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Norwegian Architecture in the 1990s

In the 1990s Norwegian architects returned to modernism’s roots. Private homes and office buildings alike were given large, smooth facades and clear geometrical volumes reminiscent of the functionalism of the 1930s. The most widely recognized example is the prize-winning headquarters of the Norwegian Metrology and Accreditation Service in Kjeller (1997), designed by Kristin Jarmund.

Contemporary architects often fuse different stylistic approaches to produce a refined, composite look. Kari Nissen Brodtkorb’s building Stranden (1990) is typical of such fusion. It stands at the far end of Oslo’s Aker Brygge, an industrial quay area transformed into shops, offices and residences. An adjacent dry dock gives the property a triangular shape, with water on two sides. The building itself calls to mind the bow of a ship, an impression strengthened by the curved roof. Its black-painted steel features and rough brick walls, however, suggest an English warehouse. The architect has produced an evocative and popular building.

Another example of composite architecture is the Tønsberg Library (1992) by Ivar Lunde og Morten Løvseth. It is a modern building with large glass facades that invite visitors to enter. No mere glass box, however, the structure is a complex composition rich in associations. The extensive use of curved forms is an allusion to the round church in nearby ruins of a medieval cloister.

In 1989 the small Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta won an historic competition to design a new Library of Alexandria. This was the most important international competition ever won by a Norwegian firm. Completed in 2001, the library has been hailed as a landmark by international architecture journals. Later, Snøhetta consolidated its global position by winning competitions to design a new opera house in Oslo and the Turner Centre in Margate, England.

Snøhetta’s breakthrough in the 1990s was part of a larger phenomenon in which the world took note of Norwegian architects. Leading international magazines published special editions devoted to Norway’s contemporary architecture. Kjell Lund and Nils Slaatto were named honorary fellows of the American Institute of Architects, Niels Torp won international acclaim for his innovative headquarters building for the Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) in Stockholm, and Sverre Fehn was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, taking his place among the most significant architects of the age.

Issue 12:2004 of the Japanese periodical Architecture + Urbanism is a feature issue on Norwegian architecture entitled “Norway: Fehn and His Contemporary Legacies”.

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StrandenPhoto: (c)  Jiri Havran / Arkitekturmuseet   www.arkifoto.no

Tønsberg libraryPhoto: (c)  Jiri Havran / Arkitekturmuseet   www.arkifoto.no