The Whale: new attraction in the arctic

The Whale

300 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle in Norway, an architectural wonder is being created: the Danish office Dorte Mandrup has won the competition for the design of the visitor centre The Whale. The new attraction is designed not only to inspire whale watchers, but also to protect nature and wildlife.

Fascination whale

From prehistoric stone pictures and the biblical Jonas in the belly of the whale to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick: Whales have always fascinated mankind. From the Norwegian island of Andøya you can see the sea giants peacefully pulling through the ocean. This is why around 50,000 visitors flock to the small town of Andenes every year since the first whale safari was offered here 32 years ago. Now there is another attraction on site: The Whale – a visitor centre that more than does justice to the lively fascination of the whale.

We want to create a place, an exhibition and a centre of art that the world has never seen before,

explains Andøy’s mayor Jonni H. Solsvik.
Like grown from the landscape itself: Dorte Mandrup’s fascinating project The Whale.

Over three decades it has been shown that the big sperm whales that live northwest of Andenes are a constant phenomenon.

This gives us a unique starting point to tell the story of the whales. Now we’re giving the world a whole new attraction that focuses on the whale.

The winning Team

Winner of the international competition for this unique project: the Danish Studio Dorte Mandrup, famous for its exceptional designs. And the concept behind The Whale is indeed spectacular. Mandrup’s winning team includes specialists who fit in with the plan of a building with a museum character that has been respectfully set in a natural landscape. These include Marianne Levinsen Landskab for Landscape Architecture and JAC Studio for the exhibitions. Also involved: the engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti and AT Plan & Arkitektur, as well as marine researcher Nils Øien and museum curator Anders Kold.

The selection of a winner of the architectural competition was a great challenge because we had several proposals of very high quality. But Dorte Mandrup’s project is a clear winner. It meets the competition criteria in the best possible way,

says Børre Berglund, CEO of The Whale AS and jury chairman of the architectural competition.

The concept

Mandrup’s concept is “poetic and quiet”, but at the same time exciting and unusual. This gives them the opportunity to create a world-class attraction. The architectural whale will grow out of the dramatic Norwegian landscape on the edge of the ocean. It rises like a gentle, natural hill on the rocky shore. It is as if a giant had lifted a thin layer of the earth’s crust and created a cavity underneath.

From the roof visitors will be able to enjoy a clear view of the sea, the mountains, the midnight sun or the northern lights.

The Whale will house exhibition rooms, offices, a café and a shop. Visitors will be able to stroll around on the roof and enjoy uninterrupted views of the sea, mountains, midnight sun and even northern lights.

Design that follows the landscape

For Mandrup, the landscape was decisive for the design. The parabolic shape of the roof is defined by three elevated points of the terrain, the foundation of the natural ground. Large windows open to the archipelago and visually connect the exhibition rooms with the wide surroundings. The connection between building and nature is further strengthened by the use of stone. The curved roof is also covered with stones that patinate in a natural way. This underlines the harmony between the Norwegian landscape and the new building.

We will not only create architecture in another remarkable landscape. We will also help improve understanding of whales and the conservation of marine life,

says Dorte Mandrup.
The Whale from inside: Gigantic views from the “belly” of the architectural whale.

Here, on the edge of the ocean, we will make our mark in a beautiful and ancient landscape. This opportunity brings with it great, motivating and inspiring responsibility,

says the architect.

The Whale to be opened in 2022

The fact that Dorte Mandrup Studio pays particular attention to nature and the environment has already been proven in many projects. Good examples include the Wadden Sea Centre in Ribe, Denmark, and the Eisfjord Centre in Ilulissat, Greenland. Both are located in sensitive zones and are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Whale will not only be carefully integrated into the landscape, but will also add an additional element.

Architecture as animal and environmental protection

Architect Dorte Mandrup’s declared goal: to protect the marine environment and animals through art, science and architecture. The spectacular new building is scheduled to open in 2022.

37 designs were submitted for the competition announced by The Whale AS in spring 2019. Four of them qualified for the final round. In addition to Dorte Mandrup’s project, those of the renowned architectural firms BIG, Snøhetta and Reiulf Ramstad also qualified.

Huge windows right on the shore: The extraordinary building will enable unforgettable nature experiences.

Great expectations

Dorte Mandrup’s concept was declared the winner at the beginning of November. The region has high expectations for the project.

This facility will enable Andøy to be the most important whale destination in Northern Europe.

Mayor Jonni H. Solsvik

The Whale will help to better understand and learn more about the marine giants. In a building whose design respectfully bows to these fascinating creatures.

Text: Elisabeth Schneyder
Photos: MIR / Dorte Ma