Architecture in Norway

By Elisabeth Seip, manager of the Norwegian Architecture Museum, Oslo


Wood and stone
Staves and cog joints
Influences from the west
New impulses from the danish period
Wooden architecture flourishes
The new Norway is erected
From european to Norwegian tradition
New and better housing
On the road to functionalism



Viewed from the centres of European art and culture, Norway has traditionally been very distant and provincial. Not only were we a poor country, sparsely populated and impassable, but for hundreds of years we were under foreign rule. Those in power had their seat first in Copenhagen, later in Stockholm. This is why monumental buildings are lacking and folk traditions have dominated architecture - especially in the use of wood, based on centuries of craftmanship and experience with the material. The proximity to nature and intimacy with the inherent qualities of the materials run like a thread through Norwegian architecture, contributing to its distinctive national characteristics.


Timber was always available just about everywhere and to everyone. With fairly simple means, small but sufficiently warm dwellings could be built. In our climate, stone houses were a mark of the wealthy. It takes the efforts of many people to cut stone, and unless one can afford a great deal of fuel, the stone house is cold and uncomfortable. This is why stone has been reserved for the largest and the smallest projects; churches and fortresses on the one hand, modest hunters' cabins and fishermans' huts, on the other.

The early mastery of complicated building techniques with wood is best seen in the viking ships. Because the oldest houses were built from the perishable material, wood, there are few traces left. What remains has remarkably little in common with the elegant ships, either in graceful lines or technique.

With the exception of the Sami people's turf huts and tents which, to this day, exemplify prehistoric dwellings in use, the only remaining quarters for people and livestock preserved from ancient times are the Iron Age buildings at Ullandhaug outside of the West-Norwegian city of Stavanger. Iron Age people at Jæren on the southern coast, utilizin g the prolific rounded rocks strewn throughout the area along with sparsely available logs and sod, built longhouses with room for animals on the one end, their owners on the other. With the milder climate of the period, they had a livable shelter.

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In the use of wood, Norwegian architecture finds its distinctive qualities. The dynamics of Norwegian wooden architecture stem from its roots in the crossroads between two cultures. From the vast coniferous forest- belt of the elongated valleys of the East came the custom of cog-jointed log houses. From the rugged and fjorded West with sparser forests came the stave tradition requiring less materials: a supporting structure of posts filled in with thinner walls, or sometimes a thin wall with no supporting function covering the outside. The principle has long been used for barns and outbuildings and was developed to virtuosity with the stave churches.

Present research has revealed more than 200 secular buildings, many of them complete, from the Middle Ages. In addition, there are the stave churches. Most of the log houses from the period date back before 1350. This is in itself a vivid testimony to the high level of building techniques and knowledge of the materials.

The stave churches, built in Norway in the Middle Ages, are unparalleled in the history of architecture. They are superb examples of construction. Perhaps stave churches are part of a greater European tradition that only survived in the poor outpost of Norway - though we have no evidence of this. Once there were between 500 and 600 stave churches in use, only some twenty-odd remain.

The construction technique of the stave churches gives them their name. The church interior was built with a system of self-supporting posts, or staves, clad with paneled walls and covered with a wooden shingled roof. The stave churches were often richly decorated, particulary around the entrances, and often with dragons as vicious defenders of the many gables and roofs. This tieback with the heathen past in ornamentation, and the dark and mystical atmosphere in the interior contributed, unfortunately, to the tearing down of many of the churches after the Reformation. Mystic perceptions had little in common with Luther's teachings.

The meeting between staves and cog-jointed logs, between west and east, can best be experienced in the old lofts of the Middle Ages. This meeting is found literally in the middle of Norway, in Telmark and Setesdal. This is where we see the finest lofts. These combine in one building the function of store room, guesthouse, and stronghold. They were the most prestigious building of the farms. The combination of a cog-jointed log core with a surrounding gallery construction in the stave gave sturdy and architecturally rich buildings. Because of their important function on the farms they were strongly built and have survived as some of the finest examples of Norwegian architecture.

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Norwegian stone architecture bears strong evidence of influence from the west. Anglo-Saxon missionaries brought with them the technique of masonry, built of stone and lime mortar. In places where their influence was strongest, the results were simple Romanesque stone churches, felicitously placed in the landscape, as in Kviteseid, Ringsaker, and Trondenes near Harstad.

A unique building, in a Nordic context, is the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. In its present form, it was probably started before the establishment of the Archbishop's Seat in 1152. The style is influenced by the English Gothic and the building was finished in 1320. Considering that Trondheim only had about 3,000 inhabitants at the time, it is hard to conceive how it was possible to build the mighty cathedral. Together with the adjacent Archbishop's Residence, the Nidaros Cathedral represents Norwegian stone architecture's centre of gravity.

However, there are other important stone churches from the period. Stavanger Cathedral, started in 1125 in an English-type Romanesque style turned Gothic by the time it was completed. Gamle Aker Church, Oslo's oldest building, was built in the Romanesque style in the 1100s, while the Maria Church in Bergen, even older, is Romanesque-Norman. In the middle of the last century, a new interest arose for these buildings and for their preservation. Restoration was meticulously carried out and we can thank these efforts for the buildings we see today.


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The Black Death in 1350 halved the Norwegian population, and it took several hundred years before it regained the level of the 14th century. The art of construction stagnated, and when it finally started up again it was in a Norway laid under Danish rule (1450-1812). Impulses from abroad increased during the 1600s and 1700s, and Danish administrators brought European renaissance and Baroque traditions to Norway. Although the building material was mainly wood, it was the idiom of stone buildings that dominated.

A slow growth began during the Danish period. Old Oslo burned down, and the industrious Christian IV, in 1624, proclaimed that the new town should be built close under the walls of the Akershus Fortress. To reduce the fire hazard, he decreed that only bricks were to be used in the new town. In the history of architecture, this constituted an important dividing line - the new town with its brick buildings and masonry and broad, straight streets broke with the old building tradition.

Baroque fortresses stand today as historical relics with little military value, but they still dominate their towns, and architecturally are valuable representatives of renaissance and Baroque elements in Norwegian building. They all differ - their construction varying according to terrain and local conditions. Farthest north, Vardøhus Fortress guarded the country. It was built in 1738, a small but perfectly shaped structure in the form of an eight-pointed star. The more imposing Håkons Hall with its accompanying Rosenkrantz Tower in Bergen, which illustrate the transition from fortified estates to real fortresses, were at there most complete around 1700. The Akershus Castle and Fortress in Oslo was commenced in the 1300s, but did not reach its present form until 1660. In Fredrikstad, southeast Norway, the Old Town is a complete garrison town from the 1600s. Farthest south, near the Swedish border, is Fredriksten Fortress in Halden - an overwhelming illustration of a fruitful union between fortress architecture and a dramatic landscape.

We have two examples of private residences from the period: Austrat at &Oslashrlandet, outside Trondheim; and the barony of Rosendal in Hardanger. Both were built in the period 1650-1660 and are outposts for Baroque Italian influence in the Norwegian landscape.

A number of admirable buildings resulted from the improved economic climate. Around economically important mines such as the copper works at Røros and the silver deposits in Kongsberg, societies sprang up which were rich in architecture. Røros, the Mountain City, in mid- Norway is a complete architectural experience, with its cog-jointe logd buildings and wood-panneled houses, crowned by Røros Church, which was finished in 1784. Today Røros is on the World Heritage List. In Kongsberg, south Norway, which had a population of 8,000 - making it second in size only to Bergen at the time - the silver works commissioned a beautiful church. From the outside it seems somewhat austere, but the simply tiled exterior hides a lavish Rococo interior built as a Greek cross with a broad-chambered main nave, and the pulpit and alter placed above eachother. The church was completed in 1761 in accordance with J.A.Stukenbrock's (1698-1756) drawings.


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The development of the gang saw in the 18th century made it possible to give the cog-jointed log houses panel sidings capable of withstanding driving rains in exposed districts. This resulted in less draughty buildings which also lasted longer. The main characteristics of the panelled houses we see today, were formed at this time. Panel architecture not only gave a better protection against the weather - but also offered oppurtunities for refinement in design. Increased shipping activities brought new foreign impulses to the Norwegian coast, and wooden houses were constructed with details patterned on European styles and tastes.

These foreign impulses were naturally strongest in the cities. The old wooden towns were dominated by mediaeval systems of streets and alleys which usually led to a harbour or riverfront where there were rows of boathouses and wharf sheds. These characteristic patterns dominate the Bergen Wharfs, a World Heritage List protected throwback from the active days of the Hanseatic League. Along the entire coast, in Trondheim and the northern Norwegian trading towns, we see the same rows of wooden houses. Behind the well-ordered ranks of boathouses, were tight clusters of houses appeared, charming but highly inflammable, and many are lost now.

The new bourgeoisie wanted larger and more resplendent houses, and in Bergen in particular there are a number of wonderful patrician homes from the period. One of the few purely Rococo exteriors we have is the Damsgaard in Laksevåg, a suburb of Bergen. It is a house of leisure from the late 1700s, built to make a strong impression on the ships sailing in to Bergen. In the northwest, in Trøndelag and up along the Nordland coast, large wooden houses were built, and the most interesting type was the long and narrow "trønderlånen", the characteristic farming homes in Trøndelag. Dominating them all though, in size and dignity, is the Stiftsgården in Trondheim, Norway's largest wooden house, where we can clearly see a true wooden adaptation of Baroque stone facades.


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Even after the dissolution of the union with Denmark in 1814, the Danish and German influences remained strong. Not only were administration and trade linked with the two, but as architects and engineers established their fields and developed specific educational training, it became necessary for those learning the trade to study at colleges and universities abroad.

The new nation's needs for a number of government administration buildings coincided with the Neo-classical or Empire style's arrival in Norway. Architect H.F.D. Linstow (1787-1851) was given the honour of designing the Royal Palace built from 1824-48, and simultaneously planned the regulation of Karl Johans Gate - the main boulevard of Oslo. City surveyor Chr. H. Grosch (1801-1865) was responsible for the Oslo Bourse, the Central Bank, Christiania Theatre and first and foremost, the University, the building closest to the Palace and built from 1842-52. When working on the University project, he received advice from the great Schinkel of Berlin, and the similarities with Altes Museum are unmistakable. This strict, but harmonic classic style set its mark all over the country, especially in southern Norway where applications in wood are found in large as well as small buildings.

Soon the classic lines gave way to more romantic impulses. Architect Grosch designed the Basaar Halls at Kirkeristen around the Oslo Cathedral, inspired by German castle-romanticism with its arched halls of unglazed bricks, it was finished in 1849. This represented the start of a new era in Norwegian architecture along with the Trefoldighet (Trinity) Church by architect Wilhelm von Hanno (1826-1882) and Alexis de Chateauneuf (1799-1853), and Gaustad Asylum. The latter, which also characterized a new and more humanistic view in the treatment of nervous disorders, was designed by Herman E. Schirmer (1845-1913). Architecturally, these buildings borrowed from older historical periods.

It was also at this time that the "Swiss style" entered the scene. With its various forms of roofs, verandas, and projecting details this was something completely new. Norwegian architects had been travelling to Italy to gain classical inspiration. In their journeys across the Alps they ran into a form of wooden architecture that resonated with their own roots in old Norwegian wooden architecture. Here they found the material qualities of wood exposed and utilized in a familiar way - and they transformed what they saw for use under Norwegian conditions.

This was about the same time that railways were being built. The new station buildings were strongly influenced by the modern Swiss style, which seemed to fit in with the times. Many think of it now as typically Norwegian. The style was widely used, and Norwegian motifs such as the dragon ornamentation of the stave churches were eventually added to the Swiss - forming what we now term the "dragon style."

Many of these buildings are gone now; because of fires, but also because the multitude of shapes and projections demand so much maintenance. A good example of a popular building in the romantic dragon style is the Frognerseter Restaurant, a creation of architect Holm Munthe (1848-1898) built in 1890-


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All through the 19th century, the increase in industrialization and flow of people to the cities gave rise to an explosive growth in house-construction. New urban areas mushroomed. The brick apartment buildings at Grunerløkka in Oslo, tall, packed together, and overpopulated came to be called, somewhat derisively, "gråbeingårdene" (wolf's houses), and "New York". At the same time, wealthier classes were moving into new areas - the capital's "sunny side", with more spacious and prosperous communities. Homansbyen in Oslo, the first area with stately houses surrounded by gardens, was established in 1853 and the emphasis here was on individual design and rich ornamentation borrowed from a variety of foreign styles.

In public buildings, too, the foreign influence was noticeable. In 1905 the Swedish-Norwegian Union, which had replaced the Danish Period, was dissolved. In keeping with the capital city's increased status, a number of public buildings were erected. The Government Building, built in 1901 from the drawings of Henrik Bull (1864-1953), is a particularly sustained work in the Jugend style. Only one wing of a projected complex was built. But with the powerful details in hewn granite, it is an important building. It was something new - Norwegian animal ornamentation was united with European art nouveau or Jugend, as we find it in Germany and Austria. Other major works from the hand of Bull are the National Theatre completed in 1899, with an interior in Neo-Rococo which is one of Europe's most intimate, and the Historical Museum from 1902, exhibiting the Jugend style. In Bergen the National Scene was built at this time, designed by Einar O. Schou (1877-1966). The style here is purely Jugend, with no "Norwegianized" elements.

The town of Ålesund burned almost to the ground in 1904, and had to be totally reconstructed. This resulted in an exceptionally harmonious city, with the traditional wharf houses of the coast interpreted anew, often in rough-hewn granite and always with Jugend details. A walk down Kongens gate in Ålesund is like living in a different era, if you don't look to closely.

Eventually the wish to develop Norwegian building traditions grew stronger. The newly independant country needed to demonstrate its merits - also in architecture. In 1905 several architectural contests were launched, and a major ground rule was the use of a Norwegian style. A good example was the competion to build housing for argicultural workers in 1910. The newly graduated architect Magnus Poulsen (1881-1958) won nearly all the honours for his projected, somewhat stocky, small houses that were reminiscent of Norwegian log houses. A competiton to design railway stations on the mountain passes over Dovre was announced by the Norwegian State Railways. As a result, the architects Erik Glosimodt (1881-1921) and Arnstein Arneberg (1882-1961) both drew stations inspired by the Gudbrandsdal valley's 18th century farm houses, but modified to satisfy the demands of the time.The period from 1905-25 was labeled "national romantic", a name which for a long time had an unpopular ring to it. Today we tend to view this period more indulgently, and with a new respect for the efforts to develop a Norwegian architecture of fine quality, on the basis of old building traditions.

This was a time that appreciated heroics, and a time of monumental building. The structures were often made of rough-hewn stone, such as Bergen Public Library, designed by Olaf Nordhagen (1883-1925) and built from 1906-17, and the Såheim Power Station at Rjukan, which Nordhagen created along with Thv. Astrup (1876-1940) in 1916. The University of Trondheim's Norwegian Institute of Technology was completed in 1910, designed by Bredo Greve (1871-1931), and in Oslo, Arneberg and Poulsen created the Telegraph Building in 1924.

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In 1911 the Norwegian Institute of Technology was established in Trondheim, and an ever increasing number of engineers and architects were trained in this country. Thus, the architects gained a considerably better understanding of Norwegian climate, landscape, and building traditions - and this greatly furthered the national trends in architecture. In Bergen too, there was a new and lively architectural environment at the time. Prominent members of the Bergen school were Egill Reimers (1878-1946), Ole Landmark (1885-1970), Frederik Konow Lund (1889-1979), Per Grieg (1897-1962), and Leif Grung (1894-1945). In residential areas they created villas combining traits from Bergen urban areas with West-Norwegian traditions, resulting in an independant Bergen architectural style. This brings us to the far West Coast, and the Bergen school's creations have much in common with English architecture of the period, in their use of natural stone, wood and brick - always harmonizing with the topography and vegetation.

Many of the most prominent architects became involved in developing new and better dwellings. In 1913, Oscar Hoff (1875-1942) won a contest to build Ullevål Hageby in Oslo, and created a residential area that was a total departure from the squared buildings of the early days of industrialism. Already in 1910, "light, air, and green trees" became the ideal, 20 years prior to functionalism's take-over of this motto. Impulses for the new housing came from Germany and England. Ullevål Hageby made an indelible mark on the way houses were built thereafter. Other residential areas sprang up at the same time, especially for the working class. Magnus Poulsson was at the fore with the design of homes for Nitedals Match Factory and Oslo municipality's housing at Lille Tøyen in Oslo. In the development of industry at Rjukan in Telemark starting in 1912, some very fine workers' homes were built - a fantastic advancement for socially oriented house-building in a remote valley of Norway. These are still good models for housing in Norway.


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Following national romanticism's moody atmosphere, there was once again a return to the strict and simple forms and symmetrical motifs - to an internationally popular style, neo-classicism. Architects Chr. Morgenstierne (1880-1967) and Arne Eide (1881-1957) represent the transition from national romanticism to a powerful classicism. In 1920, they designed Torggata Baths in Oslo, where all of classicism's element are at play: symmetry, smoothly plastered surfaces, immense columns, even slim, archaic poplar trees. The works of architects Gudolf Blakstad (1893-1985) and Herman Munthe-Kaas (1890-1977) portray an important transition from classicism to functionalism. They designed Haugesund City Hall in 1922. With its slightly domed roof, paired columns and use of squares, this is a major piece of Norwegian neo-classicism. The Artist's House (Kunstnernes Hus) in Oslo, drawn by the same two and completed in 1930, with its symmetrically built up levels and facade combined with functionalist details, is an example of the transition to a new era. At the same time, Architects Andr. H. Bjerke (1883-1967) and Georg Elliasen (1880-1964) built Oslo Light and Power Company's administration building, where the weakly curved facade and rough brick makes an exciting contrast with classic features, such as projecting cornices and rectangular stone blocks. We are still within the framework of classicism.

There are many examples of neo-classical interest for planned cities. Many "torsos", parts of the never-completed whole, remain as examples. However, one completed project is the Torvallmenningen in Bergen, created in 1922 by architect Finn Berner (1891-1947).

In 1916 a contest was announced to develop Pipervika in Oslo and to build a new City Hall. Amongst the jury members were the architects of Copenhagen's and Stockholm's city halls, both erected around the turn of the century. Oslo City Hall can thus be seen as a continuation of traditions from these works. It took 30 years of re-drafting and modifications for architects Arnstein Arneberg and Magnus Poulsen to complete their drawings. But the Oslo City Hall is unique - it cannot be denied. The building represents a form of Nordic Neo-Renaissance and is un-paralleled. It was completed in 1950 and is still a controversial topic. The two towers create a powerful and indespensable focal point on the city skyline. The building is also a testimonial to a succesful collaboration between architects and visual artists, with the fresco paintings alone make the building an attraction integrally linked with Norwegian tradition.


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Functionalism became a force in Norway at the same time as in the rest of Europe. The Stockholm Exhibition in the summer of 1930 was a display of the new ideas circulating, but several earlier Norwegian works are clearly functionalist. Most notable are Skansen Restaurant (unfortunatly now demolished) and the Ekeberg restaurant in Oslo, both designed by architect Lars Backer (1892-1930) and completed as early as 1928.

Functionalism was the international style, but in individual projects the Norwegian functionalists blended national traditions with the new mode. Perhaps the architect who was the most prominent exponent of this fusion in Norwegian functionalism was Ove Bang (1895-1942). The villa he designed in 1937 for Ditlev-Simonsen at Ullern in Oslo deserves attention. Here for the first time was an open design, a free relation flowing from room to room throughout the house. Bang studied Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye, and the Ullern villa is related to it in many ways. Yet the use of natural stone and the relationship with the natural surroundings, bears the signature of Ove Bang alone, and is characteristically Norwegian. Bang's largest task - and a major Norwegian functionalist work - is the Oslo Workers' Society Building, where the motifs from the Villa Ditlev-Simonsen are carried out on a larger scale.

Per Grieg's department store for Sundt & Co. at the Torvallmenningen in Bergen is another landmark. Functionalism in its purest international form resulted here in a prize-winning building which has been put under the protection of the Central Office of Historic Monuments, as the first of Norway's modernistic constructions.

Frithjof Reppen (1893-1945) did not manage to design so many edifices, but his apartment buildings at Professor Dahls gate 33 in Oslo curve elegantly in parallel, within the confinements of the old square, while meeting functionalism's standard demands with regards to air, light, and vegetation.

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The postwar period offered numerous tasks; the most demanding was the rebuilding of North Norway. Large parts of the area suffered damage during the war. The German use of scorched-earth tactics laid Finnmark and Nord-Troms Counties barren. The strongly limited funds available necessitated tight- budgeted form of architecture. From today's viewpoint the architecture was scraped to the bone. However, for just that reason, architects had to rediscover the essential. Now we can take a new look at these buildings from the period of reconstruction and study their well-planned solutions. In these times of plentitude, they are good reminders of what we really need. Honningsvåg, the point of departure on the way to the North Cape, is not just an interesting site for tourists, it is also an example of reconstruction architecture worth studying.


The motto for house-building for several decades was "a roof over our heads." Production schedules demanded a new pace in building and modern techniques were in demand. The first large modern suburb, Lambertseter, outside of Oslo, was planned by architects Rinnan, Tveten and Colbjørnsen who divided the area into different zones according to usage and activities, yet these combine to make up a complete city district. Residential areas that followed tended more and more to lack these extra dimensions.

At present, we have turned away from the large undifferentiated domestic projects. New examples of housing are Casinetto, by the architects Telje, Torp, and Aasen as well as Giskehagen by Niels Torp (born 1940). In both projects - built in Oslo in 1983 - efforts were made to create a living environment with emphasis on following the terrain and meeting individual needs within a relative densely populated area.

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Arne Korsmo (1900-1968) and Knut Knutsen (1903-1969) both started their careers before the war, but came to dominate the postwar generation of architects. Together they built small functionalist one-family houses in wood and bricks. Later they were to go separate ways. Korsmo representing international trends, creates exhibitions and exquisite design. Korsmo and Knutsen fathered the building on Havna Alle in Oslo. Havna Alle nr. 15, Korsmos Villa Damman from 1930, has sculptural qualities within the framework of functionalism. All in all, the international style of Norwegian functionalism is lively and surprising, considering Norway's position on the outskirts of Europe. Indeed, Korsmo became the primary exponent of international trends in our postwar architecture.

Knutsen's work turned in another direction. He took up the heritage from Arneberg and Poulsson, especially in his wooden houses, and thus he is an important link in the development of Norwegian building tradition. Rather early, he formulated thoughts of simplicity and moderation in the use of materials, as well as a straightforward and honest approach in construction. Knutsen felt that houses should have a modest and subordinate position in relation to their surroundings. Materials should be natural. His own vacation house at Portør outside of Kragerø represents these thoughts put into practice. Constructed of old rough formwork boards, it comfortably hugs the rocky terrain. Eventually, Knutsen's philosophy was encompassed in a larger context as part of an increasingly necessary debate on environmental issues.

Lumber is still the most available building material in Norway and there is a high level of competence in the use of wood. Systematic building, prefabrication, and new technology have extended wood's dominion. Yet the dominance of wood construction can also be explained by the simple fact that Norway is still a nation of small houses and cabins. A special award for wooden architecture, the Wood Prize, has been issued for the last 25 years, and the works of the award-winning architects have set standards for the use of wood.

In the use of concrete too, the exploitation of the material's character is, in a similar manner, a prerequisite to good results. Architect Erling Viksjo (1910-1971) finished his work on the new Government Administration Building in 1959. As an integral part of a high and narrow edifice, which furthers the best functionalistic traditions, are the decorations carried out in free-formed, sandblown concrete - a special technique developed by Viksjø.

Traditions in the use of brick have been primarily sustained by architects Trond Eliassen (born 1922) and Birger Lambertz-Nilssen (born 1923). Once more, an outstanding impression of the material's inherent quality and possibilities is reflected in buildings such as the Norwegian Maritime Museum in Oslo, completed in 1974, and Sandefjord Town Hall, from 1975. The latter has a heavy and powerful exterior, while the interior is livened up with sculptured walls that are reminiscent of Finnish architecture and Alvar Aalto.

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Architects Kjell Lund (born 1927) and Nils Slaatto (born 1923) work within the same traditions. They have designed wooden houses in which age-old techniques are adapted to modern productional demands. Ålhytta in the Hallingdal Valley has initiated a new school. Variations on the old log architecture are logically re-established in systems where rational production and architectural expression go hand-in-hand. Lund and Slaatto's production has been very prolific. Especially interesting is the St. Hallvard Church and Monestary at Enerhaugen in Oslo. The Franciscan monestary forms a cube surrounding a circular church hall. A singular twist is the inverse rotunda of the church. The space has a quality of religiousness, in it broadest and not necessarily Christian form.

In the headquarters of the ship and offshore classification society, Det Norske Veritas in Bærum, built from 1975-1985, structuralism is fully developed in concrete and brick. The building's tension and fine quality result from the meeting between a systematic and relentless logic and it's supreme adaptation to the terrain. Another giant from the hands of Lund and Slaatto is the Head Office of the Central Bank at Bankplassen in Oslo, opened in 1986. A main challenge here has been the accommodation of the building with the older buildings on the square. The adroit use of quality materials in the building is itself a subject worth studying. The latest building from the firm at present is the St. Magnus Church at Lillestrøm from 1989. Still within the limits of structuralism and prefabrication, they have utilized thin shells of concrete which give the structure a profound religious feeling.

With an expression of form unbound by convention, a daring use of wooden materials, and a remarkable sense of relationship between architecture and nature, Sverre Fehn (born 1924) has a front-line position in the ranks of postwar architects. Together with Geir Grung (1926-1989) he designed the museum building for the Sandvigske Samlinger at Maihaugen in Lillehammer and a home for the aged at &Oslashkern in Oslo in the 1950s. With elegant slender lines and beautiful details, the buildings came to be symbols for the modern postwar period. Fehn created the Scandinavian Pavillion for the Biannual in Venice built in 1959 - 64. However, Fehn does his best work where nature and architecture have a chance to interact. He says it is a special Norwegian privilege to so often have the oppurtunity to build on virgin land. His grandest work to date has been the remodeling of the ruins of the Storhamarlåven at the Domkirkeodden in Hamar into a museum in 1973.

A West-Norway parallel in postwar work can be seen in the architecture of Helge Hjertholm (born 1932). His church in Fyllingsdalen, opened in 1976, is the best example, with its interior lifted with laminated wood constructions.

Another breath of fresh air in Norwegian architecture is the Oslo Police Headquarters, drawn by architects Telje, Torp and Aasen and completed in 1978. They chose an unusual design for this project, which one might associate with severity and constraints, by forming the building like an open hand.

Architecturally, the Police Headquarters has been followed up by several similar structures in which a sub-division of the building's main body, as in the example with the open hand, creates open spaces which can be covered in glass. These partly-heated areas are obviously a benefit in winter and in just a few years the idea spread rapidly. Glass buildings have become a mark of the 1980s. The first was the University at Dragvoll in Trondheim, designed by the Danish architect Henning Larsen, closely followed by The Royal Garden Hotel in the same city. Here the sharply angled wharf-houses were echoed in an interplay between conventional and glass building structures. The real giant amongst the Norwegian glass buildings is the SAS Main Office at Solna in Stockholm, drawn by Niels Torp in 1988.

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The 1980's were also marked by a debate about postmodernism, which in Norway had the leading exponents Jon Lundberg (born 1933) and Jan Digerud (born 1938). Jon Lundberg's home at Holmen in Oslo expresses postmodernism's playful attitude toward room positions and space. Jan Digerud worked with Platou Architects in the design of the Sheraton Oslo Fjord Hotel in which the interior appears with all of postmodernism's use of classical elements, and a touch of Vienna Jugend. Their solution to the problem of building on to an older structure at Rådhusgata 23 B in Oslo is a vertical extension which paraphrases the older facade in neo-Baroque from the hand of Henrik Bull; this is postmodernism in its most meaningful form.

The substantial foothold that postmodernism gained in Norway can be explained by an unprecedented boom in building. This coincided with the feeling that it was necessary to loosen up in a society with a somewhat strict and limited view in architecture. Seen in this light, the wild period served a purpose and had a liberating effect.

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Conservation for the future

Attitudes about conservation and renewal of older buildings have changed radically the last 15 years. Negative reactions to large dimensions and rigidity in new buildings, coupled with appreciation of the value of older buildings, has blown new wind in the sails of preservation. There is also a new realization of the economic worth of the many older buildings. Stavanger has been a flag-bearer in this area by preserving an entire city area, Old Stavanger. In Bergen the movement to conserve Marken, another old city area of wooden houses is worthy of mention, and in Trondheim larger areas of wooden houses such as Mølleberg have been given a new lease on life. The reconstructed areas of Bodø are also undergoing renewal. In Oslo, Grønerløkka and Kampen exemplify the coupling of conservation with investment. The square-blocked Grunerløkka has been rehabilitated through public renewal activities. Kampen is an example of an old section of town, once on the outskirts, whose wooden houses have been saved by the inhabitants' action groups. All in all, it is the general public attitude toward its architectural environment that provides the best protection for its heritage. The fight to save Tyholmen in Arendal is a good example - here an entire city area dominated by large 17th and 18th century wooden buildings was saved from total destruction.

More effort is being made in Norwegian architecture to combine active conservation of the best building traditions with modern innovation.

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As postmodernism contributed to the relaxation of old conventions and conservation work has borne fruit, something new has taken place. The Nordic House on the Faroe Islands was completed in 1983 by the architect Ola Steen (born 1942). The problem of placing the large building amongst Torshavn's small houses was solved by turning the building into a miniature mountain. Glimpses of glass and steel shine through in the level between the gray rock foundation and the softly sloping sod roof. The building is transformed into an object of nature and fits in with the surrounding hills.

The Boarch architects faced similar challenges in designing the Sami Cultural Centre in Kautokeino in 1981. Situated in an open landscape, the traditional Sami tent is symbolized by the sliced-off pyramid centred around an open red middle portion, a bonfire.

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In pace with the restructuring of Norwegian economics, away from heavy shipbuilding and sea transport, significant amounts of dock area have been freed to be developed for other uses. Nearly every coastal city has its examples. Dominating them all though, is Aker Brygge in Oslo, in which the opening of the former shipyards and diversion of motor traffic away from the harbour, has given room to new offices, stores and apartments in the midst of a popular and lively downtown area. However, Aker Brygge represents a new phenomenon in planning. The individual builder has decided how to form the area, instead of the usual public planners. This has resulted in a unified area, but questions arise concerning social control and supervision over the development. This represents a new epoch. The tough questions of principle aside, here and many other places, we have reclaimed important sections of our coastline.

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Construction north of the polar circle requires special talents and seems to foster a certain vitality. Building techniques under demanding climatical conditions have been studied; international collaboration has been carried out under the title Winter Cities, and construction has been implemented under the motto - Living in the North. The most spectacular though, is the work that is not directly linked to these studies, but has roots going directly back to rather chaotic building traditions. Blå Strek Arkitekter (Blue Line Architects) have designed a house for Reindriftsamenes forbund (the Sami Reindeer Herders' Association) in 1985. Inspired by Frank Gehry's Californian architecture, the structure fits in surprisingly well with Tromsø's wooden buildings. The Northern Lights Planetarium, associated with the University of Tromsø and designed in 1989 by John Kristoffersen (born 1938), points literally in another direction. The structure reminds us most of a spaceship, ready for take-off toward the Aurora Borealis.

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In Oslo, the LPO Architectural Office has planned a new city area which includes the Nordic countries' tallest building (a hotel), a shopping mall 500 metres long, and a civic arena, Oslo Spektrum, with a capacity for 10,000 spectators. This too is an area being built as a whole unit, as Aker Brygge, but with the goal of catering for visitors from abroad. The arena's outer shape is a sliced-off semicircle. At present only the exterior is visible. The architects together with the sculptor Guttorm Guttormsgaard, have designed a sculpted brick exterior surface. Thus, they have succeeded in transforming the immense building into a kind of poetry.

We may wonder if the arena's exterior form had any influence on the shaping of Norwegian architecture's greatest sensation in years: the Snøhetta Architectural Firm's victory over 600 competitors in the rush to design the Alexandria Library. The sliced-off circle and hieroglyphs on the walls lead us to hope that this is not just an isolated case, but the sign of a new vitality in Norwegian architecture, freed from traditional bonds and the whims of fashion. The future should be exciting.

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