For National Geographic Nordic
In the North Atlantic Ocean some 320 km away from the nearest inhabited land sits the Faroe Islands. Remote, exposed, pristine. Small islands in the middle of a turbulent ocean grouped together around calmer sounds that once were the only means of transportation between the communities that are spread out in small clusters around the coastlines. Today tunnels and bridges have connected the Faroese population but when moving around on these green islands you still have a sense of balancing on an edge and being very exposed to both climate and horizon. 

The earliest settlers came here ca 1150 years ago with livestock, tools and knowledge of building and adapted it to this specific place. Being always wedged between slope and coastline with a very small margin of flat land for housing and farming, the architecture and settlement of the Faroe Islands evolved into something unique. Clusters of houses placed very closely together shielding the wind for the neighbor, minimizing heat loss and creating pockets of space shared by each other. There is almost no sprawl here. No singular buildings dispersing aimlessly into the landscape. Here dwellings are grouped in tightly knitted systems with no long straight roads and uniform grids. Here you have passages, kinks, and pockets of spaces shared by each other. Communal spaces within a building tradition that stretches back to times when materials had to be locally available.

In urban planning we talk about how we in the future will need to live more closely together in our cities and share resources in order to make a sustainable transition to a less consumptive society. To improve livability and safety in our cities we need to focus on the social benefits you can get out of small of communities within the cities, where the personal contact to your neighbors provides a sense of place in an enormous urban fabric. A build up environment composed of materials that have longevity and can be recycled and decomposed is important when we the coming 50 years will see the available building materials run out. The need of adaptability is crucial when our coastal cities will have to adjust to massive changes in their natural surroundings. And a much closer relationship to our natural resources is the most important factor for all societies if we are to understand the effects our cities are causing to the environment still sustaining us.

Do the Faroe Islands hold the answers to these transitions? Maybe not. But many of the elements are present here – as they are in many of the coastal communities I have visited. When coastal mega cities need to live up to their responsibilities of a both resilient and ecologically sound future for their citizens they will need to look elsewhere for solutions. Why not take inspiration from a society that so beautifully straddles the border between nature and civilization.

// Rasmus Hjortshøj – COAST Studio

Eysturoy - East coast cliffs
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