Norwegian architects; building the future

Norwegian architecture is hitting new highs with numerous iconic buildings being built across the country by both new and more established firms.

Snøhetta leading the way

One of the more recognisable Norwegian names in the world of architecture is Snøhetta whose credits include the library in Alexandria, Egypt, and the planned WTC Cultural Centre in New York. Here in the UK they’ve also received widespread acclaim for the 2007 Serpentine Pavilion in London’s Hyde Park which was designed by the firm’s co-founder Kjetil Thorsen.

In Norway, Snøhetta is currently building the New National Opera House in Oslo, and their winning design was characterised by the jury as: "a poetic and concrete response to a demanding assignment”. The building, due to open in April 2008, has a sloping roof surface that rises directly from the fjord. Its stage roof surfaces and the stage towers are defining features to the vast platform that can be traversed from the sea to the uppermost levels by the visitor. Together with the vertical movement, the diagonal lines create a convincing composition that, at the same time, is humble, adapted to the scale of the city, distinctive and unique in Oslo’s landscape. It forms an extension of the landscape surrounding the city and is not clearly distinguishable as either building or ground.

The New National Opera House in Oslo. Photo: Snøhetta

The firm has also just completed the Petter Dass Museum in Northern Norway. Dass is one of Norway’s most important and beloved national poets, and the museum is built at Alstahaug where he was the vicar from 1689 until his death in 1707. The strong historical importance of the surroundings made the task of locating and designing a new building on the site sensitive and very challenging. Snøhetta's team decided to make a new site by making a cut in the landscape. This cut allowed a freestanding building which in volume balances the mass removed. This bold solution creates a new but humble relationship to the historical site as well as allowing an expressive architecture. In this way the new museum contributes to visualise the historical span from the origin of the church to our time.

Petter Dass Museum. Photo: Snøhetta

Norway’s second city, Bergen, is also being treated to an iconic building by Snøhetta. The National Academy of Arts, due to be completed 1 June 2009, is built on the shores of a lake and flanked by three mountains. The new Academy building will be situated at the foot of this powerful landscape, looking out over the lake and the distant city skyline.
In this new location the Academy will become an important generator for the new urban development of the city along the shores of the lake, and become an important icon for the cultural life of Bergen. Preserving as much as possible of the existing trees and buildings has been an important aspect of the project. Parts of the existing industrial buildings on site will be used as elements of reference, mature trees will be integrated into the large entrance plaza and the old natural stone wall facing the road on the east side of the site is to be kept as it is today.

The National Academy of Arts in Bergen. Photo: Snøhetta

Up-and-coming and making an impact

The firm Brendeland & Kristoffersen was set up in 2002 by young architects Geir Brendeland and Olav Kristoffersen, both educated in Norway. Their practice has already won numerous awards and commissions, including a social housing scheme in Trondheim and new houses in the Arctic island of Svalbard, close to the North Pole.
Their housing project for young people in Svartlamoen, Trondheim, have received a lot of interest from around the world and propelled the firm into the international spotlight. In 2007 this project was shortlisted among the 40 best architectural works in Europe from 2005-2007, the Mies van der Rohe Award (EU prize for contemporary architecture). In August 2007 the office was also selected for the international architects panel that is going to design the Athletes' Village for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Social housing in Trondheim. Photo: Brendeland & Kristoffersen

Tommie Wilhelmsen, another young making an impact, is based in Norway's oil capital Stavanger and says his buildings should challenge people's preconceptions of what a house is and should be. Elements such as weather, wind, landscape, terrain, sun, light and climate are crucial in all his projects. "Each house is a unique project which is designed for only one particular place on this earth."
Wilhelmsen is best known for the Aurland Lookout, a collaboration with Canadian architect Todd Saunders from Bergen-based firm Saunders Architecture. The Aurland Lookout is a seamless curve of locally harvested timber that sprouts 30 meters out from the road, before cascading into a fjord. The naked eye can hardly register the wall of glass that protects sightseers against the edge of this amazing structure which has become an icon in Norway since its recent completion.

The Aurland Lookout. Photo: Nils Vik

Merging buildings and nature

Another Stavanger-based firm shaping the future look of Norway is Helen & Hard, which was founded in 1996 by Siv Helene Stangeland and Reinhard Kropf. Like Snøhetta’s Petter Dass Museum and the Aurland Lookout, Helen & Hard’s mountain lodge at the path leading up to the Pulpit Rock, the cliff overhanging the Lyse Fjord, is also merging nature and architecture. The lodge includes 24 guest rooms, a café, a restaurant and a conference room, and its placement and massing is well fitted into the immediate environment. The main bearing construction consists of a rib-work of doubled up, massive wood elements, which are cut through to create the spacious public zones and to form the rhythm of both the individual guest rooms and the intimate zones occurring along the facade.

Mountain lodge at the Pulpit Rock. Photo: Helen & Hard

There’s nothing the Norwegians like more than heading to the mountains whenever they have a day off. Traditional mountain cabins that have belonged to families through generations are scattered around the Norwegian landscapes, with new cabins also being built at a fast rate. div.A architects, established in 1987 in Oslo, is one of the many firms asked to build such cabins. The practice’s design approach is within the Scandinavian tradition; a tradition that focuses on function, a sensitive approach to context, the use of natural materials, all with a human dimension. Their recent mountain cabin in Hemsedal is located in a planned area designated for leisure buildings. The site is close to the main slopes in the ski resort of Hemsedal, thereby allowing ski in/ski out. The chalet is built in a combination of timber and concrete, using the contrast of materials; the 'wooden box'  inside the concrete 'frame', as architectural elements in a building that is in footprint and section very simple.

Mountain cabin in Hemsedal. Photo: Michael Perlmutter

Funky stuff

Founded by architects Gary Bates, Gro Bonesmo and Adam Kurdhal, Space Group is a network-based office situated in Oslo whose works have won numerous awards. Embracing a straightforward and effective attitude to architecture and urbanism, and engaging both research and project development, the office approaches small and large projects with similar ambition. They won the first prize in the 2006/07 competition for the Brattøra Hotel, a 35,000m2 complex including the design of one of the largest conference hotels in Scandinavia, with 400 rooms and a congress/culture hall for 2000 people, a public park and an aquarium in Norway's third city Trondheim. Previously, the firm’s V-House project, a 575m2 private residence located on a waterfront of an island 25km west of Oslo in Asker, won the first prize in both the 2005 Norwegian and European steel award competitions.

Brattøra Hotel in Trondheim. Photo: Space Group
V-house in Asker. Photo: Space Group

Still, great architecture is not just found in the southern parts of Norway. The firm a-lab (Architecture Laboratory) is in the process of building a museum and a culture centre way above the Arctic Circle. The firm was founded in 2000 with the goal of producing innovative and refreshing projects by joining forces with associates from diverse professional backgrounds. When a-lab decides to enter competitions or start work on given commissions they try to identify the collaborators to join a project group that will lead to the best result for the client as well as challenge the a-lab employees professionally.

The method is obviously working well and clearly visible in the planned Arctic Culture Centre in Hammerfest, the world's northernmost city. The goal is to provide the city’s seaside area with new functions and architectural characteristics, ensuring an attractive town centre and strengthening the town's identity. The building will be Hammerfest's main 'living room', a public and social scene for all. The Centre will also be the first building on the waterfront and thus importantly condition further development and redevelopment of the 'relationship' between Hammerfest town centre and the sea.
Simultaneously, a-lab is also building the Ruija Kven Museum in Vadsø, Finnmark, which is Norway's largest and northernmost county. The museum works with documentation of the Kven history (settlers who came from Finland in the 18th century) in the entire area. The mainly outdoor museum has buildings giving evidence of the multicultural region, and which shows Vadsø as a fishing village, merchant town and agricultural area. Now the museum is building a new house to tell the Kven's history, not through objects, but through various forms of media such as films and digital installations etc. The building work is due to start in 2009 and highlights the fact that the coming years will see many more exciting Norwegian buildings erected in both urban and rural areas…

Arctic Culture Centre in Hammerfest. Photo: a-lab
Ruija Kven Museum in Vadsø Photo: a-lab

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