Travel after mass tourism: what do landmarks for a new age look like?

This is the fifth and final instalment in an ongoing series in which we look at how spatial design is helping the travel industry create a more socially and environmentally conscious form of tourism.

Common sense would suggest that the planet’s ever-increasing list of fragile and damaged ecosystems are not appropriate locations for tourist venues. Sometimes a more interventionist approach is necessary, however, especially where there’s a need to spotlight an overlooked area in order to generate greater understanding of its conditions. When this can be done in a way that works with the environment, the creation of landmarks – beacons that suddenly make a location visible – can be vital.

This has become an increasingly prevalent strategy in China, a nation trying to redress the health of both its countryside and the rural populations that live there. The Woodhouse Hotel, located in the isolated village of Tuanjie in China’s Guizhou Provence, is one of the first results of a government policy designed to bring agricultural tourism to impoverished farming communities. Ten wooden cabins, designed by native practice ZJJZ Atelier, cover a wooded hillside overlooking the village. Their simple forms – either pitched, mono-pitched or flat depending on size – are covered in charred timber that blends into the surroundings, and raised on steel platforms to minimize disturbance to the forest ecology. For a country that has seen the largest urban migration in history, and that remains the world’s biggest polluter, these sorts of initiatives could help reconnect the population with the idea that they can be stewards of nature, rather than exploiters.

Designed by Snøhetta and located in Norway, Europe’s first underwater restaurant features 0.5-m-thick curved concrete walls that will turn into an artificial mussel reef over time.

In Europe, one practice in particular has been leading the development of environmentally conscious projects that act to transform locations into destinations. Snøhetta’s Svart Hotel (which we covered in Frame 124) sits adjacent to Svartisen glacier in Norway’s far north. Guests will be encouraged to explore the adjacent fjord, forage for their dinner on the surrounding mountain slopes and book climbing expeditions up the glacier itself. Svart will also be the first energy-positive hotel inside the Arctic Circle, requiring 85 per cent less power than a traditional hotel of a similar scale. Guests will be able to discover the science and technology behind the hotel’s construction in an on-site design laboratory, while engineers will continue to work on site after its 2022 launch with the aim to take the hotel completely off-grid within five years of operation.

The firm has also recently completed Europe’s first underwater restaurant, near the remote village of Båly, also in Norway. The 0.5-m-thick curved concrete walls provide ample protection for up to 40 diners. While not a material usually associated with environmentally sensitive projects, the concrete has an intentionally rough-textured finish that will help transform it into an artificial mussel reef over time. Out of hours, the building will transform into a marine laboratory to study fish behaviour.

More from this issue

Frame 134

The May/June issue of Frame was produced when the coronavirus was wreaking havoc in Southeast Asia, but seemed like distant thunder in the rest of the world. But by the time we went to print, the entire globe had been severely impacted. With the travel industry ostensibly upended overnight, it may seem like a strange time to address the topic. Prophetically, though, we centre on remote hospitality. How can the sector spread tourism more evenly? Suddenly, in the current era of social distancing, our take on travel has never been more relevant.

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