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biophilic travels: a restaurant below sea level

in biophilic travels

Eating out is an experience, and restaurant design has a huge role to play in making the experience special.

In this episode of Biophilic Travels, we’re visiting a restaurant that gifts visitors with a one-of-a-kind experience, while establishing a strong connection with the surrounding environment.

View of the dining space.
Credit: Snøhetta - ph: Tomasz Majewski

the design

Located along the Norwegian coastline, Under is a restaurant that occupies a very special position in its environment: sunken underwater. Like a monocle, it dives below sea level, extending all the way down to the seabed.

A conscious approach to design has allowed this massive concrete monolith to fit gently within its surroundings. The rough concrete shell provides a substrate for marine life to settle, progressively turning the building into a reef. This project highlights that the act of building is always disruptive, and a mindful design is what can mitigate the impact on the existing environment or – even better – enrich it.

Exterior view showing how the building sinks underwater.
Credit: Snøhetta
Exterior view showing the surroundings and the entrance.
Credit: Snøhetta - ph: Juergen Pollak

the experience of the space

The feature that makes this space is certainly the glazed back wall in the dining area, which transports visitors into an uncommon and deeply fascinating dimension. Providing a unique vantage point onto underwater life, this natural vista creates a precious opportunity to connect with marine life, notice changes through weather and seasons, and be amazed by water movements and light effects.

Top view of the dining space showing the panoramic view.
Credit: Snøhetta - ph: Juergen Pollak
Close-up of a wall showing an organic light reflection.
Credit: Snøhetta
Close-up of the panoramic view.
Credit: Snøhetta - ph: Juergen Pollak

The space is left rather dark, letting natural light reflections through water set the atmosphere. An intimate atmosphere, that changes quite radically from day to nightime. This lighting choice also shows respect, as too much brightness would have disturbed aquatic life. Once again, consideration of the natural world informs design to adapt new man-made spaces to existing natural ones.

View of the dining space during daytime.
Credit: Snøhetta
View of the dining space at night, much darker and dramatic.
Credit: Snøhetta

Getting to the main dining space is an equally enticing experience: a three-level mysterious descent from land to underwater, with the second floor marking the sea line. Openings on the side of the building call attention to the changing environment, offering more unique views.

View of the staircase bringing down into the dining area.
Credit: Snøhetta - ph: Ivar Kvaal
Slim window looking into the sea.
Credit: Snøhetta
Slim window framing the sea line.
Credit: Snøhetta - ph: Juergen Pollak
View of the entrance space, fully cladded in wood.
Credit: Snøhetta - ph: Tomasz Majewski

beyond the experience

Under is more than a restaurant. The view of marine life is both a beautiful experience and an interesting object of study, especially in such a richly biodiverse area. This is why Under doubles as a research center for marine biology and fish behaviour. The aim is getting a deeper understanding of the local fauna, its behaviour, and dynamics, to inform better conservation initiatives.

Outdoor view showing a wavy sea around the building.
Credit: Snøhetta

Under is a project that embraces a deeply biophilic approach to design in that it contributes to a balanced people-to-nature connection. The space sparks an array of feelings that go from beauty, to astonishment and respect, pointing out the importance of acknowledging all life around us.

Design: Snøhetta

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