The World Under
Under is situated at the dynamic confluence of the north and south sea storms, located at the southernmost point of the Norwegian coastline. The area boasts of a rich biodiversity hotspot. Numerous marine species flourish in natural abundance in these briny and brackish waters. A tribute and commemoration to the aquatic ecosystem of the sea and the rocky coastline of Norway’s southern tip, Under, comes as an ambitious realization of the same. Designed by Snøhetta, this restaurant also functions as a marine-life research center.
Built for an immersive experience, Snøhetta designed almost everything for Under, from the delicate oak interiors to the steel serving tables. Very elegant on the inside and rugged on the outside, Under is reminiscent of the Nazi bunkers that still dot the landscape of the Norwegian coastline. The reef-like board-formed concrete shell paves the way for this radical experimentation. Upon the first arrival at the site, one’s impressions of the rugged, bold outdoors drastically dissolve into numbness and tranquillity as they enter into the hushed humbling oak foyer. The space creates an additional experiential journey through the exploration of materiality. The rough and raw timber finishes transition into a delicate subtle oak staircase as one begins his/her descent. Brass and steel handrails and fixtures help in this transition as one move even deeper into an even more subtle interior space wrapped in fabric. The ambience of the restaurant is very welcoming and induces a great sense of mystery.
An Ethereal Journey
“It’s not every day you construct a building both over and underwater,” says Snøhetta’s senior interior architect, Heidi Pettersvold Nygaard, “so the authorities insisted it must be as fire-resistant as an airport.”
The oak interiors are made 11 inches thick; the acoustic panels are composed of fire-retardant fabrics infused with a colour transition that morphs from red to blue as one goes deeper. As a metaphor for the experiential journey of descent, the interiors turn darker and intensify through the use of colour gradations. The textile cladding stretches over acoustic panels to conform to the colour of sunsets melting on the waves of the sea; as one journey through the entirety of the structure, the environment around him/her changes from point to point. It starts with a rather neutral sunset pink coloured ceiling, to intense coral, then to subtle sea green, and finally culminates into an ethereal midnight blue at the end of the dining room. This transition induces a strong sense of going ‘under’ from ‘above’.
A very complex lighting system is designed with the most intricacy to minimize the reflectivity of the panoramic view and maximize the marine experience. A total of around 400 LED lamps is used to illuminate the dining area with utmost subtlety. These lights respond to different lighting conditions both inside and outside the building at different times of the day. The seabed is lit up with artificial lighting during the darkest of hours to attract aquatic life. Even the scientists have been thrilled to witness rare species of jellyfish that are attracted to the viewing point via this design intervention.
Snohetta also designed an exclusive furniture series for Under. The designed chair has become a crucial artefact that mimics the form of a branch’s natural progression from a tree stem in angled corners.
The design acts as an enabler for the visitor to peek, ponder, contemplate and decipher the evolution and existence of aquatic life and the environment of the North Sea. Built on the sophisticated thread of ecological balance between the various topographical realms, it attempts to make its users aware of the sustainability model and its importance in today’s context. Under is a statement of coexistence. It focuses on the coexistence of lifeforms as above, so below and aims to sensitize the masses about the importance of this intimate ecological relationship.
Submerged up to a depth of 5 meters into the seabed, Under is a monolithic concrete structure designed to blend with the marine environment. The walls are made of monolithic concrete, which is about a meter thick. The structure is strategically made lightly curved to withstand pressure from the sea waves and bear the wrath of sea storms and thrashing waves.
Another striking feature of the concrete shell is the fact that its external surface is left unfinished in terms of material finishes. This deliberate design decision was made to attract sea creatures. The crudeness and the brutalist character of the concrete shell have a resemblance to an artificial reef and thus help in bonding with the marine life all around it.
A mammoth 36 feet X 11 feet window forms an integral part of this submerged concrete block and acts as a viewing point for the users. It accentuates the picturesque ethereal view of the marine world. The scale and position of the window form a link between the visitors, and the ocean and its aquatic life. It intensifies the experiential journey that the users look forward to.
Envisioned and designed by Snøhetta, and actualized into reality by BRG Entreprenør (main contractor), Asplan Viak (structural consultant), and CoreMarine (wave impact and environmental consultant); Under, is the world’s largest underwater restaurant which houses 100 guests at a time.
The project started with the structure being built on a barge around 20 meters from the point of submersion, as a concrete hollow shell tube. The large windows were fitted into the structure before its submersion. During the process of its submersion, the structure floated on its own along the sea line and was carefully and meticulously moved to its final point of location using cranes and tugboats. It was only after this positioning of the structure, that the structural work in its entirety was completed. The built form was then bolted to a concrete slab anchored to the bedrock under the seabed. One of the many interesting building construction methodologies adopted was filling the structure with water to make it sink so that the construction team could ensure an efficient and accurate connection to the bolts on the concrete slab. After the bolts were completely tightened to their respective places, the water was drained off and the interior work began.
A Role Reversal
A set of contrasting phenomena, Under, is a dialogue between the landscape and the sea; the world above with the world below; brutalist concrete body with utterly delicate oak interiors; spaces that can withstand the harshest of storms with spaces housing an ambient elegance. The design stands at the node of duality or ambivalence of perceptions and experiences. Overlooking the large window deep into the seabed amid flourishing marine biodiversity, one might stumble upon a rather existential question, “who is the subject here after all?” where humankind is walled up in an aquarium and the fishes are but the onlookers in the wild.
- Architecturalrecord.com. 2022. | Architectural Record. [online] Available at: <https://www.architecturalrecord.com/articles/14048-under-by-sn%C3%B8hetta> [Accessed 13 August 2022].
- 2022. [online] Available at: <https://www.dezeen.com/2019/03/20/underwater-restaurant-under-snohetta-baly-norway/> [Accessed 13 August 2022].
- ArchDaily. 2022. Under / Snøhetta. [online] Available at: <https://www.archdaily.com/913575/under-snohetta> [Accessed 13 August 2022].