Under / Snøhetta
Celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, Norwegian office Snøhetta has spent the past three decades blazing a trail of iconoclastic buildings around the world. Perhaps best known for the publically accessible roof landscape of the Oslo Opera House, but including everything from beehives to banknotes, Snøhetta’s work has been characterised by dynamic formal moves, generous public spaces, and a Nordic approach to materiality. Described by founder Kjetil Thorsen as an ‘architecture of prepositions’ – visitors to a Snøhetta project might find themselves on, in, off, under, over, and through the building, often in surprising and novel ways. It is no surprise then, that the Oslo-based office has attacked the challenge of designing a singular restaurant experience with a similar set of values.
Situated at the southernmost tip of Norway, Lindesnes is known for its intense weather, which can change from stormy to calm several times a day as weather systems from the north and south collide. In particular, the confluence of still and saltwater sources results in copious amounts of marine life – Lindesnes is also known for its seafood. This unique convergence of weather and water results in the perfect site to exhibit the area’s naturally abundant biodiversity, and Under was the result. By night, Under is a small fine-dining restaurant with a focus on high quality, locally-sourced seafood. By day, the building doubles as a marine research centre.
Under is defined by one clear formal move. Wrapped by a monolithic, 34-meter long cast concrete shell, the building plunges into the sea, drawing visitors down into a central, submerged dining space. Originally constructed on a barge twenty metres from the site before being delicately lowered into place by crane, the sculptural concrete shell serves as an informed response to both site and program. Pragmatically, the thick concrete walls protect the building from both the intense weather of the site and the changing pressure levels of being placed underwater. More contextually, however, the rough finish of the concrete surface both blends into the craggy shoreline and encourages the growth of various marine life. The rest of the building is finished with timber cladding which will weather to grey over time.
Drawn down into the building’s interior, visitors are directed to look out through a massive, single-pane window of toughened glass to a view of the seascapes beyond. Described by the architects as a periscope which connects viewers to their immediate surroundings, the year the view will change, from the icy blue of winter to the green of summer when the algae begin to grow. This view is the singular focal point of the interior space, with the diffused light creating an almost dreamlike ambience. At night, the sea bed outside is illuminated to attract marine life. The uniquely spatial nature of this experience both connects visitors to the underwater environment in a new way and adds a new and unique dimension to the dining experience.
Following the theme of submersion, a set of parametrically designed textile panels artfully blend a gradient of natural colours across the inner surface of the concrete shell, suggesting a transition from above land to below sea. Concealed within this textile layer both acoustic panels and over 380 LED lamps, which can be configured in a variety of different ways to suit the mood of the restaurant and the external lighting conditions of the evening. Other fixings and fittings are finished in blackened steel, oak, and other durable materials fitting to the building’s unique siting.
Held up to many of Snøhetta’s major public works, Under is smaller and comparatively unassuming, but in many respects – no less spectacular. What could be another relatively pedestrian fine dining experience is transformed into a strange, singular and almost precarious experience – effortlessly hovering between a series of different prepositions. A monolithic cast concrete form which plunges into the sea, Under successfully combines clear architectural design, rugged materiality, novel engineering, and a productive splicing of program to achieve something truly unique.