Opened on 20 March 2019, “Under” is Europe’s first underwater restaurant. Snøhetta, an international architectural practice based in Oslo, conceived and coordinated the entire project in Lindesnes, in the fjords of Norway, in collaboration with a vast team of experts in construction in a marine underwater environment.
The restaurant is located 5 metres below sea level and extends 10 metres above the water’s surface. It appears very impressive when seen from the shore. Its tube shape, like that of an overturned hull, and its position halfway between land and water make it look like a ship in the act of sinking.
But Snøhetta’s project is not intended merely to be an astounding tourist attraction benefitting the restaurant operators. Under also has a scientific purpose, offering a privileged viewpoint from which to observe astounding biodiversity of the site, on the southernmost part of the Norwegian coast, one of those rare points where sea storms from the north and south meet. A large number of marine species thrive on these coasts and in their salty waters, and the underwater dining room at Under is the perfect place from which to observe them.
Snøhetta’s building makes the most of both of these two functions, creating interior spaces that can be used in a variety of ways and making structural choices demonstrating compatibility with and awareness of the impact of the construction on the sea bed.
The 34-metre-long block is positioned up against the rocky shore, anchored to the sea bed at a depth of 5 metres. Concrete is above all a material capable of withstanding the force exerted by the tides on the Lindesnes coast, known for its intense meteorological conditions, in which the sea can go from calm to stormy several times a day. Concrete walls half a metre thick were built to withstand the pressure and shocks that result from these conditions. Secondly, the shell acts as an artificial barrier, the rough surface of which attracts shellfish and algae, and will be integrated into the sea floor as time goes by.
The construction procedure involved building Under on a barge twenty metres from the site, installing the windows before sinking it. The block, which is capable of floating without support, was delicately lowered into its final position from a crane with the assistance of a number of tugboats. To ensure that the bolts were properly anchored to the concrete slab anchored to the rocky base on the bottom of the sea, the volume was filled with water to allow it to sink into its final position. Once all the bolts had been completely tightened, the water was then removed to permit completion of the structural work and the start of work on its interior.
The philosophy behind Snøhetta’s project centres around the concept of exploration of the sea bottom, of immersion as an experience. As well as a physical descent, entering the building also represents a transition from light to darkness, with great symbolic value.
A concrete bridge leads to a little viewpoint covered with wood and to the atrium, which is completely covered with oak and serves merely to welcome visitors and take them to the long wooden staircase down to the mezzanine bar and then the dining room at the bottom of the sea. The refined finishes recall a cosy, welcoming home interior, contrasting with the harsh climate outside. Rough steel railings with brass handrails accompany diners on their way down, while the surface of the ceiling changes from wood to textiles and acoustic panels in colours ranging from sunset pink and coral to sea green and midnight blue in the deepest dining room. Careful attention to the details of design transform the image of the place from a mysterious relic to a luxurious first-class yacht. The wooden cladding and custom-designed chairs were made by a local carpentry workshop that has been in business since 1930 and still works with handcrafting techniques and local Norwegian oak.
Between the restaurant level, which is completely underground, and the bar, only partially underwater, a big vertical window allows visitors to see the point where the sea joins the sky, while deeper down, the dining room for 40 has a strip window 11 metres wide and 3.4 metres tall providing a panoramic view of the sea bed. While the outdoor lighting shows how the sea around the restaurant changes, the internal lighting, with 380 ceiling-mounted LED lights, provides spot lighting that allows diners to enjoy their meals while also experiencing the unusual sensation of being at the bottom of the sea.
Location: Bålyveien 50, 4521 Lindesnes, Norway
Submar Group – delivery of marine operations
BRG Entreprenør AS – main contractor
Reynolds Polymer Technology – acrylic windows
HAMRAN Snekkerverksted AS – wood cladding indoors and outdoors and furniture producer
ERV AS – piping and ventilation work
Tratec AS – electrical installations
Stålesen Mekaninske Verksted AS – indoors metalwork
Asplan Viak AS – structural consultants for the entire project
CoreMarine – consultants on wave impact
Drag AS – fire consultants
Brekke & Strand Akustikk AS – acoustic consultants
ÅF Lighting – consultants for lighting and lighting concept indoor and outdoor
Trond Rafoss – marine biologist
Gross area: 495 sqmhttp://snohetta.com
Total length of the building: 34 meters
Incline: 20 degrees
Dimensions of horizontal window: 10,8 x 3,43 x 0,27 meters
Weight of horizontal window: 12,3 tons
Kvadrat – textile design, producers of fabric and Soft Cell acoustic panels
iGuzzini – producer of lighting fixtures
Photos by: © (01, 02, 04-09, 14) Ivar Kvaal, (03, 10-12) Inger Marie Grini/Bo Bedre Norge, (13) André Martinsen