by Jerry ElengicalJun 26, 2021
A pattern that has seen a lot of success over the past year is the prominence of digital events. As the months progressed the nature of these digital conversations and presentations evolved. As part of London Design Biennale 2021, Norway's official entry took the form of a digital event titled The Ripple Effect - Connecting People and Nature, that was hosted on June 17 and moderated by Amy Frearson, editor-at-large for Dezeen. With the growing conversation on ecological conservation, Norway’s presentation, being purely digital, did not create the traditional exhibition waste associated with elaborate installations.
The hour-and-a-half long event presented four projects from Norway that are at the intersection of people-focused-design that connected humans with nature, particularly water bodies. The mention of ‘Ripple Effect’ in the title also references this year’s biennale’s artistic director, Es Devlin's central theme of resonance. Conceptualised by Design and Architecture Norway (DOGA), the driving force behind the project presented four moments in recent Norwegian design that became the centre point for larger changes. Some of the presentations are more popularly known than others, but they are all connected to making nature accessible beyond the traditional ableist design patterns. The term sustainability has become a constant talking point in architecture and design, often used as an adjective to the design object in discussion. The conversation presented during The Ripple Effect was very careful to use the term sustainability, which was a refreshing change.
Known for its pristine lake, its unique fjords and coastline, the name Norway (Norge in Norwegian) derives from the old Norse words norð vegr, 'north way'. The layered digital presentation was meant to show the impact of ocean-based inclusive design and its ability to create ripple effects for people, the environment and business. Including occupational outcomes as a layer of discussion was an important and unique aspect, as in brought into the fold the reality of usage. One of the ideas that emerged was how inclusive design resonates with nature and the impact of the coexistence of the two on people’s lives. Curated and filmed as an immersive journey above and below water, the digital tour travelled from the most southern point of Norway to the far North, highlighting the possibilities of designing with nature. Here we present some of the project highlights.
Starting off with a trending story from 2019, the tour's first stop was Under by Norwegian firm Snøhetta. Located at Norway’s southernmost point, Lindesnes, Under made the digital rounds as the world’s first underwater restaurant. Submerged at five-and-a-half metres below sea level, diners sit within the waters of the North Sea, at one of the most biodiverse points on the Norwegian coastline. We first heard from Stig and Kathrine Ubostad, owners of Under restaurant. Introducing an alternate understanding of how sustainability would work from a functional viewpoint, the couples discussed how they envision the coexistence of the aquatic spectacle, gastronomic experience, and the propagation of marine knowledge. Interestingly, Under has an outreach and education programme in the local community that aims to preserve the undersea ecosystem. The restaurant acts as a venue for bio-marine research and serves as a model for sustainability. We also heard from Rune Grasdal, senior architect at Snøhetta, while viewing construction images. The 34-metre concrete structure is designed to seamlessly integrate into the marine environment over time, as a concrete shell facilitates the formation of an artificial reef.
From under the sea to over, the next project takes us on a trip to the UNESCO-listed fjord route between Flåm and Gudvangen. Launched in 2020 by Norwegian tourism company, The Fjords, and designed by ferry specialist Brødrene Aa, The Legacy of the Fjords is an all-electric catamaran sightseeing vessel that allows emissions-free travel for up to 400 passengers through western Norway. Helle K Bakkeland, Commercial Manager, The Fjords, and Torstein Aa, industrial designer, Brødrene Aa Shipyard, spoke about how thinking about inclusive design at every stage of development, transformed their understanding of the ships design. Torstein spoke about the importance of the catamaran being electrical, which meant it has a nearly soundless travel. He elaborated on how this allowed visual impaired individuals to still connect with the sound of nature. From concept to construction, every part of the ship's design is meant to ease one's experience of nature, which also leads to the unique and striking hull structure inspired by the zig-zags of the Trollstigen trail, making every level of the vessel fully wheelchair accessible.
Sitting on Lake Bandak in Telemark is one of the most picturesque saunas Soria Moria, designed by Feste Landscape / Architecture as part of the ‘Tales of the Waterway’ project. David Fjågesund, architect and partner at Feste Landscape, spoke of the poetic of the Soria Moria and its ability to connect architecture, landscape, folklore, cultural heritage and social equality in an inclusive and sustainable design. Completed in 2018, the sauna’s form is inspired by the contours of the surrounding mountains, and clad with wooden shingle in homage to regional building techniques. The exterior of the structure was finished with touches of gold, which makes it gleam in the sunlight, adding to its mystical flair. The sauna is an utopian microcosm and gets its name from the Castle of Soria Moria, from Norwegian folktales. The castle is believed to represent happiness and fulfilment, which is what this structure was meant to incorporate while immersed in the midst of nature.
The last project is a much deeper marine exploration; the Brim Explorer uses a Blueye Robotics underwater drone to dive up to 150 meters underwater. Named after an Old Norse word that means ‘breaking wave’, this digital equipment can allow anyone to explore the world beneath the surface. Consider the number of events and functions that have moved to the digital realm. It is not a stretch to imagine marine explorations as a home-bound exercise. The conversation was tied together with a short presentation by Alice Macdonald, Policy and Campaigns Director, Project Everyone, who spoke about the biennale’s Forest for Change installation.
While the event is not digitally available, the lesson illustrated over the course of the 90-minute presentation postulates new ways of thinking about what comes next.