“The Whale” will appear from the depths in 2023. | Polarjournal
The fluke of a diving sperm whale just before it disappears into the depths of the sea. Up to 2’000 meters deep and for about 45 minutes these colossi stay under water while hunting for their favorite food, squids. In the background the snow covered mountains of the island Senja
Photo: Stefan Leimer – Photography

The spectacular landscape has always influenced the construction and design of buildings in Norway. In two years, another monumental building will continue this tradition. The Whale will open in Vesterålen in 2023. A globally unique centre that will be dedicated exclusively to whales and their marine habitat.

Since time immemorial, the spectacular landscapes have been a major influence on the inhabitants of Norway in the construction and design of their buildings. Thus architectural gems were produced again and again. The Oslo Opera House is probably the most famous Norwegian building in this respect. Like a huge iceberg, it lies in the middle of the capital on the shore of Oslo Bay and its spurs reach into the harbour waters.

The winning project of the architectural competition was designed by the Danish architectural firm Dørte Mandrup A/S. The building reminds of a gigantic whale fin rising from the sea.
Illustration: Dørte Mandrup Arkitekter/Mir

In 2023, according to current plans, an additional architectural highlight will be added to the list of sensational buildings in Norway. The Whale – as the project is called – will be more than just a fancy building. Rather, the project team’s mission is to “Provide a unique and memorable experience that creates awareness about whales and inspires people to learn more about whales and the ocean and care for them accordingly.”

The view from the lighthouse to wintry Andenes. Front left, the area where The Whale is scheduled to open in two years. Photo: Stefan Leimer – Photography

Andenes was deliberately chosen as the location for The Whale. The small fishing village is located a good 300 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle on the island archipelago of Vesterålen and is one of the top places in the world for whale watching. In the immediate vicinity of the coast, the continental shelf drops steeply to form the Bleik Canyon, which is over 2,000 metres deep. The cold and nutrient-rich waters also provide perfect conditions for exceptionally rich and unique wildlife. Throughout the year, sperm whales can be seen hunting for their favourite food, squid, in the deep sea canyon. But also fin whales, humpback whales and especially killer whales regularly visit the region to profit from the rich food supply. Professional whale safaris have been offered here in Andenes for over 30 years. Meanwhile, the whale watching tours attract up to 30,000 visitors per year. The administration of Andenes has now finally given the green light for the project“The Whale” and pledged money.

Professionally guided whale safaris have been conducted from Andenes since 1987. Besides sperm whales, orcas can also be seen in the fjords of Vesterålen. The animals hunt here the large schools of fish and enchant visitors and locals again and again. Photo: Stefan Leimer – Photography

The Whale is a globally unique attraction that honors whales with a combination of science and art”

Documents architectural tender

Already seven years ago Camilla Ilmoni, responsible for marketing & sales “The Whale”, dreamed of establishing a unique whale centre in the Andøya region. She quickly realized that she was preaching to the choir with her idea. And so, in 2016, her dream turned into the specific project The Whale. A feasibility analysis was carried out in the same year. Further market analyses in Denmark and Iceland followed, and in 2018, financing was largely secured with the establishment of the public limited company The Whale AG . The total budget now amounts to over 450 million Norwegian kroner (approx. 45 million euros). Many investors are not interested in making a profitable investment, but in giving something back to their home country in the long term through The Whale.

Crown Prince Haakon of Norway took the opportunity to learn about The Whale project at first hand. Photo: Stefan Leimer – Photography

The broad parameters defined for the international architectural competition were “The Whale is a globally unique attraction that honors whales with a combination of science and art.” In addition, feedback from hundreds of Andøya residents was incorporated into the requirements documents. On the occasion of an information event, they were given the opportunity to formulate their wishes, concerns, ideas and goals.

Well over a hundred architectural firms worldwide had downloaded the application documents. In the end, over 40 projects were submitted.

The competition was won by the Danish architectural firm Dorte Mandrup A/S. The renowned architect is said to have shed a few tears at the spectacular view during a visit to the site. On her website, she writes: “The Whale tells the story of the big inhabitants of this underwater world, rising as a soft hill on the rocky shore– as if a giant had lifted a thin layer of the crust of the earth and created a cavity underneath.”

The publication of the winning project already created an upheaval internationally. Through the worldwide publications in the media, well over 530 million people have been reached so far.

Indeed, the first animations of the winning project look very promising. In the immediate vicinity of the Andenes lighthouse, the structure will rise from the sea like a gigantic whale’s fin. But without seeming pushy or even arrogant. The building blends almost harmoniously into the overall surroundings. The well thought-out construction allows for an impressive interior that does not require any supporting elements at all. A continuous window front to the north-west allows a view of the open sea and thus of the natural habitat of the whales.

The outdoor area should be available for tourists and locals alike. The slightly curved roof will be walkable, allowing unfiltered contact with nature.
Illustration: Dørte Mandrup Arkitekter/Mir

The outdoor area of The Whale will be free to everyone. Camilla stresses that it was the express wish of the project management that this part be used by visitors and locals alike.

“A major goal of The Whale will be to bring future generations back to nature.”

Camilla Ilmoni, Marketing & Communication The Whale

The Whale does not aim to be a conventional natural history museum, a conventional art museum or a research institution, but rather to combine the best of these three areas. The whales are always in the center of attention.

Young visitors are particularly close to Camilla’s heart: “We have become too alienated from nature”. And further: “A major goal of The Whale will be to lead future generations back to nature. Because, you only protect what you know!”

Stefan Leimer

Link to the website: The Whale

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