Architects: Saunders Architecture
Location: Stokke, Norway
Project Team: Todd Saunders, Attila Béres, Ken Beheim-Schwarzbach
Client: Stokke Municipality and Sti For Øye Sculptural Park
Built area: 30 sqm (11 m length, 1.2 to 3.5 m width, 4.5 m height)
Completion: January 2012
Photographs: Bent René Synnevåg
This sculptural installation was designed for the Sti For Øye sculpture park in Stokke, set amongst the Vestfold oak forest to the south of Oslo. Working alongside landscape architect and professor Rainer Stange in order to create the infrastructure for a woodland walk past a series of artists’ installations, Saunders proposed a series of steel and wooden walkways set at the highest point of the site, looking east towards Slottsfjellet, or castle rock. The design plays with the idea of an artificially facilitated foray up above the forest floor, an elevated viewpoint that would otherwise be unavailable to the visitor.
The design was whittled down from a set of twenty original ideas, a process Saunders calls a ‘form of Darwinism,’ an architectural evolution whereby only the fittest concepts survive. The object presents a unique experience, with the rusted four-tone Corten exterior seemingly harsh against the soft landscape, but as the visitor rises the contrasting wooden cladding of the inner surface creates a surprisingly warm environment to reflect the forest. The glass balustrade emphasizes the thinness of the structure, and the installation forms a vertical element that visitors have to ascend to lift them above the horizontal forest.
Saunders calls this form a ‘one-liner in the landscape,’ a stairway to nowhere that works through the simple act of raising the viewpoint a few feet in the air. The solitary staircase, gives the object a surrealist appearance or a memory of a long lost ruin, the last remains of which still exists in the depths of this remote wood.
As with all Saunders’s landscape based projects, be they residential, sculptural or commercial, the site was intensely and thoroughly surveyed, resulting in a contour map accurate to 25cm. ‘It’s an absurd thing to place a staircase in a forest, but in a flat landscape you need some verticality,’ says Saunders, ‘so it’s important that the object reads well in the landscape.’
The final structure was flown in by helicopter. The careful surveying ensured that not a single tree had to be cut to accommodate the new stairway to the sky, and the ambitions of the project were realized. Meticulously observed as a component of its surroundings, the Viewpoint is the solitary functional object in the art park.