Situated in the remote Norwegian village of Båly, Under is Europe’s first underwater restaurant and the largest in the world.
Juxtaposition is at the heart of this project, with the sea storms of Norway’s rugged coastline beautifully contrasting with the tranquillity of Under’s interior. Designed by native architects Snøhetta, this is a dining experience like no other.
An aquatic approach to architectural design
On first sight, you might think Under is another building that’s fallen victim of coastline erosion and ended up in the depths of the sea. But as you get closer, you see it’s supposed to be there – its home is the water.
Under doesn’t benefit from the warmer climes of other locations for underwater structures such as Dubai or the Maldives. It’s amid the fierce roar of the North Sea. The structure has been created with reinforced, convex concrete shell, and one-metre-thick acrylic windows minimise the coastal impact caused be the harsh marine environment. But those are the conditions Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, founding partner of Snøhetta, craved – “we wanted more waves, and we wanted more wind”, he said in a recent interview.
Resembling a periscope protruding out of the water, the restaurant forms of monolithic concrete tube and was designed with simplicity in mind. Measuring at 34 metres in length, the exposed outer concrete shell enables Under to seamlessly camouflage itself into the surrounding rocks to become part of the environment rather than a standout feature.
The construction of Under also took a unique approach. Over six months, the venue was built on a barge 20 metres away from its intended spot, before being manoeuvred into position on completion using a crane and tug boat. The concrete shell was then flooded to submerge it five metres to the ocean floor, before 18 bolts anchored it to the seabed.
The essence of Scandi interiors
Inside, the cragged coastline couldn’t seem further away. The exterior design of Under is designed to withstand the hyperborean conditions whilst becoming part of its surroundings – the interior has been aligned to the total opposite, with peace, warmth and tranquillity at its very heart.
As you descend the staircase on the shore to enter, you’ll find Under spread across three tiered levels with a flowing interior style seen throughout. An emphasis has been placed on using local resource, with native craftsman Hamran decking out the space for 40 diners, using understated furniture and soft oak cladding. The ceilings and walls are panelled with Norwegian wood too.
But Under’s pièce de résistance is the panoramic acrylic window looking out into the depths of the North Sea. Sized 11 metres wide and three metres in heights, the window is an oceanic theatre with panoramic views of the icy waters taking the lead role and the marine flora and fauna making a stirring performance.
To illuminate the view, subtle lighting has been installed onto both the sea bed and the exterior of the building – Snøhetta hope these lights will attract wildlife to interact with the structure too. It removes the risk of claustrophobia by creating a space that feels open and airy, not one that is submerge under the sea.
For the cuisine, head chef Nicolai Ellitsgaard has had the unenviable task of creating a menu befitting of the location and experience. He’s created a gastronomic oasis, with a food listing packed with pretty much anything you’d see floating by as you looked outside of the acrylic window. Nicolai puts his two Michelin star-worthy culinary skills to beautiful effect.
Much more than just a restaurant
Alongside Under’s culinary roots, the venue will act as a hub for marine conservation, studying and learning.
During the periods when the restaurant isn’t open, Under will double as a laboratory for marine biologists to study the behavioural patterns of the fish that inhabit the North Sea. Researchers are undertaking studies to further understand a fish’s reaction to light and test the feasibility of training wild fish through sounds. Tracking behaviour across the varying seasons will also be a huge area of research.
The exterior walls of Under will also play a pivotal role in helping support the local marine wildlife. Snøhetta’s design sees the outside left with an exposed, rough texture to encourage algae and molluscs to cling onto the side of it, eventually creating an artificial reef for mussels which will help purify the water and bring more wildlife to the coastline.
Joining marine conservation, outstanding architecture and a culinary masterclass, Under is challenging the norm when it comes to experience-centric restaurants.
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