Increasingly, the influence of social media and the popularity of iconic imagery determines how, when, and where one should travel. The more an image is shared, viewed, or liked the more credibility a destination has. Yet, standards based solely on a photograph don’t consider the essence of the place. It’s human nature to want to gather, explore, and exist in spaces that have symbolic meaning or presence, which suggests that it’s the experience of a place that matters most.
Aware of these trends, Norway has invested more than $250 million toward the re-development of 18 National Tourist Routes in order to contest the present-day loss of nature-filled charm. Commissioned by the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, the 15-year project focuses on re-evaluating the concept of tourism by redefining these previously far-reaching spaces. Along the 1,025-mile expedition are 250 rest stops, picnic areas, and observation decks that seek to highlight the cultural, historical, and natural beauty of the spaces that many otherwise find themselves passing through. Each space exhibits an artistic or architectural intervention from an ever-growing list of noteworthy designers who do not pursue creating design spectacles, but more importantly seek to draw visitors outward, under, across, and within his or her surroundings. These projects epitomize the power of design to highlight the natural environment. Each project tells a story about the place and focuses on subtly complementing the surroundings in which they exist in order to allow for naturally occurring singularities to take center stage. In this way, these spaces begin to pull visitors further from their sometimes narrow, driven mindset toward one that allows them to construct their own awareness and interpretations within the spaces they inhabit. It is from these interpretations and experiences that we create our own unique spirit of places—the connections, moments, and individual identifications within a space that keep us returning.
As my graduation approached last year I decided to take the advice of many to invest in traveling. Three months, multiple countries, and countless peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches later, I found myself accessing many of the roadways along the Western regions of Norway. Regarded as one of the most beautiful roads in the world, the Trollstiegen Visitor Centre is one of 5 architectural projects along the 66-mile Geiranger-Trollstigen tourist route and was a high point of my trip. Trollstiegen, translated as the Trolls Path, was designed by Norway-based architects Reiulf Ramstad Architects with one goal: to highlight the uniqueness of the surrounding landscape. The team focused on delicate interjections as a means to more effectively present nature without trying to change it. These interjections manifested in the creation of form and also materiality, seeking to erase the barrier between man and nature. Perched overlooking a fjord, the 15-hectare site places visitors over the cliff’s edge and connects them more directly within with the mountains, river, and sky. To many, this project’s success lies in the harmonious display of dynamic and static elements that highlight the pure and captivating beauty of the site’s surroundings.
Although the project celebrated 60 percent completion this year, its impact is already speaking volumes. The National Tourist Routes governmental initiative has inspired smaller collections of foundations, national parks, and private concerns to invest in the progress of other equally inspirational nature-focused commissions across Norway and has also stimulated the development of tourist-related businesses within these regions to meet the growing interests from both local and foreign visitors. According to the World Tourism Organization Yearbook of Tourism Statistics, visitation has risen from 2.8 million travelers in 1995 to 4.8 million in 2015. Another recent study conducted by Innovations Norway states that the highest volume of visitor interest lies in “experiencing nature.” To that end, one thing remains clear: these places must be visited to be experienced, something I can confidently recommend.
Chris Anderson is a designer in the Laguna Beach studio.