Dorte Mandrup to design The Whale, an Arctic attraction in Andøya, Norway

The Whale - rising out of the stunning landscape of Norway - is a cultural museum to observe whales and the underwater wildlife, under the mystical Arctic northern lights.

by Jincy Iype Published on : Mar 23, 2020

Mostly submerged within the depths of the deep blue sea, the newest world class Arctic attraction, The Whale, will draw in visitors with its extraordinary architecture that blends with the dramatic landscape surrounding it. Danish architecture studio Dorte Mandrup won an international competition late last year to design The Whale, against finalists such as BIG, Snøhetta and Reiulf Ramstad. The Whale is a cultural and landmark building situated 300 km north of the Arctic Circle, on the island of Andøya in Northern Norway, a scenic destination with its rugged mountain tops and lowland marshes. The museum positions itself as one of the best places in the world to watch whales and learn more about these salient aquatic mammals through science, art and architecture. The Whale is under construction and is expected to be completed by 2022.

The Whale emerges majestically and grows out of its surrounding landscape in Andenes, Norway | The Whale by Denmark based Dorte Mandrup | STIRworld
The Whale emerges majestically and grows out of its surrounding landscape in Andenes, Norway Image Credit: Courtesy of MIR

“Located this far North, Andøya is a unique place and The Whale an extraordinary project. Not only will we be creating architecture in yet another remarkable landscape, we will also take part in increasing the understanding of whales and preservation of marine life,” says Founder and Creative Director, Dorte Mandrup. Andenes is a deep-sea canyon that stretches almost to the Norwegian coastline and is rich in marine life, being home to numerous varieties of migrating whales. Andenes sits at the tip of Andøya, and despite the altitude, the seas never freeze and winters are quite mild, making it a picturesque tourist destination.

Viewpoints inside the museum highlight the underwater environment and the landscape outside | The Whale by Denmark based Dorte Mandrup | STIRworld
Viewpoints inside the museum highlight the underwater environment and the landscape outside Image Credit: Courtesy of MIR

The Whale emerges majestically and grows out of its surrounding landscape – “it rises naturally as a soft hill on the rocky shore as if a giant has lifted a thin layer of the crust of the earth and created a cavity underneath,” the studio describes. The organic design sets The Whale apart, poetically dissolving the lines between form and landscape. “Reminiscing both a whale’s tale and behaviour, the museum seeks to adapt to its conditions. Instead of creating borders, we are dissolving them,” states the project’s official statement.

Visitors are invited to walk atop The Whale’s stone covered roof, and take-in the stunning landscape | The Whale by Denmark based Dorte Mandrup | STIRworld
Visitors are invited to walk atop The Whale’s stone covered roof, and take-in the stunning landscape Image Credit: Courtesy of MIR

The Whale’s parabolic, self-supporting roof is covered with grey, roughly worked, natural stones (slate, granite), which will patinate over time, giving the building a coating of oxide and moss and further merging the building with the Norwegian landscape. The locals and visitors are invited to walk atop it, and take-in the stunning views – one can see the archipelago, marvel at the reflection of the midnight sun setting in the sea or the dancing northern lights in the skies above them.

Large windows etched on The Whale open towards the archipelago, providing stunning views | The Whale by Denmark based Dorte Mandrup | STIRworld
Large windows etched on The Whale open towards the archipelago, providing stunning views Image Credit: Courtesy of MIR

The single, parabolic concrete shell effectively transfers forces to the three support points in the corners of the building, which makes it possible to create a vast, column-less space. The form’s shape is also aerodynamic, which results in no negative turbulence effects, and a minimum snow build up. Large windows etched on its facades open toward the archipelago, providing stunning views of the vast blue sea stretching out before it.

The building’s design programme includes exhibition spaces, offices, a café and a store. An astute network of paths, platforms and viewpoints highlight the underwater environment and the landscape outside the museum. The Whale also houses a tidepool, a campfire and stepping stones, which abet visitors to discover their man-made and natural surroundings.

  • Inside The Whale | The Whale by Denmark based Dorte Mandrup | STIRworld
    Inside The Whale Image Credit: Courtesy of MIR
  • The Whale has a large, column-less interior – the exhibition spaces | The Whale by Denmark based Dorte Mandrup | STIRworld
    The Whale has a large, column-less interior – the exhibition spaces Image Credit: Courtesy of MIR

Right next to the entrance are a drying room and wardrobe, with the museum’s shop sitting opposite it. The open foyer connects the café that lies at the north of the building, while the exhibition spaces are lined down the south. The open floor plan (inspired by a whale’s journey around the globe), along with a curved wall, creates dynamic rooms with differing sizes and shapes. The rocks enter the structure at multiple places, highlighting a direct connect to the landscape, further aided by the long horizontal view of the mountain range. “The exhibition is to be regarded as an extension of the architecture and the landscape, with views, acoustics, ceilings and floors actively involved as intermediaries and co-narrators of The Whale’s amazing universe,” explains the design team.

(From Top to Bottom) Conceptual sketches by Dorte Mandrup – the land and the sea, The Whale and the lighthouse, only 10% of The Whale is visible | The Whale by Denmark based Dorte Mandrup | STIRworld
(From top to bottom) Conceptual sketches by Dorte Mandrup – the land and the sea, The Whale and the lighthouse, only 10% of The Whale is visible Image Credit: Courtesy of Dorte Mandrup

Dorte Mandrup is regarded for their specialisation in cultural buildings, landmarks, transformations of listed buildings, and buildings in sensitive landscapes. Similarly, the partially submerged building doesn’t simply fit in the coastal landscape – it enhances its character and complements it.  The Whale is expected to significantly strengthen Northern Norway as a travel destination. The Whale’s design thoughtfully unites the waterfront site and Dorte Mandrup’s aim of protecting marine wildlife, and educating the locals and visitors about our great, underwater friends.

  • The Whale - exploded axonometric view | The Whale by Denmark based Dorte Mandrup | STIRworld
    The Whale - exploded axonometric view Image Credit: Courtesy of Dorte Mandrup
  • East Elevation (top), West Elevation (bottom)| The Whale by Denmark based Dorte Mandrup | STIRworld
    East Elevation (top), West Elevation (bottom) Image Credit: Courtesy of Dorte Mandrup
  • Section | The Whale by Denmark based Dorte Mandrup | STIRworld
    Section Image Credit: Courtesy of Dorte Mandrup
  • Plan | The Whale by Denmark based Dorte Mandrup | STIRworld
    Plan Image Credit: Courtesy of Dorte Mandrup
  • Site Plan | The Whale by Denmark based Dorte Mandrup | STIRworld
    Site Plan Image Credit: Courtesy of Dorte Mandrup

Project Details

Name: The Whale
Location: Andenes, Norway
Typology: Cultural building
Expected year of completion: 2022
Gross floor area: 4,500 sqm
Client: The Whale AS
Architect: Dorte Mandrup A/S
Landscape Architect: Marianne Levinsen Landskab
Exhibition design: JAC Studios
Engineering: Thornton Tomasetti
Art consultant: Anders Kold
Whale researcher: Nils Øien

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About Author

Jincy Iype

Jincy Iype

Iype is a trained architect, who often indulges in writing and amateur photography. She was a cinephile and a melophile even before she knew what those words meant. She is inclined towards architecture journalism, and can usually be found curled up reading a book, or cooking for therapeutic relief.

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