Forum Arkitekter. The Hardanger Bridge

– A breathtaking domestication of nature –

For a long time, the Norwegian word for road, vei, was not understood as we do today. We regard a road as a long piece of hard ground where a vehicle can drive on.1 However, until the Middle Ages a vei was merely a five metre wide stroke of land which the local farmers kept free of trees. This was due to Norway’s rough and barren nature which made it hard to build real roads. As a result, getting from one place to another was something difficult and the first roads were seen purely as a practical exploitation of the dangerous landscape.2 But infrastructure can do more than just serving the purpose of transportation.
This article will show how infrastructure step by step domesticated the nature in Norway, how it let us experience the landscape in different ways and how it even can be as impressive as the landscape itself, for which the Hardangerbridge serves as an example.

IMG_01_Bridal Procession on the Hardangerfjord

National romanticism and the introduction of railways in the 19th century

In the beginning of the 19th century the attitude towards nature changed under the influence of the national romantic movement. After signing the constitution in 1814, the Norwegians tried to define their own identity, part of which is the natural landscape.3 People came to see nature as something that could be enjoyed and painters like Tideman and Gude started depicting the untouched Norwegian wilderness.
During these decades a big step in the accessibility of the countryside was made by the introduction of the first railways due to the need for transportation of wood.4 The railroads not only meant a further domestication of nature, they also drastically changed the experience of the landscape. They took away all the previous difficulties of the journey and transformed the scenery into a panorama that could be enjoyed.
The person who was in charge of making the railways was the engineer and landscape photographer Carl Pihl. He propagated the new aesthetic enjoyment of nature and saw the building of the railways as a means to open up the landscape to the public. Interesting is that from the pictures he made during the construction of the railway tracks we can derive that he not only celebrated nature but also the newly built infrastructure. The pictures have the same composition as the romantic landscape paintings, but they show manmade structures instead of rough nature. Mari Hvattum, professor of architecture history and theory writes about this: “It is not the sublimity of a grand, untouched nature that is being invoked here – the endless ocean or the overwhelming mountain. Rather, it is the sublimity of the manmade, once it gets big enough, fast enough, or complex enough to take on the scale and incomprehensibility of nature”.5

IMG_02_Bridge over Nidelva at Sluppen

Crossing the fjords

In the 1950’s the building of bridges across the fjords started in order to eliminate ferry connections.6 This can be seen as the next step in improving the accessibility of the country. Expanding technological knowledge on all aspects of bridge building increased the size of the spans and therewith man’s control over nature. This resulted in the design of the 1300 m long Hardangerbridge, which was opened in 2013.
The bridges changed the experience of the landscape, just as the railways did a century earlier. Before, the only way to cross a fjord was by boat, in most cases a ferry. A ferry ships its travellers close to the water, it goes on set times at a certain speed and is dependent on weather conditions. This is opposed to a bridge, which keeps a distance between the travellers and the water, which can be taken any time and at one’s preferred speed and which is not susceptible to the weather.


IMG_04_Construction sequence
 a.  Tunnels are made on each side of the fjord
 b.  Foundations for the pylons and the pylons themselves are made
 c.  Anchor chambers are made
 d.  The main cables are made on the site
 e.  Suspension cables are attached to the main cables
 f.  23 steel box girder sections are attached to the suspension cables

 - Vehicles on the bridge push down the deck, causing tension forces in the suspension cables
 - The suspension cables transfer the forces to the main cable, where tension forces occur too
 - The main cables transfer the forces to the towers
 - The towers, where compression forces occur, transfer the forces via the foundations to the ground
 - The main cables are held back by the anchorages, which splay the cables into separate strands to distribitute the tension load

The Hardangerbridge

The Hardangerbridge is interesting due to the different experience of both the bridge and the surrounding landscape given by the tunnels on each side of the bridge. Normally, you see a bridge and its position in the landscape from a distance. You drive towards it, turn and enter after which you can see everything from a different angle. However, before you enter the Hardanger bridge you drive through a tunnel for some kilometres, leaving no possibility to see the bridge as a whole until you reach the end of the tunnel at the beginning of the bridge.
There was great effort put in the design of the view from that point, which forms a contrast to the dark tunnel. The 23 m high tunnel openings allow the travellers to see almost the whole bridge. The top of the view is formed by the crossbeams of the towers, the lower side of which is shaped as an arch, as if you enter the bridge through a gate.

IMG_06_Relation between the tunnel opening and the tower

The second interesting part of the Hardanger bridge is the way it becomes part of the landscape. In itself, the bridge has a very practical design, most of it being based on structural and economical optimisation. The location was chosen because the fjord narrows there, the structural principle (the suspension bridge) because it basically was the only feasible possibility. The pylons are positioned as close to each other as possible without touching the water because of the steep slopes and the rising costs and difficulties is would cause when putting them closer together. Also the materials, the shape of the towers and the deck as well as the position of the suspension cables are all based on technical requirements.
However, the fact that the design is mainly the result of structural engineering – in an email to the author the project leader calls it “the art of structural engineering” 7– does not mean a lack of architectural quality. In fact, this structure does not need anything extra to make it worth your attention. The elegance of the suspending structure, the impressive 200 m high towers and the length of the span, all contribute to the fact that the bridge goes one step further than only showing the travellers the beautiful landscape. It blends in perfectly by matching the scale and the sublimity of the surrounding nature, thereby becoming an attraction on its own.

IMG_07_The bridge in the landscape

IMG_08_view from the Hardanger bridge


“Definition of ‘road’.” Take Heed/pay Heed Definition and Meaning | Collins English Dictionary. Accessed November 09, 2018.

Høyum, Nina Frang, and Janike Kampevold Larsen. Views – Norway Seen from the Road 1733-2020. Oslo: Forlaget Press, 2012.

3 Bø, Gudleiv. The History of a Norwegian National Identity. Oslo: University of Oslo, n.d. file_db/scandinavian-studies/ Nation-building-the-Norwegian-way.pdf;
Falnes, Oscar Julius. National Romanticism in Norway. New York: Colombia University Press, 1933.

4 Hvattum, Mari, Janike Kampevold Larsen, Brita Brenna, and Beate Elvebakk. Routes, Roads and Landscapes. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2011.

5 Ibid

6 Brun, Johan. Våre Bruer. Oslo: Damm, 2003.;
Grenstad, Gyda, Sunniva Schjetne, and Alf Støle. Vakre Veger: Road Development and Landscape Architecture in Norway. Munchen, Germany: Callwey Verlag, 2004.

7 Isaksen, Bjørn. “Hardangerbridge.” E-mail message to author. September 20, 2018.


IMG_00: Picture taken by author

IMG_01: Gude, Hans, and Adoph Tidemand. “Brudeferd I Hardanger.” Digital image. Accessed November 9, 2018. 011042436982/ brudeferd-i-hardanger-maleri.

IMG_02: Picture taken by Carl Abraham Pihl, from Høyum, Nina Frang, and Janike Kampevold Larsen. Views – Norway Seen from the Road 1733-2020. Oslo: Forlaget Press, 2012.

IMG_03: made by author

IMG_04: made by author

IMG_05: made by author

IMG_06: made by author

IMG_07: Photo: S. Ulvund, edited by Statens Vegvesen and author

IMG_08: Picture taken by Laura Vander Mijnsbrugge