Norway’s Next Architectural Masterpiece Is a Whale-Watching Museum in the Arctic Circle
The curved structure will resemble a giant rock rising from the shores of Andøya, a northern Norwegian island that’s considered one of the world’s best places to spot migrating whales.
Norway is home to some impressive architectural attractions, including a contemporary art museum that doubles as a twisting bridge above a river (north of Oslo) and a semi-submerged structure on the country’s southern coast that’s considered the world’s largest underwater restaurant. An equally mind-blowing building is in progress on the rugged coast of Andøya, the northernmost island in Norway’s Vesterålen archipelago. Dubbed the Whale, the design-forward structure will serve as a coastal viewpoint and an educational museum for visitors seeking out the area’s abundant marine wildlife.
Designed by the Copenhagen-based architecture studio Dorte Mandrup, the waterfront site will be located on Andøya’s northern tip in Andenes, a coastal village that welcomes around 50,000 visitors each year for its world-class whale-watching opportunities. Because of the island’s location about 186 miles north of the Arctic Circle, the surrounding cold, deep waters attract abundant squid, which in turn draw large numbers of whales to the areas offshore. It’s possible to spot pilot, minke, and sperm whales near Andenes from June to August, and during winter, orcas and humpback whales migrate through the fjords of Vesterålen as well as through the Lofoten archipelago, located just to the south.
The unique museum was originally slated to open in 2022, but its construction was postponed earlier this year after remnants of a Viking Age settlement were discovered on the building site. (The Viking mound in Andenes has been known to archaeologists since the late 19th century, but the recent findings showed the settlement was even larger than previously thought, making it Norway’s largest.) Of course, the museum’s construction was delayed due to added zoning measures to protect the archaeological findings. Now, the Whale is slated to open in June 2023 in the historic area.
The undulating structure will be constructed to resemble a large stone that “grows out of the landscape” and “rises naturally as a soft hill on the rocky shore,” according to a press release from the Danish architecture firm. The Whale’s stone-covered rooftop, also its whale-spotting platform, will consist of a single, parabolic concrete “shell”—Dorte Mandrup says its curved shaped will minimize the building’s overall material use as part of an effort to maintain a sustainable design for the structure.
Visitors will be able to walk directly onto the rooftop from the ground areas on either side of the sloped platform. The landscape surrounding the museum will include a web of paths and stepping stones open to the public, leading to various platforms and viewpoints, including a tidepool and campfire.
Beyond its open-air coastal viewpoint, the Whale will house sprawling exhibition spaces with whale-related artifacts, a café, and museum store. Visitors will also be able to watch for migrating whales from inside the exhibition spaces, which are lined with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the Norwegian Sea.
In regard to the Viking Age artifacts that were newly unearthed in the area, the Whale’s board chairman Benn Eidissensaid said: “We are excited about what’s hiding in the ground and we are certainly open to including any findings in the exhibition.” (No further details have been released.)
The Whale’s overall mission is to “create awareness and inspire [the] conservation of whales and their environment,” according to a press release. While it isn’t expected to debut in northern Norway until 2023, the Whale will open during a pivotal time for conversations about marine conservation and climate change because 2021 marks the first year of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development; the global organization says it will aim to “create a new foundation across the science-policy interface to strengthen the management of our oceans.”
This article originally appeared online in November 2019; it was updated on December 30, 2020, to include current information.