The Norway-based Canadian architect Todd Saunders has been a firm fixture in our pages since the earliest days of his practice. His studio’s residential architecture has maintained an impressive clarity of vision over the years, often combining folded, twisted and stripped-back geometric forms with traditional construction methods and a total commitment to craftsmanship. There is a stark modernity here that can be traced back to the earliest days of modernist architecture, but also a strong Scandinavian functionalism in his many stunning northern homes.

Many of the houses featured in a new monograph written by Dominic Bradbury stand alone in spectacular wilderness, demonstrating a strength and solidity against the elements. One of the most remarkable things about Saunders’ work is that it maintains purity and simplicity in these challenging environments, often touching the ground lightly and enhancing the landscape, not conflicting with it. 

Todd Saunders’ designs for northern homes

Bradbury’s excellent text covers many unpublished projects, and the book is copiously illustrated with clearly drawn floorplans and striking photography, much of it by Saunders’ long-term collaborator Bent René Synnevåg. The book also includes a look at the studio’s working process, as well as conversations with clients and the architect’s thoughts on this crucial relationship.

‘It’s a real misconception that architects like me want carte blanche, because that’s the worst thing. I want someone who is going to question me in an intelligent way and in return we try to make the design process a lot of fun for them,’ Saunders writes. On the strength of the evidence within, it’s an approach that delivers impressive results and these northern homes are case in point. Here are five key projects from the book. 

Northern homes by Todd Saunders

Villa Austevoll

villa austevoll by Todd Saunders
Villa Austevoll, Vestland, Norway. Photography: Ivar Kvaal

Seen from above, the form of the Villa Austevoll becomes clear, with the circular skylight over the staircase sitting at the centre of an irregular cross. This island retreat, located south of Bergen, was designed for a couple who favour outdoor living. The cross-shaped plan generates four precisely framed views over the archipelago. 

Villa AT

Saunders Architecture, Villa AT, Kristiansand, Norway, photograph by Bent René Synnevåg
Villa AT, Kristiansand, Norway, Photography: Bent René Synnevåg

The gentle, curving form of Villa AT evolved as a response to the site and setting, but also to the weather conditions, particularly the wind, and the need for sheltered spaces around the house as well as within it. The house seems to perch on the rocks, with steps leading down to a freshwater swimming pool. 

Villa Tyssøy

Saunders Architecture, Villa Tyssøy, Bergen, Norway, photograph by Bent René Synnevåg
Villa Tyssøy, Bergen, Norway. Photography: Bent René Synnevåg

The round edges of the timber-clad building soften the outline of the house, but also help to create a sculptural form sitting in an open landscape. The formation of the building also allows for terraces and outdoor spaces at key points around the villa. The client’s family have lived on this island for over six generations, and the new villa is a continuation of their history in the region. 

Villa Grieg

Saunders Architecture, Villa Grieg, Bergen, Norway, photograph by Ivar Kvaal
Villa Grieg, Bergen, Norway. Photography: Ivar Kvaal

Coated in Kebony timber and bordered by mature pines, Villa Grieg rises and rotates, with the main body of the house floating above the ground plane, like a sculpted treehouse. The house, which is raised up on pilotis that mirror the surrounding trees, was built for the musician Alexander Grieg and his family. Grieg is a relative of the composer Edvard Grieg, who had a summer house in the Lake Nordås region in the 1880s. 

Villa S

Saunders Architecture, Villa S, Bergen, Norway, photograph by Bent René Synnevåg
Villa S, Bergen, Norway. Photography: Bent René Synnevåg

Saunders’ own house, in a historic suburb of Bergen, is a linear villa, dramatically raised above its site. The decision to elevate the main living spaces allowed Saunders to create a semi-protected entry sequence, terrace and play area under the house, which can be used whatever the weather; additional decks and terraces are also situated on the principal storey and on the roof. §