Norway is a spoilt country. Not only did Norwegians find that treasure chest at the bottom of the sea, they didn’t even need to look for the beautiful nature. But in spite of the fjords, rapids and mountains – three fine things that Norway has in abundance – the country has had a difficult time in competing on the international tourist front. What should Norway do?

The answer was formulated rather vaguely at the beginning of the 1990s by a man called Jan Søilen, who was then head of roads in Oppland. He suspected what polls later confirmed: that when the route itself is the aim of the journey, then tourists happily choose Norway. Can a roadside resting-place, a bird-watching tower, a path, a toilet or a bridge be designed so well and so excitingly that tourists will go out of their way, stop for an extra cup of coffee, stay a few more nights – well then that’s a true success for both the country and the countryside.
“Quite frankly I saw a need to develop beautiful tourist roads. The idea isn’t unique, it has been tested in other countries. And the credit for the project’s development in Norway is not down to me, but to Jan Andresen. He developed the idea and imbued it with a quality concept.”

In 1993 Jan Andresen was head of planning at the same office for roads in Lillehammer as Jan Søilen and was given the task of drawing up the guiding principles for how a state-financed experimental project might look. The idea was to do something that was fundamentally different from other countries’ often culturally historically characterised tourist roads. Norway wanted to encourage tourism by creating new architecture
and art. The experimental project was called “Rejselivsprojektet” and was carried out from 1994–1997.
From the very start, the project management showed that it was serious in its talk about quality, by connecting artists to “aesthetic advisors” with the task of raising the artistic level. In retrospect one can see how the venture became a type of nursery for a whole new generation of architects, that the Road Administration in its commissioning role deliberately helped to bring out.
The experiment was considered so successful that the Norwegian parliament decided to extend it to “The tourist road project” in 1998, and has been working to develop 14 new stretches of road since that time. In connection with the major investment, the aesthetic advisors were replaced by architectural advisors. Today there are two of these, both composed of an architect, a landscape architect and an artist.

“The first thing we did was to send letters to all the municipalities and tourist organisations asking them to suggest stretches of road that could be upgraded to national tourist road standards”, says Andresen, who today is the project leader for the entire Tourist road project, directly subordinate to the Norwegian director of Public Roads Administration.

Fifty-two proposals were received and after a tough selection, 18 were left. Kvalitetsstyret was responsible for the choice, an organization with representatives from the tourist industry, nature conservation authorities, the Norwegian motorists’ organisation, etc.
In order to qualify as a national tourist road, a stretch needed to give “a continuous driving experience through unique nature with a clear profile.”

In spite of the fact that in public debates it has been maintained that tourist road finances should be placed on improvements to the normal road network, the Norwegian Road Administration is happy working with tourism and discussing roads as “branded goods” in its presentation material.

“Well, the basis for the Road Administration’s activity has always been about developing industry. In this way tourist roads are a rather natural part of us”, says Andresen calmly, accustomed to having the role of the Road Administration questioned.

Now, when the project is half-way to completion, at least regarding time, it is time to move the focus from the planning to the building stage. In 2009 at least half of the 18 stretches of road will be ready. The next one, the fifth, to be branded a national tourist road, is the stretch at Lofoten.

The Norwegian tourist roads can be compared to a 1,620 kilometre-long and around seven-metre-wide flypaper that the tourists will hopefully get stuck to (on). And there are plenty more figures to show the size of the project: the 18 stretches have an average of 15 built sites each, from small parking spaces costing 200,000 kronor to large multimillion-class buildings. In total around 250 sites are being planned, built and
evaluated before the completion of the project in 2015.

Another way to understand the scope of the project is to hitch a ride one day with Helge Stikbakke, project leader, responsible for three stretches of road. During the hours it takes to go back and forth along the 42-kilometre-stretch of Rondane, and stopping several times in this borderland between high mountains and an old cultural landscape, he finds time to talk about hardships and causes of rejoicing since he started
on the project in 2003. In spite of the political and economic uncertainty inherent in the project (decision-making politicians are exchanged and new subsidies must be granted every year), he believes in the bearing capacity of the project.

“The greatest challenge is to get all the local players to aim at the same goal. Those of us in the project must be at the forefront and show what we mean by quality, set good examples. You must take into account that local investments from industry, that we are hoping our ventures will encourage, won’t happen until afterwards.”
He slows down on a straight patch of road and turns off. We have come to one of the good examples: Sohlbergplassen, a new look-out point designed by Carl-Viggo Hølmebakk (opened in June 2006).
“This place is a work of genius. It is both complex and modest at the same time. It’s not until you stop and get out the car that you discover that a small artwork is lying in wait between the pines”, says Helge Stikbakke.
The artwork or look-out point, whatever you want to designate it, billows forwards at street level while the ground slopes sharply downwards.
The idea has been to create a place that forms itself from nature, disturbing the vegetation as little as possible. That’s why there are bars in the cement flooring so that the sunlight and rain can reach in under the terrace. Not one single tree, yes, a pine (and they stand close to each other) needed to be felled to make room for the construction that rests on long steel pillars anchored into the mountain. The longest pillars are about 20
metres long.
Helge Stikbakke is actually a surveyor, and has worked many years at several different positions within the Norwegian Road Administration. Today he considers himself a mixture between an industry consultant, a marketing man and a project leader. He describes the work with the architectural advisors as stimulating.

Read the hole article in the new issue, no 3.06

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