate human activities, the practical requirements of the visitors, and a sensitivity to the needs of the birds."
Their approach to understanding and analysing a landscape prior to the drawing board is radical and effective. Ultimately, their structures are not only for the humans who dwell within but also for the birds outside. In order to get a feel for the ecology and the natural dynamic of a site, they use a quadrocopter with a modified camera solution that allows them to capture high resolution aerial panoramas.
At a time when aesthetics and visualisations are often architects' top priority, Biotope's approach works contrary to the grain in a world of rapid urbanisation and densification. For them, architecture is a means to an end. According to Amundsen, "it is what you can experience from our architecture that's important, not the architecture in itself." Birds, as much as people, are key to what and how they design. Their highly crafted, naturally sustainable and small-scale architecture offers a refreshing momentary pause in an increasingly fast paced profession.
You can read their bird watchers' blog here.