Three Camper Cabins by HGA

One step up from a tent, HGA's new camper cabins pack a lot more punch.

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Whitetail Cabin, by HGA; Paul Crosby Photography

These three are the first of 20 to be built in Minnesota's Whitetail Regional Park - and they're already winners of the National AIA Housing Award. That's probably because they're designed to take advantage of every inch inside their 227 square feet. "We treated the interior as ship - everything is built in, with storage below," says project architect Steven Dwyer.

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Whitetail Cabin, by HGA; Paul Crosby Photography

The entry is about two simple moves - there's an area where skis can be stored and a notch for protection while guests search for a key. That same notch on the outside creates a nook for bunk beds on the inside. "We wanted the bunk to be part of the architecture," he says. "You immerse yourself in the view from the top or bottom bunk."

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Whitetail Cabin, by HGA;Paul Crosby Photography

The client was the state of Minnesota, which was seeking new ways to build cabins in the park. HGA had already worked through designs for a picnic shelter, bath house and trail head shelter - and proposed a tree house. The problems were that trees in the designated area weren't strong enough for support - and handicap access would be unlikely. Immersing park guests in the forest, though, was a very appealing option.

"So we emphasized that idea and put them on piers, and then you cross a little bridge to get to them," he says. "Then there's a big glass area to frame the area of view to the woods - you can't reach out and grab a tree, but your're pretty darn close."

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Whitetail Cabin, by HGA; Paul Crosby Photography

Built off-site by 41 students enrolled in a vocational training program at a local high school, they were transported by a house-moving company and lifted atop a series of concrete piers along a hillside. "We designed it so construction could be pretty straightforward, so the high school students could work on it."

Each cabin features a red cedar chassis, cedar and pine framing and red cedar cladding. The wood-framed interiors, which accommodate up to six guests, includes two full-size bunks, sleeper sofa, dining/sitting area and folding seating. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors leading to an 80-square-foot deck (complete with hammock hooks) frame views of the surrounding forest. The bathhouse is just up the hill.

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Whitetail Cabin, by HGA; Paul Crosby Photography

All in all, each cabin is flexible and functional too - there's a place for everything and everything's in its place. "If there's bad weather, you will not be uncomfortable if you're hunkered down for a day, whether two people or six," he says. "I've been in one when 12 people were in it, and it was a fun little party space."

The little cabins rent for $65 a night. But if you're interested, you'll need to be patient. They're already booked a year in advance.

J. Michael Welton writes about architecture art and design for national and international publications. He is architecture critic for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., and editor of www.architectsandartisans.com, where portions of this post first appeared. He is also author of "Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand" (Routledge: 2015).