For decades, architectural tourism was about checking off the established icons: the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, the Taj Mahal. Those with more than a passing interest in design might make pilgrimages to Fallingwater, the Bradbury Building, or the Farnsworth House for their importance to the field. But in the age of Instagram, a new class of architectural attraction is emerging: buildings conceived to be so sensational—and photogenic—that they inspire expeditions to remote destinations.
Opening this spring, southern Norway’s Under restaurant falls squarely in this category by offering something that experience hunters, gourmands, and amateur photographers won’t be able to resist. Because while a restaurant on the water is nothing new, Under is a restaurant in the water.
Designed by the acclaimed Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta—known for their design for the September 11 Memorial Museum in New York—Under is a 110-foot long, 2,500-ton concrete structure that links land and sea. The monolithic mass was assembled on a barge, towed into position, and plunged into the North Atlantic using large containers of water as weights. Anchored into the seafloor securely at eighteen points, the restaurant’s form rises diagonally onto the shore like a breaching whale or a massive, rectangular periscope.
Diners at Under will traverse a glass walkway to the building and then descend a staircase past a mid-level champagne bar and down to the world’s largest underwater dining room. Clad in warm oak, the restaurant’s deepest chamber has space for 100 diners, who will enjoy a menu of ultra-local fare including mushrooms, berries, sea birds, shellfish, and sheep raised on the neighboring archipelago.
Five meters under the surface, Under ups the ante on farm-to-table cuisine by surrounding its diners with marine life (including some of its menu items). Visible wildlife will include lobsters, seals, spiny dogfish, and massive cod—all illuminated by discreet lights installed on the seabed. And Under will encourage extensive aquatic observation by offering leisurely meals that stretch to four hours.
While one might expect an underwater restaurant to seek placid seas, Under’s location in Lindesnes (Norway’s southernmost tip) promises the opposite of smooth sailing. Here, dramatic weather will be part of the experience.
With its three-foot-thick walls, Under is designed to withstand the extremely harsh North Sea weather and is slightly curved to better weather its waves. Diners can safely watch storm swells through Under’s massive (468 square foot) panoramic window thanks to the project’s extensive site analyses, weather data studies, and rigorous structural engineering. The effect will be dramatic, with stormy seas contrasting against the restaurant’s calm, dim interior.
Intended to become fully integrated with its environment, Under’s coarse concrete exterior will gradually become a mussel reef over time. The mussels will help cleanse the surrounding water and attract more wildlife. When the restaurant isn’t serving, the building will be used as a marine biology research facility to study fish behavior.
While Under hasn’t yet served a single meal, a reservation there is nearly impossible to secure—likely thanks to the extensive press the project has received. Pending the restaurant’s reception, Under could become an anchor for tourism in the area as adventurous diners seek companion activities to their marine adventure.
“We’ll attract tourists from all over the world. That is our goal,” says one of Under’s owners, Gaute Ubostad. “I hope and believe that this will be the start of a new age for the travel industry.” The restaurant may also be part of a new age for the architecture industry, as designers are dared to dream up small, high-interest buildings that attract visitors from the world over. Because while it’s not as grand as the Taj Mahal or established as Fallingwater, Under is sure to inspire thousands of heavily-Instagrammed pilgrimages.
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