Looking through Google images of a famous natural site in Norway—a huge cliff that looms almost 2,000 feet over a fjord—designer Rick Chen started to think about the people in the photos, posing with feet dangling over the edge or pretending climb down.
Like many modern visitors to natural places these days, they seemed to be thinking more about their next post on Instagram than fully experiencing the nature around them.
Chen thinks design could change that, and has a crazy proposal for an installation on the cliff: The whole platform would be flooded with water, other than a single narrow path that leads to a spot where someone can wait in the middle, alone. If you stop to take a selfie—and stop focusing on the world around you—you might actually die.
"Having the rock surfaces made smooth and slippery, with water pipes alongside a narrow path that constantly runs water out toward the cliff edges, one would need to ‘walk on a wire’ or risk a slip and fall into unknown fate," he says. "During the colder season most surfaces would freeze to a layer of ice, which makes an even harsher setting for visitors to navigate and contemplate nature in a particular state."
It's designed to reshape how park visitors relate to nature. As Chen looked through the photos of people at the park, he thought about how everyone—from base jumpers to picnickers—seemed to think about the natural world as something to use.
"We use nature functionally as a holiday playground, remedially as a weekend breakaway from urban grind, motivationally as a trophy for self-challenging and conquering, entertainingly as a thrill ride, superficially as a selfie background—all with photographic evidence to show for it," he says.
His concept for the installation is designed to encourage respect for nature, something he thinks has mostly been lost. "[It's] all about placing ourselves rightfully in relation to nature, where us people are truly small and vulnerable beings amongst something far above and beyond," he says. "Nature should have a subtle but powerful presence for anyone willing to engage with and appreciate it, rather than a mere pretty photo backdrop."
The design tied for first place in a competition asking architects to imagine a visitors center for the site (these will not be built). Though some others designed buildings, Chen kept things simple. "It was an intuition, a gut feeling," he says. "I simply thought to myself: The stage is already set. All it needs is an act."