White Arkitekter’s entry, ‘The Eyes of Runavik’, has won the Nordic Built Cities competition in the category Vertical Challenge. The winner was announced on 16th June, in Helsinki, Finland. Departing from the same local climatic and geological conditions that challenge it, the design reveals a new and sustainable residential area in the Faroe Islands with the traditional local farming and settlement modes as the source of inspiration.
Steep terrains with views over fjords and islands, strong winds, geothermal heat, basalt rock and sheep wool are some of the elements which have been carefully considered when designing the project ‘The Eyes of Runavik’. The jury from this initiative – by Nordic Innovation, the Nordic governments and the Nordic Council of Ministers – praises the “iconic character” of the proposal and the mark it leaves on the community, “creating new thinking in relation to traditional construction in Runavik”.
“Minimal impact starts with understanding the conditions, accepting them and making the most out of them. We asked ourselves – how can we create an environment on such a steep slope and in such harsh weather conditions? We decided to transform those challenges into our tools and identity markers” says Morten Vedelsbøl, Creative Director at White Arkitekter in Denmark.
The project explores historical modes of farming and settlement, where the meadow (‘hagi’) is used for summer grazing and the cultivated land (‘bøur’) is generally used for growing crops. By adapting these concepts, the new development helps to create a unique harmony between the wild nature and man-made interventions. There are five houses with a total of residential 100 units in this development, all built on the steep slope with dramatic views over the fjords and the islands. Each building is shaped like a ring – or an eye – and is a self-contained settlement, .surrounded by a meadow – ‘hagi’ – with raw Faroese nature and enveloping an inner cultivated microclimate – ‘bøur. The latter serves also as a more inhabitable outdoor social space for residents.
“The wind is an omnipresent natural force lashing the Faroe Islands from the open ocean, the narrow fjords and the steep mountainsides. Traditionally, this has kept residents indoors when they want to socialise. Our proposal creates protected social areas which are sheltered from the rough weather”, says Morten Vedelsbøl
Exterior spaces that are located inside each ring partially change the climate zones and increase the biodiversity of the site. This is the key element making it possible for growing vegetables and other vegetation, that otherwise would not thrive in the unusual landscape.
Traditional buildings in the Faroese Islands sit on stone foundations, which counteract the steep slope while allowing the abundant rain water to flow from the mountains past the structures. ‘The Eyes of Runavik’ employs new, less invasive construction techniques which incorporate minimal foundations but still serve a similar purpose. With almost no blasting or excavation, the natural contours are preserved and the native biodiversity is promoted. The circular settlements fit the wild Faroese landscape, transforming into eye shapes as they individually respond both to the unique terrain and the prevailing wind. Even the contours of the green roofs directly mimic the shape of the terrain below.
The three storey buildings will have an area of 17,550 sqm and will be built using timber construction and local sheep wool. Combined with the efficiency of a passive house type and renewable energy, this will create conditions for the residences to live by zero emissions over a long term.
The main path connecting the ‘eyes’ to the landscape as well as the town will offer a pedestrian area, making the car a more subordinate character on the road.