Gentle Interventions

Together with Fortunen Architects, Østengen & Bergo Landscape Architects have added an attraction to Norway’s National Tourist Route. Through their design, Skjervsfossen waterfall can now be experienced in many ways. In the following article, Kari Bergo of Østengen & Bergo Landscape Architects and Nils Johan Mannsåker of Fortunen Architects explain their concept and realization of gentle interventions in the landscape.

Skjervsfossen is situated near Voss, close to a former highway that connected the east and west of Norway. For decades, the beauty of Skjervs-fossen was overlooked due to heavy commercial traffic on the highway. It was a roadside waterfall that passers only noticed as cars were spattered by it when they crossed the bridge. In 2011, a tunnel rerouted traffic, and new possibilities arose for Skjervsfossen as a tourist destination. It was included by the Norwegian Public Roads Administration (Statens Vegvesen) in their portfolio of National Tourist Routes attractions, which feature many examples of spectacular views created by eye-catching architecture. Statens Vegvesen signed Østengen & Bergo Landscape Architects to design both an overall project concept and a new service area by the waterfall, with Fortunen Architects designing the restroom building. 

From viewpoint to experience point 

The landscape surrounding the waterfall is a narrow valley formed like a deep bowl. The waterfall drops 135 meters over two sections, divided by a terrace and a road bridge. Skjervsfossen was for a long time a hidden treasure, guarded by the rough and inaccessible landscape surrounding it. During analysis of the site, we found several points of interest, and since the terrain is steep and almost impossible to walk in, a trail made of natural stone became a central artery of the project, connecting several views of the upper waterfall, a new parking area with picnic and restroom facilities, and two universally designed pathways leading to the edge and bottom of the drop.

Instead of leading the public to a single point to view the waterfall from a certain distance and angle, the project invites visitors to enter and enjoy the landscape. The interventions offer different experiences of the waterfall: looking at wild river flow just before it drops, feeling dizziness while standing on the edge of the fall, or hearing the rumbling of the cascade from within the lush forest. At the bottom of the valley, a universally designed pathway leads to the foot of the fall itself. Here visitors can experience the extreme power of the water and be completely showered during periods of high water level in the river.

Landscape of Stones

Local natural stone is the main material used at Skjervsfossen, in the restroom building, service area, and on nature trails. The color scheme has been carefully adapted to the environment, with robust fences in rebar and benches in concrete. The abrupt rising figure of the restroom building creates a landmark from the road but does not interfere with the landscape and waterfall view once visitors reach the parking area. The building was designed with a sense of humbleness in the face of nature and placed directly on the shore of the river.

The building’s concept is a piece of rock from the surroundings moved to the actual site. Its shape makes it a non-house, a sculpture of solid rock, pieces of which also make up the facade’s cladding. From the interior, which is covered with warm-colored plywood of pine, a vertical stripe of glass runs from the river at its bottom, through the wood and rock, all the way to the sky. […]

Skjervsfossen Waterfall, National Tourist Route, Garnvin, Norway
Client: Statens Vegvesen, Norwegian Public Roads Administration
Landscape Architect: Østengen & Bergo Landscape Architects
Architects: Fortunen Architects
Construction: 2015

Read on in Topos 93 – Fragile Landscapes.