Lying, half-submerged, against the craggy shore of Norway’s tempestuous southern coastline, Under is quite some architectural feat. Its 34m-long monolithic form, which rests on the seabed five meters below and protrudes 10m above the water’s surface, was conceived by pan-discplinary Norwegian practice, Snøhetta.
The restaurant was first built on a barge 20m from the site, before being gently guided to its final location by a crane and tugboats. Following its submersion, structural work was completed, and the building was bolted to a concrete slab anchored to the bedrock beneath the sea bed. As if a sunken periscope, Under offers guests an unusual and privileged insight into the ever-changing palette of the seabed.
“Under is a natural progression of our experimentation with boundaries, explains Snøhetta Founder and Architect, Kjetil Trædal Thorsen. “As a new landmark for Southern Norway, Under proposes unexpected combinations of pronouns and prepositions, challenging what determines a person’s physical placement in their environment.
“As a new landmark for Southern Norway, Under proposes unexpected combinations of pronouns and prepositions, challenging what determines a person’s physical placement in their environment”
“In this building, you may find yourself under water, over the seabed, between land and sea. This will offer you new perspectives and ways of seeing the world, both beyond and beneath the waterline.”
Lindesnes is known for its intense, highly changeable weather conditions, but the unruly outdoors is soon forgotten as guests enter Under’s hushed, oak-clad foyer. Rough wooden finishes and the sweet smell of timber transition into an elegant oak staircase as one descends into the building.
Dark, raw steel railings with brass tube handrails trace the journey downwards to a softer interior, the ceiling surface changing from oak to textile.
The palette of the textile-clad interior becomes darker and more intense the deeper one travels below the water’s surface. These striking bespoke materials, stretched over custom acoustic panels, evoke the colours of a sunset dropping into the ocean – beginning with sunset pink and intense coral, before moving through sea green and culminating in midnight blue as one arrives in the dining room.
On the mezzanine level and bar area, where the structure touches the sea, a vertical window cut into the side of the building reveals a remarkable split-level perspective of sea and air.
“Rougher wood finishes at the restaurant’s entrance and back of house give way to increasingly refined finishes when moving towards the heart of the building”
Perhaps the most breathtaking element, however, is the 40-person dining room on the seabed, where an 11m-wide and 3.4m-tall horizontal window offers guests an ever-shifting visual gateway to the sea. Evolving gradually throughout the day and seasons, the water alternates from sapphire blue on a cold Winter’s day, to emeral green in the Summer season when the algae sets in.
The beauty of Under’s interior stems from its implicity harmony with this surrounding habitat. Snøhetta has ensured that each and every element of the design is carefully considered and layered, but seamlessly incorporated.
Take the lighting scheme for example. It was fundamental that it should meet the practical requirements of a restaurant within a naturally dark environment, whilst maintaining and enhancing the outward-facing design and protecting local wildlife.
ÅF Lighting acted as consultants for the project, and worked alongside marine biologists to measure the effect of different lighting solutions on local marine life.
The resulting scheme makes use of 380 LED lamps installed in the ceiling panels which respond to date harvested from various sensors – both infrared and acoustic – to create the appropriate lighting scenario at any given moment.
The subtle visual shift of materials throughout follows the same principle. Rougher wood finishes at the restaurant’s entrance and back of house give way to increasingly refined finishes when moving towards the heart of the building. Here the walls, roof and floor have been clad in locally harvested Norwegian oak, in collaboration with Hamran – a longstanding local carpentry workshop.
Under’s furniture, too, is custom made using traditional handcrafting methods. The chairs have been designed as one continuous form, mimicing the way that branches naturally progress from a tree stem in angled corners.
“Its half-metre-thick concrete walls are built to withstand pressure and shock from the rugged sea conditions, while its rough shell will come to function as an artifical reef for the abundant marina flora and fauna”
These furnishings chime with the guiding philosophy of the project – to build solid structures for the future without compromising the natural beauty that lies inherent in raw materials.
Though visually striking in itself, the central concept of the structure is that it should integrate with its marine environment over time. Its half-metre-thick concrete walls are built to withstand pressure and shock from the rugged sea conditions, while its rough shell will come to function as an artifical reef for the abundant marina flora and fauna.
Indeed, Under’s secondary function is to facilitate marine research. The restaurant has collaborated with Researchers from the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomic Research (NIBIO), amongst others, to create optimal conditions on the surrounding seabed so that fish and shellfish can thrive.
“We have observed and documented marine biodiversity in the area for over four years already, but with Under in place the observation opportunities change dramatically,” explains marine biologist, Trond Rafoss, who has been a key collaborator in the project.
“The ability to be physically present at the seabed provides a newfound possibility to observe marine life with precision and patience. Usually, when diving, one has time restraints and is not able to see everything, yet the comfortable environment of the restaurant allows us to study the sea life live for time intervals unparalleled by other means.
“As one can stay in the restaurant for as long as one wants, that opens opportunities to discover species, their behavior and stages of life that has never been seen before.”
The ultimate goal of this research is to collect data that can be programmed into machine learning tools that monitor the population dynamics of key marine species on a regular basis, thereby creating new opportunities to improve official marine resource management.
From its remarkable architecture and design, throughout its sustainable, locally-sourced menu to its contribution to marine research, Under offers a meaningful and wonder-filled hospitality experience.