by Mrinmayee BhootSep 25, 2023
From nature, we come, and to nature, we belong. To truly preserve, connect and give back to it, we must first discover it. Experiencing the inherent rhythm of nature - in the patient passing of moons, the hues of evanescent sunrises, the stellar rise and fall of seas – makes one wonder how much we miss out on, by failing to tune into this cadence, by forgoing intentionally, gatekeeping our health, by not being present in nature and in turn, ourselves.
As an eloquent yet simple intervention bridging that gap and encouraging us to take out time from our noxious, confining lifestyles to reflect in nature, Norwegian architecture and design practice Snøhetta reveals a unique resting space and tidal installation in Traelvikosen, off the coast of Norway. A pacific series of 55 stepping stones placed equidistant and horizontal lead walkers across water onto a sizeable rocky islet residing wise a few metres away from the sandy shore, boasting views of the powerful stretching landscape around. Illustrating "the passing of time", the steps are designed to remain fully visible at low tide, to enable walking into nature itself, and completely disappear at high tide.
Tides, the second design element making up the installation, symbolises the core concept and unit of time, and its inherent, tangible, and intangible passage of nature, according to the studio's lead landscape architect, Thea Kvamme Hartmann. The Trælvikosen route is purposefully designed to make visitors slow down, observe, learn and sense, copiously raising awareness and attention to detail, to be immersed in the belly of nature by truly experiencing it, than just passing by or watching it from a distance. "The experience might also ignite new reflections on nature itself - and how we take care of it for the future,” adds Thea. The walkway in its width is comfortable enough for two people to walk past each other, although it is optimum for solitary use.
"Together with our client, Norwegian Public Roads Administration, we were aiming for something distinctive. Through their program Norwegian Scenic Routes, they have established a series of experiences for road travellers. Along selected roads in Norway, natural wonders are amplified by art, design, and architecture, offering thought-provoking art in spectacular scenery. The selected roads run through landscapes with unique natural qualities, along coasts and fjords, mountains and waterfalls, and are intended as alternatives to the main roads. Hence the initiative has made a wide range of lesser-known areas more available to the public - to explore, experience and enjoy," the firm relays. As of 2022, Snøhetta’s design installation at Traelvikosen is one of eleven new architectural projects opened as part of the new Scenic Route project series.
The square stones consigned within the water offer contrast with their 'modern', sharp edges, against the soft, organic shapes of nature. The large rock that the stones lead to from the beach enjoys tranquil views towards the famous mountain Torghatten, authoring a fluid experience in line with the tidal level. "It offers a range of impressions, from the small details on the shore to the grand views, and in addition, invites for a deeper understanding of time itself and the ever-changing nature. As the tide retracts and advances, new details and perspectives are revealed, minute by minute, inch by inch," observes the design team. Why 55? The optimum spacing and placement of the granite stones reached this exact number to connect the shore to the islet, with solid ground on both ends of the installation.
Trælvikosen’s sandy bottom holds poetically beautiful, natural elements such as small pyramids of the lugworm, traces of snails moving through the ground, flounders, and round stones in unique formats, as well as the river meandering in an ever-changing trajectory. Within the contextual design, these details are all exposed and not tampered with, letting it exist in its natural state. Snøhetta paints us a picture - “The (scenery) changes throughout the day, and the same goes for the experience of the surroundings. It all happens quickly, but as the tide rises, inch by inch, time seems to stop. This is all exposed in low tide, before everything is covered with clear, blue water.”
To successfully create the tidal installation, Snøhetta carried out substantial testing and thorough research, among other things, for the foundation. For a whole year, the installation was tested out with four stones, resulting in the decision to not cast the foundation, and instead, opt for crushed stone for stability. Added challenges came in the form of the moody tides themselves, as there was only a four-hour window to install the stones before the capricious waters took over the site.
"If we truly want to take better care of our nature, we also need more people to see and learn more about it. At Trælvikosen, we wanted to intentionally design the site to ensure visitors were enticed to stay longer than normal. To truly experience the details, the time and nature itself, and hence also understand it better, as it offers an opportunity to observe the ever-changing rhythms of our nature,” elaborates Hartmann Kvamme.
Traelvikosen is situated by a shallow river estuary in the inner part of a fjord arm, just north of the small city Brønnøysund in Norway. The design team first visited the site in December 2018, and ascertained a rich and wide-ranging plot in terms of geology, with grassy boulders, and a variety of species tracing the large exposed sandy bottom. In tandem with the large tidal differences, the estuary renders the experience change noticeably throughout the day. Apart from a parking lot and other added facilities for visitors, prolonging and maintaining this focus on the powerful experience of nature itself formed the core focus for the project as a contemplative public space.
For Trælvikosen, a landscape design project, sustainability remained inherent, apart from bringing attention to the passage of time. Apparently, the project was meticulously planned and carried out to avoid unnecessary impact or disturbance to the existing natural ecosystem. All through the building phase, construction mats were employed, so that machines could get in and out as gently and carefully as possible. The stepping stones are locally sourced, carved and processed by Evjen Granitt in Bodø before being transported by boat to the site. Displaced topsoil was put back in place, and according to the team, is already flourishing, co-existing peacefully with the installation, almost in a loving, nurturing relationship.
"At Snøhetta, we believe that if we are going to be able to take better care of our nature in the future, we must take the time to discover it. And connect. Plan to stay for a while. This way, you can indeed discover nature and find your ground,” the firm iterates.