Norway's National Tourist Routes: Redefining Sustainable Design

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In 2005, Norway launched a 15-year campaign to reevaluate the concept of tourism -- and the early results are stunning

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In 2005, Norway launched The National Tourist Routes, a vast 15-year campaign re-evaluating the concept of tourism by transforming it into a culturally active product. To achieve their goals, the government turned to a stellar congregation of designers and architects, including Margrete Friis, Peter Zumthor, PUSHAK arkitekter, Code Arkitektur, Manthey Kula, Snohetta, and Jensen & Skodvin. Each architect or firm was asked to create their own stunning, but nature-aware, rest stops, observation decks, and other small-scale architectural jewels. The results are attractive -- and already shaping the new tourist routes that can be found from the southern town of Jaeren to the northern city of Varenger.

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Hopefully this is a move that will not only generate greater tourist activity for beautiful Norway but will also lead to a model that inspires other governments. Already, some smaller groups are following Norway's lead: The launch of the National Tourist Routes government initiative quickly spawned equally inspiring and nature-regarding commissions by foundations, national parks, and private investors in Norway.

The architectural gestures -- often so small or subtle that their part in the tourist route experience can almost go unnoticed -- bravely fight concerns that, due to the pragmatic present-day nature of state-level decision-making in Norway, nature-going has lost the previous charm of Nordic tourism. They imbue the landscape with points of view and call attention to the cultural and historical heritage of spaces, contributing to what we perceive as the spirit of a place -- that thing that makes us remember it, love it, and go back to it.

Image: Steinar Skaar.

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