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This Land is Aurland

Norway’s Sognefjord is the longest in the world, stretching some 200 kilometers into the country from the North Atlantic. And though I’ve spent the last couple days darting about the freezing waters on ferries, gawking at passing porpoises and mooning over the hazy vistas—which bear a surprisingly strong resemblance to the gauzy pink paintings of the 19th century Norwegian Romantics like JC Dahl (a previous, if more Viking-enthralled, incarnation of Thomas Kincaid to be sure)—no view has been better than the one from Canadian architect Todd Saunders’ perilously curved lookout about the fjordside town of Aurland.

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Opened in June 2006 and constructed of linden wood, the lookout echoes the forms of the wharves and piers that project into the fjord itself. But set some 3,000 feet above Aurlandsfjord, a snaking arm of Sognefjord (as high as the water is deep) the long lines and quick, swooping drop—an effect made exhilaratingly real just inches beyond the glass barrier at the edge—provides an altogether less nautical sensation. 

Viewed from sea level, the lookout suggests a letter of the alphabet or some errant bit of punctuation writ large amidst the trees.  Closer inspection reveals a wooden hook, a spar jutting out, supported by two metal piloti and joined, it seems, through an S-curving system of tongues and grooves.

The precipitous descent off the lookout is made all more frightening by the fact that the low, glass guard wall tilts away from the viewers such that they actually have to lean out over the drop to put a hand on it.  It also shines the reflections of viewseekers brave enough to venture out to the precipice back toward them, as though the water of the fjord, and not the glass screen, were producing the image.

In addition to the wooden promontory, Saunders put together a small set of restrooms atop a rock wall that feels somewhere between a battlement and a breakwater, just a few yards away. In keeping with the boxy lines of the lookout, the bathrooms are a pair of black cubes that utterly disappear when viewed from a distance, a clever maneuver that makes the bathrooms both understatedly elegant and utterly subordinate to the high-flying architecture just beyond.

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