Regardless of how beautiful or strange a landscape is, we’ve all done it. After the initial shock of a cliff’s craggy façade or the undulating, raw rubble of lava rock flows wears off, we’ve been lulled into sensory complacency. Amazement only lasts for so long: being stunned becomes the norm.
This is why the 120 designed projects along Norway’s National Tourist Route are so significant. They are the result of a multi-decade investment of nearly $400 million by the Norwegian government to enhance overlooks, picnic areas, and rest stops along its scenic highways. Together, theses projects exemplify design’s power to highlight nature.
A result of our hunter-gatherer heritage, we humans are good at maintaining a narrow focus. Through different creative media – film, dance – we have developed ways to compensate. Filmmakers regularly use music to highlight the feeling of a character or the insight of a narrative moment. Musicians employ lighting during live performances to cue audiences to shifts in mood. Designers of Norway’s tourist routes show how landscape architecture can do the same for our appreciation of landscapes, expanding our narrow focus.
In Stegastein (see image at top), which was created in 2006 by Todd Saunders and Tommie Wihelmsen, laminated wood contrasts with the surrounding forested hillside in color and form, reinterpreting the steep movements of the region’s hillsides.
In Storseisundet Bridge, which was completed in 1989, the rising section of the scenic highway crafts a line against the jagged outcrops of the surrounding fjord. The contrast highlights the intense sinuosity of the Norwegian shore.
Other projects use design to accentuate landscape dynamics otherwise difficult to identify.
For example, in Vedahaugane, completed in 2010 by L. J. Berge and Z. Jelnikar, the designers reveal complexity in the simple — both in the path’s design and the surrounding landscape — by using curved benches.
And in Sohlbergplassen, created in 2005 by Carl-Viggo Hølmebakk, the exuberance of the curves coupled with the linear nature of the concrete formwork highlight the tightness of the forest groves and dappled light falling through the trees.
And then there are designs that use framing devices to enable new ways of relating to the space.
Gudbrandsjuvet, which was created in 2007 by Jensen & Skodvin, is a CorTen steel walkway that crisscrosses a canyon carved by a gushing waterfall, cultivating a sense of both spaciousness and fragility where there otherwise would be none. Designed to sway with use, the walkway one traverses has a sense delicacy, creating a new sense of vulnerability for visitors to the waterfall.
And lastly, at Trollstigen, which was designed by Reiulf Ramstad Architects in 2010, a cliff overlooks a cascading waterfall and deep valley. The handrails and benches on the steep rock outcrops make seemingly dangerous areas approachable.
The main viewing platform provides spaces for both refuge and spectacle and prospect. The combination of these moments tells us extreme outdoor spaces are places to be appreciated rather than feared.
This guest post is by Johanna Hoffman, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture Graduate, University of California – Berkeley, College of Environmental Design.