Snøhetta’s new Planetarium provides an out-of-this-world experience

Slobservatoriet in Norway is the largest solar observatory North of the Alps, now enriched with a stunning planetarium by the Scandinavian design firm

Courtesy of Snøhetta

Nestled in the dense forest of Harestua, located 45 kilometers north of Oslo, Solobservatoiet is Norway’s largest astronomical facility and the largest solar observatory North of the Alps.

In order to expand the area with a new planetarium and a visitor centre, the choice fell on Scandinavian design firm Snøhetta.

Located 580 meters above sea level in the municipality of Lunner, the enlarged facilities will offer guests the opportunity to discover one of Northern Europe’s foremost astronomical research stations. Snøhetta’s design comprises a brand new 1,500 square-metre planetarium as well as scattered interstellar cabins, each shaped like a small planet, aimed at offering a range of scientific activities within astronomy, sun studies and natural science.

Here, researchers, school children, retirees and international tourists can embark on a journey into the world of astronomy and learn more about natural phenomena, such as the Northern lights and the night sky. No wonder that the new visitor’s center is situated near the original solar observatory, a twelve-meter research tower built by the University of Oslo for the total solar eclipse of 1954.

Today, the visitor’s center – owned by the Tycho Brahe Institute – collaborates closely with researchers and organizations, providing observations of meteor activity, earthquakes and climatic gasses.

Fulfilling the Institute’s mission to enlighten the public about the wonders of the universe, the new Snøhetta designed astronomical facility is designed to inspire a sense of wonder and curiosity, as if the architecture itself was asking the question: Where does the Universe come from?

Courtesy of Snøhetta
Courtesy of Snøhetta

After careful research, the architects studied the design of the cabins which seemingly orbit around the planetarium, imitating how planets orbit around the Sun.

Comfortably accommodating up to 118 guests in total, the facilities capture the imagination of its visitors through an intellectual, visual and tactile journey into the realm of astronomy.

But the Planetarium is the first object that catches the eye when arriving at the facility by foot by trails though the woodland. Indeed, the structure is conceived as a celestial theatre that represents over two millennia of astronomical advance and scientific progress, echoing the world’s very first planetarium which was devised by Archimedes around 250 B.C.

Courtesy of Snøhetta
Courtesy of Snøhetta

The sinuous roof is lushly planted with grass, wild heather, blueberry and lingonberry bushes, curling up from the ground. Wrapping around the golden cupola, the living roof functions as a cross between landscape and built structure that visitors can stroll on to gaze up at the starry sky. Half-sunken into the ground, the three-story theatre emerges from the earth as an orb engraved with constellations, gradually revealing itself as people approach.

At the Planetarium’s heart, the dome-shaped celestial theatre educates visitors about astronomy and the night sky. The 100-seat theatre allows for a realistic projection of stars, planets and celestial objects.

Courtesy of Snøhetta

The theater is surrounded by a reception, café and exhibition area and a gently swirling ramp leading up to an exhibition mezzanine and the outdoor roofscape, while on its lowest level, below ground, the Planetarium dedicates a generous, bowl-shaped space for children to unfold.

Surrounding the Planetarium are the seven orbiting planets – or interstellar cabins, each with its own unique design and whose surfaces are cladded with rough or smooth materials. With some appearing to be halfway driven into the ground, the cabins are less of small-scale models of real-life planets and more of imaginary objects, each with a specifically assigned name.

Six of the planets alternate between 8 and 10 meters in diameter and can accommodate up to 10 and 32 people respectively. The smallest planet, Zolo, is 6 meters in diameter and is composed of a two-bed cabin, allowing for an undisturbed night under the stars.


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