Stokke Sculpture Park in the county of Vestfold, Norway, is a two kilometer long trail set among crags and ridges amid the oak forest south of Oslo, just a little more than an hour’s drive by car from the capital.
The sculpture park, named ‘Trail for the Eye’ was instigated in 2001 and opened to the public in the autumn of 2009. 12 works have been installed by Scandinavian artists, or artists living in Norway. Lighting along the trail has been designed by Erik Selmer.
As you enjoy the woodland walk throughout the park, you will reach the highest point of the site. There, a steel and wooden installation is waiting for you to enter, climb the stairs and reach the platform to enjoy the eastern views of a castle and creating an optical illusion for the entire space.
Canadian architect Todd Saunders has designed the stair in the middle of the remote Norwegian forest. It stands there alone, like a surrealist memory of a long lost ruin.
Saunders moved to Norway in 1996 and set up his practice in Bergen. He has since then embraced the quality of nature in this part of the world with projects that interact beautifully with the different surroundings. He is internationally known for his award-winning architecture.
It was Grethe Meyer Iversen who had the idea to transform a pathway in the forest to a sculpture park. She was inspired by the Aurland Lookout, which Saunders designed with Tommie Wilhelmesen in 2006. In Aurland an abrupt bridge leaps out from a cliff into the open air, giving an extraordinary view over the dramatic mountainous scenery. Meyer Iversen invited Saunders to create an architectural sculpture at the highest point of the path that would function as a final destination for the visitors.
Saunders calls the stair a “one-liner in the landscape,” a stairway to nowhere that works through the simple act of raising the viewpoint a few feet in the air.
Entering the stair, the visitor is embraced with this warm environment that reflects the forest. The glass-balustrade emphasizes the thinness of the structure and its aesthetic side.
As with all Saunders’ landscape-based projects, be they residential, sculptural, or commercial, the site was intensely and thoroughly surveyed, resulting in a contour map accurate to 25 cm.
“It’s an absurd thing to place a staircase in a forest, but in a flat landscape you need some verticality,” says Saunders, “so it’s important that the object reads well in the landscape.
The final structure was flown in by helicopter. The careful surveying ensured that not a single tree had to be cut to accommodate the new stairway to the sky.
It turned out that the trail Meyer Iversen had learned to love was covered with rhomb porphyry, which is known to exist in only three rift areas in the world — in East Africa and Antarctica — besides Stokke. The forest on both sides of the trail also has the richest deposit of deciduous trees in Norway.
Stairway to the Sky, written by Tor Kjolberg
Artistic Architecture in Norway and Newfoundland