Road trip through Nor­way

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

VER­TIGO-IN­DUC­ING view­ing plat­forms, is­land­hop­ping bridges and some of the funki­est toi­let fa­cil­i­ties in the north­ern hemi­sphere: These are just a sam­ple of the de­sign flour­ishes that Nor­way’s Na­tional Tourist Routes (NTR) pro­gram has in­tro­duced across the coun­try over the past 15 years. Add to this the fact that the roads pro­gram has been a great in­cu­ba­tor for Nor­way’s young, vi­brant ar­chi­tec­tural scene – which is re­spected for its dar­ing and imag­i­na­tion across Europe – and for any­one head­ing north in the com­ing months, with de­sign lean­ings or sim­ply cu­ri­ous, a road trip beck­ons.

This is a far cry from the NTR’s be­gin­nings. The first pi­lot project by the then-young – and to­day highly re­spected – firm of Jensen & Skod­vin Ar­chi­tects (JSA) was com­pleted in west­ern Nor­way in 1997. Aimed at draw­ing tourists into the stun­ning, if rarely vis­ited, land­scape through ap­peal­ing road­side ar­chi­tec­ture, a full pro­gram was sub­se­quently launched, with 18 routes across Nor­way’s south, its coastal re­gions and the far north even­tu­ally cho­sen in 2004. The pieces were pri­mar­ily ar­chi­tec­tural, though in places art in­stal­la­tions and sculp­tures were also in­tro­duced, and by the end of the decade a host of im­pres­sive works were adding road­side lus­tre to the grandeur of Nor­way’s ge­og­ra­phy. A pro­gram of rest stops, view­ing plat­forms, bridges, walk­ways and restau­rants was rolled out, with some jaw­drop­ping mo­ments such as Tom­mie Wil­helm­sen and Todd Saun­ders’ Aur­land look­out.

Prior to the pro­gram the roads were in re­mote and sparsely pop­u­lated parts of the coun­try and only lightly used, all but empty for mile upon mile. But with the grad­ual cre­ation of NTR’s net­work, traf­fic has in­creased, with tourists ar­riv­ing from all over the world.

The routes still num­ber 18, but other build­ings and fea­tures have been added, with a tranche of new projects open­ing for the cur­rent tourist sea­son. These in­clude the bynow fa­mil­iar fare of hik­ing paths, rest ar­eas, toi­lets and view­ing plat­forms mainly in the south of the coun­try, such as at Sk­jervs­fos­sen, Har­dan­ger, de­signed by For­tunen Ar­chi­tects and opened in May. More dra­mat­i­cally, Code Arkitek­tur has just com­pleted an am­bi­tious view­ing point with the con­crete ramp jut­ting over the vast Ut­sik­ten val­ley on the Gaular­f­jel­let route. There are new artists’ works as well, such as Jan Freuchen’s colum­nar sculp­ture in­stal­la­tion, which marks a walk at Ve­vang on the At­lantic Road route.

More view­ing plat­forms, walk­ways and re­strooms are due to open around the coun­try in the next year, and the pro­gram now has its own show­case, the Travel Mu­seum in Balestrand.

The most ea­gerly awaited of these new projects is the All­man­na­ju­vet Zinc Mine Mu­seum in west­ern Nor­way’s Sauda mu­nic­i­pal­ity, de­signed by cult Swiss ar­chi­tect Peter Zumthor. On the edge of a steep ravine, the small mu­seum will draw fans of ar­chi­tec­ture, as well as gen­eral tourists, when it opens in Septem­ber.

These cur­rent projects mark the end of the NTR’s first cy­cle, which be­gan in 2004, but al­ready the pro­gram has in­sti­gated a fresh 10year cy­cle with am­bi­tious plans. Eight fi­nal­ist prac­tices, whit­tled down from over 300 ap­pli­ca­tions, are pre­par­ing de­signs that will be rolled out in the com­ing years. They in­clude a new wave of in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised young Nor­we­gian stu­dios, such as Trondheim’s TYIN Teg­nestue – the only Scan­di­na­vian prac­tice in­vited to this years’ Venice Bi­en­nale – and Rever og Drage.

My own ex­pe­ri­ence of the tourist routes was dur­ing a re­cent visit to the west­ern county of Møre og Roms­dal, when I took in the Geiranger and At­lantic Road routes. I trav­elled up into the Troll­sti­gen (the Trolls’ Path) and on to the Geiranger pass route. Be­gin­ning as a rel­a­tively tran­quil val­ley road, this soon mor­phed into a switch­back climb through a giddy se­ries of hair­pin bends to the Troll­sti­gen view­ing point, com­ple­mented by a sharp-an­gled, glacier-like restau­rant and re­strooms, by Oslo of­fice Reilf Ramstad.

A few miles fur­ther along the Geiranger road were the Gud­brand­sju­vet bridge and cafe and, five minute’s walk away is the Ju­vet Land­scape Ho­tel, a se­ries of del­i­cately po­si­tioned mi­cro-huts, all slat­ted tim­ber and glass, half-hid­den within the pine-heavy, moss-en­crusted rock hill­sides. It’s by JSA, which de­scribes this at­mo­spheric work as “to­po­graphic sus­tain­abil­ity”, and whose story con­tin­ues to shadow the roads pro­gram. It has a new events build­ing at Ju­vet, a vari­a­tion on the Nor­we­gian log cabin, and last year over­hauled the Sogne­f­jell­shytta restau­rant and road­side ski lodge at the high­est point on the Sogne­f­jel­let route, 1400 me­tres (4593 feet) above sea level in a lat­tice of tim­ber and glass.

By way of con­trast, and less than a cou­ple of hours away, is the At­lantic Ocean Road, which in­cludes a dra­matic string of bridges leapfrog­ging across the Hus­tad­vika Is­lands. As with the in­te­rior’s roads, these eight swoop­ing and curv­ing bridges are im­pres­sive feats of en­gi­neer­ing, creat­ing a neck­lace con­nect­ing to the main­land penin­sula. Fully ex­posed to the el­e­ments, this is a wild part of the coast on a stormy day. But the day I went the sun was high and the wind was still. We stopped at another re­cently com­pleted build­ing, a rather drab and dark restau­rant and toi­let built into the side of a low grassy ridge on tiny El­shuysoya Is­land, with al­most no sun­light in­side.

Af­ter this brief stop I could un­der­stand re­ports of dis­ap­point­ment at re­cent projects, in­clud­ing this lat­est one. Still, if the sec­ond-cy­cle ar­chi­tects just be­gin­ning are given the space to de­liver, they could take the pro­gram down new and ex­cit­ing roads. One thing’s for sure: The land­scape and el­e­ments are on their side. –

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