Located near the Norwegian town of Sarpsborg, close to the border with Sweden, the recently opened Solberg Tower and Park complex sits in a clearing in a thick forest, beside an unspoilt strip of the Norwegian coastline. It was a setting too good to pass by and one that presented Canadian-born, Norway-based architect Todd Saunders with his most creatively free venture to date.
The clients - the Norwegian Highway Department together with the Regional Government – first approached his practice a few years ago. Interestingly, their aim was to develop the brief alongside its designer – a rare chance for the architect to be involved at such an early stage in a public commission, directly affecting not just the structure’s shape but also its use.
The team had to reconcile the site’s strengths – the amazing views towards the sea, the wealth of ancient Viking rock engravings in the surrounding forest and the accessibility of the location, thanks to the adjacent motorway that links the two neighbouring Scandinavian countries together – with its main challenge, namely the noise pollution created by the latter. The idea of offering a space that would connect people with nature, be a cultural hub for the area, as well as a peaceful stopover on tiring car journeys, quickly started to take shape.
To create this quiet resting area, Saunders incorporated a spiralling ramp into his design that leads visitors to the tower, while cutting off a serene slate-and-gravel paved area of about 2000sqm from the road. Within those limits he designed seven small CorTen steel-clad semi-open pavilions containing visitor information and details on the close-by Viking engravings. At the same time, the simple concrete and wood structure of the Solberg Tower – which translates as ‘sun mountain’ - rises 30m high, overlooking the dramatic coastal fjord views.
Solberg Park’s pavilions will also function as temporary exhibition spaces and, while highlighting the area’s rich natural beauty and history, will also be a much-needed cultural attraction for the whole region.