Solobservatoriet at Harestua
Planetarium and visitor center

2010–

Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Interior Architecture

Introduction

Nestled in the dense forest of Harestua, located 45 kilometers north of Oslo in the municipality of Lunner, Snøhetta has designed a new planetarium and a visitor center for Norway’s largest astronomical facility. Solobservatoriet is the largest solar observatory North of the Alps, and with its top-notch equipment and elevated site 580 meters above sea level, the expanded facilities will offer guests the opportunity to discover one of Northern Europe’s foremost astronomical research stations.

Technical details

Typologies
Hospitality, Renovation & Expansion, Museum & Gallery, Education & Research
Status
Ongoing
Location
Harestua, Norway
Client

Tycho Brahe Instituttet AS

Size
1 500 m2

Photo: Plomp

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 is owned by the Tycho Brahe Institute, named after the 16th century Danish scientist and founder of modern observational astronomy. The 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?

Photo: Plomp

The Planetarium

Through the design phase, the architects studied simple principles from astronomy. The study inspired the design of the cabins which seemingly orbit around the planetarium, imitating how planets orbit around the Sun, inspiring a sense of wonder and surprise. 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.

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. 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.

Photo: Plomp

Photo: Plomp

The Planets

Surrounding the Planetarium are the seven orbiting planets – or interstellar cabins, each with its own unique design. The planets’ surfaces are cladded with rough or smooth materials. While some appear to be halfway driven into the ground, others are gently resting on the soft forest floor, as if they just landed.

Rather than small-scale models of real-life planets, the cabins are 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.

The new Planetarium and cabins represent an ambitious expansion of the current and modest facilities, turning the entire site into a publicly accessible and international knowledge hub while also providing expanded support spaces for activities such as teambuilding, lectures and seminars.

Photo: Plomp

Photo: Snøhetta