Under – Europe’s First Underwater Restaurant by Snøhetta
Europe’s first underwater restaurant opened in Lindesnes, Norway on March 20th, 2019. Located at the southernmost point of the Norwegian coastline, where the sea storms from the north and south meet, the project is situated at a unique confluence.
Marine species flourish here in the both briny and brackish waters to produce a natural abundance in biodiversity at the site. The Snøhetta-designed restaurant also functions as a research center for marine life, providing a tribute to the wild fauna of the sea and to the rocky coastline of Norway’s southern tip.
In Norwegian, “under” has the dual meaning of ”below” and ”wonder”. Half-sunken into the sea, the building’s 34-meter long monolithic form breaks the surface of the water to rest directly on the seabed five meters below. The structure is designed to fully integrate into its marine environment over time, as the roughness of the concrete shell will function as an artificial reef, welcoming limpets and kelp to inhabit it. With the thick concrete walls lying against the craggy shoreline, the structure is built to withstand pressure and shock from the rugged sea conditions. Like a sunken periscope, the luxury restaurant’s massive window offers a view of the seabed as it changes throughout the seasons and varying weather conditions.
At the seabed, five meters below sea level lies the panoramic eye of the modern restaurant. An eleven-meter-wide and 3.4-meter-tall horizontal window offers a visual gateway to the sea and connects the guests to the wildlife outside.
“Under is a natural progression of our experimentation with boundaries”, says Snøhetta founder and architect, Kjetil Trædal Thorsen.
“As a new landmark for Southern Norway, Under proposes unexpected combinations of pronouns and prepositions, and challenges what determines a person’s physical placement in their environment. In this building, you may find yourself underwater, over the seabed, between land and sea. This will offer you new perspectives and ways of seeing the world, both beyond and beneath the waterline”.
Lindesnes is known for its intense weather conditions, which can change from calm to stormy several times a day. Upon arriving at the site, the visitor’s impressions of the unruly outdoors quickly dissolve as they are ushered through into the hushed, oak-clad foyer. The rich interiors create a warm, welcoming atmosphere inside the underwater restaurant.
As a metaphor for the journey of descending from land to sea, textile-clad ceiling panels reference the colors of a sunset dropping into the ocean, accompanying one’s passage down the stairs. The subtle elegance of the finely woven ceiling panels lends a serene ambiance to the building.
The underwater restaurant seats 35-40 dinner guests every night, in a modern dining room protected by half a meter-thick concrete walls. Its culinary focus is to create a fine dining experience based on high quality, locally-sourced produce, with a special emphasis on sustainable wildlife capture. Danish expatriate Nicolai Ellitsgaard from acclaimed restaurant Måltid in Kristiansand is the Head Chef, bringing an international, 16-person kitchen team with experience from top Michelin restaurants.
Snøhetta has in collaboration with local carpentry workshop Hamran designed exclusive furniture for the restaurant, with a chair as the central artifact. The dining chair is designed as one continuous form that and mimics the way that the branches naturally progress from the tree stem in the angled corners.
Through employing traditional handcraft methods, the furniture series represents the philosophy of the project as a whole; to build solid structures for the future without compromising the natural beauty that lies inherent in the raw materials.
An equally important part of the project is the building’s facilitation of marine research. The contemporary restaurant will welcome interdisciplinary research teams studying marine biology and fish behavior, through cameras and other measurement tools that are installed on and outside the facade of the underwater restaurant. The researchers’ aim is to document the population, behavior and diversity of species that are living around the restaurant, through cameras and live observation. The goal of the research is to collect data that can be programmed into machine learning tools that monitor the population dynamics of key marine species on a regular basis, thereby creating new opportunities to improve official marine resource management.