A small museum by a grand architect

Swiss architect Peter Zumthor has designed a brand new museum to commemorate the short, but important history of the zinc mines outside Sauda in Norway.

There’s an aura of international greatness surrounding the three buildings that are barely visible from highway 520 between Sauda and Helleland in Ryfylke in Rogaland. The road is winding and steep, we’ve driven several hours from Stavanger. When the brown-black buildings on the hillside finally appear, they fell almost exotic, probably because the project has been highlighted in several international magazines and design websites. The architect behind it all, Swiss Peter Zumthor, isn’t just anybody. A perfectionist who involves himself in every detail, if you read between the lines in the local press. The project, which is part of the National Tourist Routes in Norway, is several years overdue with a budget overrun almost as big as the gorge it stands on. But not to worry. When Allmannajuvet officially opens in September, everyone is happy, and with good reason.

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The support structure is part of the exterior of the four buildings which is part of the Allmannajuvet museum. Photo: Fredrik Fløgstad / Statens vegvesen. Architect Peter Zumthor & Partners.

Travelers in western Norway this summer can take a sneak peek at the cafe building and the very elaborate toilets (not to be underestimated when you’re on the road). The buildings look modern, traditional and industrial all at the same time, situated in a part of the country with a long industrial history and where mines have played a key role. The history of mining in Allmannajuvet was, however, rather short. The mines were only in use between 1881 and 1899, though 12,000 tons of zinc was dragged out of the mountain here by over 160 men. Little by little the price of zinc changed and it proved to be an expensive material to extract from the mines. Thus, the mines were closed down after only 18 years of operation.

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The almost completed museum building and the path leading into the mines in Allmannajuvet in May this year. Photo: Silje Lena Loken / NPRA. Architect Peter Zumthor & Partners.

The four buildings that make up the memorial museum cling partly to existing stone structures that the miners left behind. The old buildings have long since been demolished, but lives on in the design of the new.  The four buildings – the service building, the cafe, the museum and entrance to the mines – are as dark inside as they are outside. That makes the view from the windows in the cafe even more prominent. The menu consists of a meat soup similar to the ones the miners themselves ate, which is a sympathetic idea, though the four-layer chocolate cake we were served for dessert is an unlikely part of the the story. In September the last two buildings will open. Next season you can also take a guided tour of the mines.

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Photo: Fredrik Fløgstad/Statens vegvesen. Architect: Peter Zumthor & Partners.

This is not the first time that Peter Zumthor has contributed to the project National Tourist Routes. In Vardø he designed the memorial  Steilneset with artist Louise Bourgeois to commemorate the women that were persecuted as witches here several hundred years ago. The memorial was opened by Queen Sonja in 2011. The museum in Allmannajuvet is also one of several sights along the Ryfylke National Tourist Route. Approximately twenty minutes before coming to the mining museum you can stop by Svandalsfossen, a waterfall that comes down towards and under the road (prepare yourself for a small shower when you get there). A new construction of stairs designed by architect Helge Schjelderup takes you a little further up along the falls before continuing on an old stone staircase almost all the way to the top. That makes 540 steps all together – an excellent way to stretch your legs after a long drive. Ryfylke National Tourist Route is also lined with a wide variety of idyllic picnic areas, weather permitting.

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Via a new staircase you can go almost entirely to the top of Svandalsfossen in Ryfylke. Photo: Helge Stikbakke / Statens vegvesen

National Tourist Routes Norway is a project consisting of 18 routes taking you through some of the most beautiful parts of the country.  A unique project where architects contribute to make it easer to access and experience the sometimes dramatic nature in the different parts of Norway. Several new attractions have just opened, such as the new viewpoint at Gaualarfjellet where you can stand on a ledge over the bay giving you the feeling of almost floating in the air. The areas around Skjerfsfossen in Hardanger and Vøringsfossen in Hardanger have also been upgraded and will be further improved. In 2023, all the roads will be completed. Traveling through Norway by car has never been more exciting than it is now.

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Picnic area with sturdy benches overlooking the Lovrafjorden Suldal. Photo: Jarle Wæhler / Statens vegvesen

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