June 1, 2006
The design of a Norwegian lookout honors its breathtaking natural setting.
Amid a quiet stand of trees high above a Norwegian fjord, architects Todd Saunders and Tommie Wilhelmsen have created a delicate viewing platform that preserves the roadside landscape while offering pristine views of earth and water about 2,000 feet below. Commissioned by the Norwegian highway department as a scenic rest stop for tourists, this lookout is anything but ordinary.
In the form of a single line with one elbow, the wooden platform steps lightly on the ground, allowing visitors to walk among the treetops of the surrounding forest. The end is capped only with a sheet of glass, intentionally inducing the feeling of vertigo. “When people drive around and see the mountains, they eventually get almost bored,” Saunders says. “We wanted to give them another experience that would put them right out into the air.” The effect is a wondrous wake-up call that tends to leave visitors breathless.
When Saunders and Wilhelmsen were developing the rest stop, they noticed that the typical arrangement—which usually consists of little more than a glorified parking lot on the side of the road—came with a few too many distractions, like car stereos, slamming doors, and engines cranking. In response the architects separated the parking area from the viewing platform with a short footpath. They also observed that heavy structures made from concrete and stone frequently damage the landscapes they’re intended to showcase because they require that trees be cut and the land graded. “Sometimes when you build in these places it ruins them,” Saunders explains. “Architects do it all the time—they use a beautiful site and then build smack-dab in the most beautiful part of it. But you must think you’re God if you believe you can do something better than this place.”