by Uni Leitisstein Hansen
Photos: White Arkitekter/ Beauty and the Bit
Published: Atlantic Review #4 - 2016
Runavík, a town of 5,000 on Eysturoy, represented the Faroe Islands in the international architecture contest Nordic Built Cities Challenge.
The Nordic Council of Ministers organized the contest to identify quality, innovative and sustainable architectural solutions to urban challenges in the Nordic region.
Runavík was selected because of its steep challenging terrain and was competing with five other towns and cities, including Oslo and Copenhagen.
Twenty submissions for Runavík came in from across Europe. The winner “The Eyes of Runavík,” by Danish firm White Architects, proposes constructing apartment blocks on its slopes. Each local finalist competed with the other five and the overall winner was announced in the beginning of November. The Eyes of Runavík finished 3rd in the contest.
For Tórbjørn Jacobsen, Runavík’s mayor, the contest has been a positive experience. Particularly as so far, “construction in the area has been guided more by engineering than design.”
There is a reason for this. Runavík is an industrial town, which grew up around a filleting plant in the mid 50s. Everything was built mainly to serve the interests of industry. Pragmatism was prioritised over aesthetics. One glaring example is the quarry right in the middle of town - when the pier was built, rock was simply quarried from the nearest possible location.
The municipality wants to change this, but has limited and very steep areas available for construction. At the same time, there is large demand for housing, and the housing market needs to diversify to also cater to those not looking to build a detached house.
This is where White Architects’ proposal comes in.
The Eyes of Runavík
The jury said that the strength of the proposed apartment blocks included ensuring that every apartment has a good view, as well as rethinking the ‘tún’ the traditional Faroese yard connecting houses, which used to be a gathering point for locals. Túns foster more cohesion and shared experiences than detached housing.
Also, the proposed layout will provide shelter for outdoor activities, no minor advantage on the windswept archipelago.
“We strive to understand what makes each place special. For us the landscape dictates the conditions and the Faroese slopes are a challenge. We observed a lack of convincing construction in steep areas, so we set out to create the extraordinary. We have attempted to bring nature and individuals closer. Making living on a mountainside an incredible opportunity to create new forms of housing, rather than just blasting away the whole landscape,” explains Morten Vedelsbøl, Creative Director, White Architects.
Finance and tradition
The local mayor is pleased with the proposal.
“Personally I hope to see the winning proposal constructed, but it has to make sense both for those interested in buying the apartments and the firm willing to build the apartments.”
And a quick decision is needed, because of pressure on the local authority to provide lots for detached houses. For the mayor, “This is perhaps the greatest challenge. People have always been given a lot to build their home. This proposal breaks with tradition, maybe too drastically, although the existing apartments in town are in high demand.”
They Eyes of Runavík would also provide for more homes, 100, compared to the 60 or 80 detached houses that could be plotted on the same area.
In the end, whether or not these Eyes will ever gaze across Skálafjørður fiord hinges on a firm wanting to build them.