29 Jun, 2009

Art meets nature in Norway

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

An ambitious series of stunning architectural designs is turning the spotlight on Norway’s natural beauty. Gwladys Fouché takes a tour

See some of the designs in our gallery

I am admiring an icy-blue river framed by majestic snow-capped mountains – but would have easily missed the spot were it not for the stunning structure I am standing on.

From the road the metallic viewing platform looks like a snake zigzagging through the trees. It was so intriguing when I passed it that I stopped to take a closer look. Forty-five minutes later I am still here, awed by this architectural gem and how it fits in with the natural landscape.

Situated in a remote valley in northwest Norway, the Gudbrandsjuvet platform is part of a project to revamp 18 tourist highways across the country. Norway’s national road agency is spending a staggering £1bn until 2012 on the project and has so far commissioned over 45 architecture and landscaping firms to come up with designs for panoramic viewpoints, picnic spots, rest areas and other installations.

Some designs are spectacular. A wooden promenade in the Lofoten islands has quirky angles as if it were a sheet of paper that had been crumpled and smoothed. A bright yellow rest house for cyclists, also in the Lofoten, juts from the flatlands where it is set. And then there’s Snøhetta’s Eggum rest area, with public toilets so cool you will never want to leave.

The most impressive of the structures is perhaps the project at Stegastein in south-central Norway, where architects Todd Saunders and Tommie Wilhelmsen have created an astonishing wooden observatory that seemingly plunges into the Aurland fjord.

“We wanted it to stand out and be very visual,” says Wilhelmsen. “It’s the vision of young architects who wanted to have fun.”

Other projects are more discreet. A rest area on the Helgeland coast in northern Norway features a minimalist stairway leading to the sea. A picnic spot in the Lofoten archipelago consists of groups of rectangular slabs of stones.

Similarly discreet, in its own way, is the Gudbransjuvet platform designed by Oslo-based duo Jan Olav Jensen and Børre Skodvin. With its dark shades of grey and rust, the installation’s tones mix easily with the background. “We wanted the colour to blend in with the landscape, so that the platform is not so present, not so easy to see,” says Jensen.

Subtlety was also important when it came to sounds. “We put openings in the floor of the platform so that you can really experience how forceful the sound of the water is. If it had been a closed bridge, it would not have been so powerful,” Jensen adds. Through these same openings, visitors can observe small details of the landscape, such as a rock, some moss or the flow of the water.

On the other side of the Valldøla river, Jensen and Skodvin have designed a rest area and service centre due for completion this autumn, at the same time as several other projects along the Geiranger tourist road.

On this highway, the jewel in the crown will probably be the panorama viewpoint at Trollstigen (the Troll Ladder). A 30-minute drive from Alstad, this breathtaking spot is where a snow-covered mountain plateau, dotted with soaring peaks, opens out on to a ravine and, further away, a gorgeous fjord. Currently under construction, a sleek, minimalist platform advances into the void. The view is so stunning that I feel slightly dizzy and retreat quickly to firmer ground. The architecture may attract your attention but it’s the Norwegian nature that takes your breath away.

* More information at turistveg.no

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