At the southernmost tip of the Norwegian coastline, at a small place called Båly in the municipality of Lindesnes, Snøhetta has designed Europe’s very first underwater restaurant.
The building’s imposing monolithic form was built on a barge moored at its future location and then lowered into the sea and fixed to the ocean bottom using steel rods. The result is a structure that rests on the craggy shoreline, but is partly submerged beneath the waves so it actually becomes part of the marine environment. Under was designed with particular care for its marine context. Its elegantly sleek concrete structure has a deliberately rough surface for mussels to cling to. Over time, as this mollusc community grows, the submerged monolith will become an artificial mussel reef that functions dually to rinse the sea and naturally attract more marine life to its purified waters.
With its half meter-thick concrete walls, the structure is built to withstand the pressure and shock of rugged sea conditions. Its massive panoramic acrylic window – 11 x 4 m – with thickness of 288 mm offers a view of the sea bed and the way it changes with the seasons and different weather conditions. Under’s architecture, menu and teaching mission are all designed to give visitors an experience that stuns the senses and combines a feeling of wonder and awe at the power of nature.
The restaurant also houses an interdisciplinary research team who study marine biology and fish behaviour. These researchers will help create the best possible conditions for fish and molluscs to prosper in, next to a restaurant that can comfortably seat 100 guests. A modest lighting system in the restaurant draws diners’ attention to the underwater life outside the window.
The visitor’s experience involves a descent through three levels, just like a deep sea dive, but with no wet suit or oxygen tank. From the entrance, guests enter the wardrobe area and then continue down a floor to the Champagne Bar, which marks the transition between the shoreline and the ocean. This physical transformation is emphasized by a narrow acrylic window that cuts vertically through the restaurant levels. From the bar, guests can look down at the seabed level of the restaurant, where two long dining tables and several smaller tables are placed in front of the large panoramic window.
The restaurant’s colour scheme follows the logic of the different construction areas. So the Champagne Bar is characterised by the subtle colours of the surrounding coastline and its shell, rock and sand sediments, while the Dining Room is submerged in darker blues and greens inspired by the seabed, seaweed and restless waves. An intimate atmosphere is also created in the restaurant interiors thanks to the contrast between the structure’s warm oak panelling and the rough colouring of its concrete shell. It is the shell that houses the lighting system too. Designed by AF Lighting who tested various solutions before making their final choice, it consists of approximately 400 one-cell, recessed Laser Blade XS luminaires positioned in a way that ensures their light is focused on the tables. At the same time, it leaves the general environment in semi-darkness to respect the depths of the sea and leave the marine life undisturbed. The compact dimensions of the luminaires mean they are completely concealed in the ceiling and thanks to their special features they look as if they are off even when seen from different perspectives.
The service lighting system, required for table service, has also been reduced to a minimum thanks to the use of tags that interact with the luminaires. So the Laser Blade XS luminaires come on when waiters approach and turn off once they have passed. This means an atmosphere of intimacy is created for the guests and respect for the marine environment is guaranteed.
Client: Gaute and Stig Ubostad
Architectural project: Snøhetta
Lighting project: ÅF Lighting – Morten Jensen
Construction: SubMar Group (wave and marine operations calculations) BRG Asplan Viak
Photographer: Tomasz Majewski