The Norwegian coastal city of Arendal, historically referred to as Venice of the Nordics, once consisted of seven separate islands. Over the past 100 years, the bays between the islands have been filled in. In 2021, Snøhetta was commissioned to explore how one of city’s old canals could be brought back.
Building on previous analyses and technical reports conducted by Asplan Viak for Kanalselskapet – a company founded in 1990, aiming to bring back the historical canal and create vital and dynamic meeting places in Arendal – the project’s main focus areas have been to illustrate how reestablishing the canal could look, how it would contribute to creating more active and social, urban spaces, and how the canal influences the organization of Norway’s largest annual political festival, Arendalsuka.
With a concentration of urban spaces on the eastern part of town, the current city center can be perceived as dense, leaving the western part of town more vacant. The new canal creates a strategic connection between east and west, establishing a network of blue-green urban spaces and dynamically tying together the city center with a unifying promenade. The design provides several new bridges for both cars and pedestrians.
The canal is designed in a way that creates a unified expression with granite edges and each stretch of the promenade adjusted to resemble its immediate surroundings. The adjacent urban spaces will be refreshed with several new, green qualities such as trees and perennial plantings.
The rebirth of the canal and the new urban spaces in Arendal reignites the history of Arendal as a city of canals. It further provides a unique way of handling the drainage of surface water for an otherwise densely built area. Traces from the old canal can be found underground, with several old canal stones of different sizes. The project aims to reuse the old canal stones, incorporating them in the canal edges, gracefully tying together the city’s past with its future.