To preserve the country’s mountainous, lunar landscapes, the Norwegian authorities a re parsimonious about which buildings they allow to be constructed in the Scandinavian kingdom’s stunning and cinematographic panoramas.
It’s a wonderful road, on the side of a mountain. It begins with a few loops, which are then immediately followed by 11 very tight hairpins, with a gradient constantly hovering around 9%. Its name is Trollstigen, which means “the road of the trolls,” a famous stretch of Road 63 which runs through the heart of Norway in the county of Møre og Romsdal. If the probability of seeing one of these mythic creatures through your windscreen is pretty low, you’d still better keep your eyes on the road – the ravine will not forgive any mistakes. Because of the winter weather, this road is only open an average of five months a year, f rom June to September. When at last you arrive up on the plateau, the altitude hasn’t even passed 1,000 m, and yet you’d think you were up in the summit of the highest mountains. And the names of the surrounding peaks add to the si te’s grandeur: there’s Kongen ( “king” ), Dronningen
(“queen”) and Bispen (“bishop”), and of course Store Trolltind (“the highest”), which reaches 1,788 m.
On the plateau – Trollstigplatået
– one discovers an astonishing succession of small contemporary buildings: a visitors’ centre with a restaurant, several mountain refuges and also two observation platforms, all by Norwegian firm Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekter. Designed to stand up to the elements, these buildings in glass and concrete exhibit sharp forms which prevent the snow from settling for too long. Clear and distinct, the transitions between the built and the natural amplif y the strangeness of the site. All around, landscape designers Multiconsult 13.3 have created water features inspired by the topography, and water can be seen up here in all its states, from static snow to streams to roaring cascades. A zigzagging footbridge leads to the first observation plat form, which al lows you to appreciate the Stigfossen cascade, plunging 320 m down into the valley below. Not far away, a handful of steps lead to the second, more spectacular belvedere, a sor t of half- concrete half- Cor Ten-steel balcony that literally levitates over a 200 m drop. The breath-taking view over the majestic Isterdalen valley invites you to commune with the panorama. “Building in such an environment while trying to magnify it was something of a tour de force,” explains Ramstad. “The site is exceptional: hanging over the void of the valley below, it is part of a stunningly beautiful natural circus which has attracted tourists for years. It always makes me sick to see how the most beautiful sites are destroyed by the pressure of tourism, and I consequently had one essential goal: re- establishing a conscious relationship between visitors and nature, between architecture and environment.”
Ramstad has also built in the far north of Norway, in the Finnmark region, where he designed another observation post, this time floating at water level in the Barents Sea. Located on the edge of the coastal Road 889 in Selvika Bay, the strange concrete structure snakes down to a tiny beach of white sand. “From the road’s edge to the shore – this very special place – the goal was to augment the experience of walking, and to make it unique,” explains Ramstad. “It was a question of amplifying perception. That’s why one of our major concerns was to slow down movement and allow visitors, on the path itself, to focus on the main goal: feeling the calm, this relationship with the infinite that sharpens the mind.” Well beyond the Arctic Circle, the panorama, in its sterile, inhospitable beauty, is almost lunar, and the observation post is the only human creation in all the immensity of the landscape.
These buildings by Ramstad are part of a programme launched almost 25 years ago by the Norwegian government with the goal of complementing the country’s most spectacular landscapes with modest architectural projects – observation posts, rest spots, car parks, picnic grounds, etc. From the North Sea to the Barents Sea, the authorities selected 18 routes known for their touristic interest and commissioned around 50 architects to work on them. All the best contemporary Norwegian architects answered the call, including Code, 3RW, 70° N, Snøhet ta, Todd Saunders and Tommie Wilhelmsen, Jan Olav Jensen and Børre Skodvin, Einar Jarmund and Håkon Vigsnæs, etc. One distinguished foreigner was invited onto the list, the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, 2009 winner of the Pritzker Prize. Since the first projects were completed in 1997, new ones have been inaugurated every year, like in May this year when Ureddplassen, by the duo Haugen/ Zoha r, was u nve i led on t he Helgelandskysten road, or in June, when Bukkekjerka by the firm of Morfeus was opened on a road in Andøya. Like a series of wake- up calls for distracted tourists, these projects constitute a series of exclamation marks in the landscape. The programme is set to continue until 2020, by which time a total of 2,151 km of panoramic roads will have been “augmented” w i th architecture.