Driven to distraction: the Norway road trip where cool design meets dramatic scenery

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Rest stop area above the Utsikten valley, on the Gaularfjellet route
Rest stop area above the Utsikten valley, on the Gaularfjellet route

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Rest stop area above the Utsikten valley, on the Gaularfjellet route
Rest stop area above the Utsikten valley, on the Gaularfjellet route

Norway’s roadside architecture project, part of its National Tourist Routes, has led to the creation of bridges and viewing platforms that make every journey a tour de force – and more new designs are on the horizon

Vertigo-inducing viewing platforms, island-hopping bridges, and some of the funkiest toilet facilities in the northern hemisphere: these are just a sample of the design flourishes that Norway’s National Tourist Routes programme (NTR) has introduced across the country over the past 15 years. Add to this the fact that the roads programme has been a great incubator for Norway’s young, vibrant architectural scene – which is respected for its daring and imagination across Europe – and for anyone heading north this summer, with design leanings or simply curious, a road trip beckons.

This is a far cry from the NTR’s beginnings. The first pilot project by the then young – and today highly respected – firm of Jensen & Skodvin Architects (JSA) was completed in western Norway in 1997. Aimed at drawing tourists into the stunning, if rarely visited, landscape through appealing roadside architecture, a full programme was subsequently launched, with 18 routes across Norway’s south, its coastal regions and the far north eventually chosen in 2004. The pieces were primarily architectural, though in places, art installations and sculptures were also introduced, and by the end of the decade a host of impressive works were adding roadside lustre to the grandeur of Norway’s geography. A programme of rest stops, viewing platforms, bridges, walkways and restaurants was rolled out, with some jaw-dropping moments such as Tommie Wilhelmsen and Todd Saunders’ Aurland lookout.

Prior to the programme the roads were in remote and sparsely populated parts of the country and only lightly used, all but empty for mile upon mile. But with the gradual creation of NTR’s network, traffic has increased, with tourists arriving from all over the world.

The routes still number 18, but other buildings and features have been added, with a tranche of new projects opening over summer 2016. These include the by-now familiar fare of hiking paths, rest areas, toilets and viewing platforms mainly in the south of the country, such as at Skjervsfossen, Hardanger, designed by Fortunen Architects and opened in May. More dramatically, Code Arkitektur has just completed an ambitious viewing point with the concrete ramp jutting over the vast Utsikten valley on the Gaularfjellet route. There are new artists’ works as well, such as Jan Freuchen’s columnar sculpture installation, which marks a walk at Vevang, on the Atlantic Road route. […]

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