DESIGN DESTINATION | Under, Norway's subaquatic eatery

Under is as wild as the coastline it's sunken into

21 April 2019 - 00:00 By Mila Crewe-Brown

Under, Europe's first subaquatic restaurant, has been built on the rough southern Norwegian coastline. Designing firm Snohetta was named the Wall Street Journal's Architecture Innovator of the Year. Forget kitsch ocean-themed restaurants or windows peering into swimming pools. Like a shipwrecked vessel, the building's hefty, lopsided form breaks the water line alongside the rugged ocean.
"The idea was to create a simple, monolithic form that breaks the surface of the water to rest directly on the sea-bed 5m below. We wanted it to look like it dives right into the water. Another inspiration was the abandoned World War 2 bunkers that dot the Norwegian coastline and the way they have blended back into nature," says architect and project manager Rune Grasdal.
Beyond its concept and design, Under is an impressive feat of structural engineering. Built on a barge as a concrete shell with sealed-in windows, the entire structure had to be sunk into position by a crane and tugboats. To sink the structure to its bedrock-anchored concrete slab, it was initially filled with water to make it heavier and later emptied.
At this point in the coastline, regular violent storms can make conditions inhospitable, providing adventurous guests reason to want to explore, and shelter. Because of the location's impressive biodiversity, the restaurant also functions as a marine research centre. The architects have used rough concrete as the shell in the hope that, over time, marine life will inhabit its surface, much like a reef.
In the bar area a narrow vertical window slices the restaurant, offering a view of both the surface, where waves crash and break, and the sea bed below. It gives dramatic views of both above and below the ocean in the same instant.
The restaurant's piece de resistance is the 11m-wide, 3.4m-high glass window that offers diners the opportunity to witness life on the ocean floor.
"Guests will be able to see a wide variety of fish species, jellyfish, sea urchins, birds diving under water for food, crabs, kelp, limpets and more.
"Life outside the restaurant at Norway's southern tip is very rich and varied," Grasdal comments.
The restaurant's design hinges on the notion of descending into the depths as the architects played with materiality throughout the space. At its oak-clad entrance, sound is dampened as if under water. The ceiling is clad with a Kvadrat textile which conceals acoustic panelling, its colour gradually changing from sunset tones to a deep oceanic blue as guests arrive at the restaurant's core.
Similarly, the texture of the locally sourced Norwegian oak that clads the interior changes from rough and raw in the upper reaches to smooth down below.
Interior lighting has been carefully planned to keep reflection off the window to a minimum, while outside, in front of the window, lighting is used to illuminate the dark ocean bed, attracting fish.

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