Tourism routes in Norway: Aurland

Todd Saunders, Tommie Wilhelmsen,


Landscape, Free Time, Sport & Wellness,

Glass, Wood,

Having won a national competition for the promotion of tourism in Norway, Todd Saunders and Tommie Wilhelmsen  designed a construction representing a surprisingly successful equilibrium between a lookout for viewing the landscape and a work of architecture which is itself a sight worth seeing.

Tourism routes in Norway: Aurland The landscape is the greatest resource of North European countries, particularly the Scandinavian peninsula. Its distance from the centre of the continent and the rigid climate that makes it inhospitable for much of the year have contributed to the region's image as a land of fjords and forests inhabited only by an immense solitude. The tales of travellers who have been to Scandinavia abound in words such as snow, absence and loss, and note that it is possible to travel a long way without meeting a soul, immersed in perpetual contemplation of nature, as if the landscape went on and on for eternity. Driven by the need to preserve this unique atmosphere while at the same time promoting tourism, in 2002 the Norwegian Parliament and the Ministry of Transportation and Communications announced a competition for the creation of 18 national tourism routes in Norway by 2015, setting aside a budget of about 250 million euro. Eighteen towns famous for their views of the fjords, mountains, rivers and coasts were selected as sites of primary interest for promotion of the nation’s image and became the subject of a competition for plans for eighteen tourism routes. One of these is Aurland, a town in Song og Fjordane county on one of the most impressive, majestic fjords of Norway’s western coast.
Todd Saunders and Tommie Wilhelmsen won the competition on invitation for Aurland with a project, which is, surprisingly, more than just a lookout. The common aim shared by the landscape architectures proposed by all the studios invited to participate in the project was clearly construction of a preferential observation site: a location that commonly presupposes an attitude of abnegation on the part of the architecture in order to prevent it from standing out and disturbing the perfect natural equilibrium of the site.
In this case the architects managed to overcome the intrinsic difficulties inherent in spontaneously setting their own boundaries on the project with a construction that is strictly tied to the local landscape but acts as a true “ski jump” for the eyes, of interest in its own right for its great immediacy.
The lookout point, which will no doubt remind Norwegians of a ski jump, is a structure composed of arches of local wood which rises from the road out over the emptiness of the valley, anchored to the ground exclusively through two steel supports at its base. The absence of any other supporting element surrounding the walkway creates an effect of suspension over the abyss which culminates in the curve of the arch at one end: the onlooker is encouraged to contemplate the void, from which he is separated solely by a plate of glass on the curve. The architecture, which blends into the setting of the fjord and does not require a single one of the pines in the forest below to be cut, is as immediate in its form as it is attentive to details, such as the way the boards fit into each other and the design of the steel parapets.

by Mara Corradi

Design: Todd Saunders & Tommie Wilhelmsen
Client: Norwegian Transport Department
Location: Aurland (Norway)
Structural design: Node AS
Landscape design: Todd Saunders & Tommie Wilhelmsen
Competition: 2002
Completion of work: 2006
Construction firm: Veidekke AS, Sogndal
Structure made of local wood 4 metres wide, 30 metres long and 9 metres high
Photographs: © Nils Vik, Todd Saunders