For most, the term "overwater hotel" conjures up the image of a thatched roof villa gliding over an azure-colored lagoon in some far-flung, palm tree-studded locale like Bora Bora or the Maldives.
Extending from the shoreline and hoisted high above the water by a series of crisscrossing wooden poles, an in-development hotel named Svart also offers a genuine overwater lodging experience. There’s no mistaking it.
But whereas most overwater resorts are purpose-built to dial up the luxury-drenched escapist atmosphere, Svart extends over water for reasons of sustainability. Detached from the shore, it leaves a minuscule environmental footprint on the surrounding landscape. And this overwater getaway is situated in a locale that can't even remotely be described as tropical. When Svart opens to the public (completion is scheduled for 2021 per Co. Design), guests will find themselves traveling just north of the Arctic Circle to the foot of Svartisen, Norway’s second largest glacier.
The creation of (the sometimes controversy-stirring) Oslo-headquartered architecture firm Snøhetta, Svart juts across the crystalline waters of Holandsfjorden fjord in Meløy, a remote municipality composed of over 700 islands on Norway’s rugged northwestern coast. (On Norways’s southern coast, you’ll find another audacious offshore Snøhetta project in the form of Under, Europe’s first underwater restaurant.)
The ring-shaped building itself is beautiful and otherworldly — a sleek, alien vessel crash-landed in a vast arctic lake. "Building in such a precious environment comes with some clear obligations in terms of preserving the natural beauty and the fauna and flora of the site," writes Snøhetta. "The poles [lifting the building above the fjord] ensure that the building physically places a minimal footprint in the pristine nature, and gives the building an almost transparent appearance."
As for the hotel’s distinctly discoidal design, it references two examples of vernacular architecture common in Norway's Nordland: fiskehjell, a traditional wooden structure used to dry fish, and rorbue, a rustic fisherman’s hut supported by piers on one end. In addition to paying homage to traditional regional architecture, the circular building provides unfettered panoramic views of the fjord and mountainous landscape of Saltfjellet-Svartisen National Park. (In modern day Norwegian, "Svart" translates to "black." In Old Norse, however, it means "black and blue," a reference to the deep, moody hues of the namesake ice mass.)
The world's first energy positive inn
Erecting a hotel directly over a fjord in lieu of building on solid ground isn't the only way in which Snøhetta plans to "leave a minimal environmental footprint on this beautiful Northern nature," to quote founding partner Kjetil Trædal Thorsen.
The property, owned and operated by sustainable tourism company Arctic Adventure of Norway, is slated to be energy positive — essentially the hotel will generate more energy than it consumes. This is a world first for a hotel; the above-the-Arctic Circle locale makes the accomplishment all the more remarkable. Noting that "contributing to the sustainability and the protection of vulnerable nature is becoming an important part of the travel experience for very many tourists," Norway's tourism bureau goes as far as to call the project "the world's most environmentally friendly hotel."
To meet its energy positive goals, Svart will be built to meet the Powerhouse standard, a rigorous sustainable building standard conceived by Snøhetta, Swedish construction behemoth Skanska and a handful of other Scandinavian companies. (Lloyd Alter at sister site Treehugger gives a good primer on Powerhouse in this 2014 post, describing it as "different and harder" than net-zero energy certification in that it "actually takes the life-cycle of the building into account.")
Powerhouse buildings are "energy-producing buildings that, in the course of a 60-year period, will generate more renewable energy than the total amount of energy that would be required to sustain daily operations and to build, produce materials and demolish the building," Snøhetta explains.
As for Svart, "not only does this new hotel reduce its yearly energy consumption by approximately 85% compared to a modern hotel, but it also produces its own energy — an absolute 'must' in this precious arctic environment."
Obviously designing an energy positive hotel in a northern environment provided Snøhetta with a unique set of challenges. (A small handful of other buildings built to the Powerhouse standard have been completed, all in Norway but none this far north.) There are, however, some perks to attempting such a sustainable building situated above the Arctic Circle.
Snøhetta writes: "The hotel’s roof is clad with Norwegian solar panels produced with clean hydro energy reducing the carbon footprint even further. Because of the long summer nights of this area, the yearly production of sun power will actually by higher than the amount of energy you would harvest further south."
Clad in large windows, the building’s circular design is optimized to harvest maximum sunlight with "hotel rooms, restaurants and terraces that are strategically placed to exploit the sun’s energy throughout the day and seasons."
However, my favorite feature of Svart doesn’t have to do with energy use or generation, which is certainly the most headline-grabby element of the project.
I’m more drawn to the circular wooden boardwalk sandwiched in between the hotel and the water — a magnificent place to take a (semi-sheltered) morning constitutional if there ever was one. It drives home Snøhetta's mission to create "an experience of living proximity with nature." Cleverly integrated into the building's load-bearing support structure, the boardwalk, which also doubles as a pier, is open to guests during the summer; during the colder months, it serves as a storage area for boats. It's also lifted just high enough above the surface of the water to allow for kayaks to pass under the hotel during high and low tides.
Snøhetta notes that Svart will not be accessible to guests via land. Instead, an "energy neutral boat shuttle" will link this most spectacular — and environmental sensitive — overwater hotel to Bodø, a port city located about 95 miles to the north.
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