update on the Y Block in Oslo by Erling Viksjø

Approaching the site from the south

It looks as if the Norwegian government is moving slowly towards a decision to demolish the Y Block in central Oslo, one of the major government buildings that was damaged in the bomb attack of 2011, but retain the tall but separate H Block to its east. Both buildings were designed by Erling Viksjø - the Y Block was completed about 1970 while the Høyblokken or H Block dates from 1958.

Articles today on the web have focused on the murals designed by Picasso that decorate the large concrete panel on the south end of the Y Block and staircases inside the block with some suggestions that these could be salvaged and reused.

What should also be discussed is the quality of the design of the buildings and the positive contribution that the two blocks make to the townscape of this part of central Oslo.

When I walked around the buildings a year or so ago (see the post written then) there was no access to the interior but although windows had been shattered and were boarded up there seemed to be no sign of major structural damage … pedestrians were able to walk up to the building and the main road tunnel immediately under the north end of the building was still open for its heavy traffic use so there was obviously no worry about imminent collapse. In fact, in late September the public was allowed into the building to look at the interior.

The Y Block from the north west

Judging from photographs, the interior of the Y Block is not extravagant or ambitious in terms of its decoration and planning - simply practical and sensible - but it does appear to be well proportioned, the rooms light and main features such as staircases actually quite elegant.

What struck me, walking around the exterior, was that photographs really do not do the Y Block justice. This is not some brutal concrete structure that only an architecture fanatic could admire. The scale is very good, the proportions elegant and the arrangement of narrow windows on the three upper levels, divided by thin fins of concrete, is a welcome relief from the unbroken horizontal runs of tinted glass that has been so much in favour for commercial office buildings over the last 30 years.

Air view of the site with the Y Block at the centre and the H Block immediately below to the south. The curve of Akersgata running approximately north to south is along the left (west) side of the photograph. Taken from Google Maps.
Plan taken from OsLocus by Sofie Flakk Slinning

Much more important is the skill with which these two buildings, the Y Block and the H Block, sit in the landscape of this area. The ariel view shows how the Y shape, with its elegant inward-curving sides, is not a conceit or a whim but is very carefully considered so that the building works well within a complex site. Particularly on the west side, approaching along Akersgata from the south, from the centre of the city, the opening up of the square - Johan Nygaardsvolds Plass - the angle of the front set back but showing clearly the main points of entry and the facades curving away, indicating the overall scale of the building, all make perfect sense visually. With the curve of Akersgata the approach from the north also reads well as you come down the road towards the centre and the open public spaces on the north side and the precise, careful positioning of the north range of the Y Block show a huge respect for the three historic buildings along the north boundary.

The large building across the south side, Block G of the Ministry of Finance completed in 1906, is itself severe but the more formal relationship it has with the H Block set at right angles again provides appropriately dignified accommodation for the major government departments that were here and included the offices of the Prime Minister, the Justice Minister and the Education Ministry.

The tunnel of the busy dual carriageway under the north side of the site is actually at the natural ground level of a broad valley so the open paved areas were created on what is essentially a raft raised over the former Arne Garborgs Plass. This creates a series of pathways and steps and with the circular and curved light-wells forms an interesting, well-executed and quite dramatic pedestrian landscape.

It is actually the more recent and much more grim buildings along the east side of the site, on the east side of Grubbesgata, S-Block and Block R4, that need to be rebuilt or remodelled and the very very poor quality of the street surface, paving and street furniture along Grubbesgata do much to undermine and diminish the quality of the architecture by Viskjø.

From the north above and approaching the site from the east along the underpass

It would be difficult to justify the demolition of the Y Block if it is simply because this large central site could be better used with more densely packed and taller buildings or because it is no longer suitable for the government departments that were in the building because they have now become well-settled in new accommodation elsewhere in the city that they were moved to after the bomb attack.

This post was altered on the 6 December to incorporate a number of additional photographs and a plan taken from the Wordpress site, OsLocus, by Sofie Flakk Sinning that was part of a project on Architecture and Politics completed in July 2012. I strongly recommend looking at that site for an extensive analysis that makes many interesting and important points about the symbolism of the architecture of power and politics and the very real problems now with necessary security measures.

the development of the west harbour in Oslo

Back at the beginning of the year, in the early hours of the morning, I caught a programme on the World Service of BBC radio called Business Matters where there was an article about new buildings in Oslo under the title Oslo’s rapid growth redefines Nordic identity

Despite the odd hour I listened closely because the summer before I had been to Oslo to look at the development of the area on the west side of the main harbour - it had been extensive commercial docks but is now undergoing a massive transformation. I had read about the development in several architectural journals before the trip and was curious to see for myself what was being built.

The redevelopment of that part of Oslo, Aker Brygge and Tjuvholmen, raises interesting points about inner city redevelopment, and about design in general, and planning and architecture specifically and raises questions about how any city balances and controls, if it can, change that is driven by fast economic growth. With redevelopment, there is usually the promise of jobs, pressure from developers and investors, pressure on politicians and planners for the development to succeed and, of course, there are possible and interesting conflicts of taste and and conflicts of requirements between the young and the old or the incomer and the long-established citizen.  

At the centre of Oslo is the castle on a high outcrop with amazing views down the fjord to the south and with the core of the historic town sheltered behind it to its north where there is a fairly regular grid of streets with some fine buildings dating from the early 19th century. There are large bays forming harbours to both sides of the castle, that to the east with the new Opera House and considerable areas of new building in that part of the city and to the west, at the top of the west harbour, is the famous Oslo City Hall built in the 1930s. On the west side of that bay, looking across to the castle, there had been extensive docks and commercial buildings and it is that area that has been cleared and redeveloped with new apartment buildings, a hotel, a major new art gallery - the Astrup Fearnley Museum designed by Renzo Piano - and of course restaurants and cafe’s with some shops.

The apartment buildings are relatively high, compared with comparable buildings in Copenhagen, and have been built on either side of a wide main pedestrian street running north south that has a distinct urban character. Private cars and service vehicles enter the area through a traffic, services and parking area hidden below the apartments although cars and taxis do have to emerge to drive over a bridge over a wide canal that runs east west across the centre of the development in order to reach the south part. For the general public buses and taxis seem to stop at a turning circle at the top of the development.

Architects for individual apartment blocks seem to have had a free hand in terms of the choice for facade materials and for the arrangement of the inevitable balconies and curiously, in some ways because of that, it feels more like a commercial district than a residential area. The blocks at the southern end do seem to have a more restrained palette with white facades that did look amazing in the bright clear light of mid summer.

My assumption was that these apartments would be occupied by young professional people, many of them single, who would have moved to Oslo with the attraction of its thriving economy but several people told me that in fact older couples have been attracted to the area as a place to retire, having sold large family houses in the outer parts of the city, and attracted here by the views across the harbour and the central (or relatively central) location.

Berths for private boats close to the apartments and a large marina are a major part of the scheme and attract lots of visitors - both boat owners and tourists wanting to watch - and there seemed to be quite a lively night life here, at least in the Summer, with open-air bars and restaurants down the east side of the development with views across to the castle.

The Thief in Oslo

On that trip to Oslo in the summer of 2013 I stayed at The Thief - partly because it is promoted as a design hotel, so it seemed like a good subject for a post on this blog, and partly because the hotel is very much part of the new development and I wanted to stay there, rather than in the historic centre of the city, so that I could see what the area was like in the early morning and in the evening and so on. 

In the end I didn’t really enjoy the stay and decided not to write about it on this blog. Don’t get me wrong I had a fantastic time in Oslo and The Thief is an extremely comfortable hotel but I am not in the demographic that it targets for visitors - to be honest I’m just a bit staid and my inner puritan is a bit close to the surface. 

However, the hotel did have a crucial role in the early stages of the development to draw people to this new part of the city: along with a new major art gallery, the Astrup Fearnley Museum designed by Renzo Piano, it was one of the key new buildings that are crucial to the ongoing attraction and success of a new development. The importance of this area of Oslo will be consolidated by the redevelopment of the former West Station at the city end of the area as it was confirmed earlier this year that it is to be the site of new buildings for the National Museum.

The Thief also illustrates well that new hotels, at the top end of the market, are important in the professional world of interior design and architecture: hotels provide major and high-profile commissions for architects and professional designers; the hotels need very large quantities of new furniture and fittings when they are set up, so are important for manufacturers, and they can establish new trends and make the reputations of new designers as hotel guests are inspired to emulate ideas in their own homes. Particularly the design of bathroom and shower fittings in a new hotel can drive forward the style and arrangement of domestic bathroom fittings but guests also take home with them ideas for bedding, trendy colour schemes and so on and it can be a chance, particularly in design hotels, for potential buyers to try out well-known classic or new and innovative designs of furniture that they may go on to buy for themselves.

the old or the new

Government buildings in the centre of Oslo were damaged in a car-bomb attack in July 2011. Eight people were killed in the massive explosion and 209 were injured, 12 of them seriously. Severe damage, some of it structural, was caused to the Høyblokken or H Block and the lower Y Block to its west and windows were blown out over a wide area.

Many of the buildings have remained empty since they were evacuated, with government employees relocated around the city. Windows and doorways are still, over two years later, boarded up or covered with plastic, and a large area, covering a number of city blocks, has been fenced off and the streets closed to traffic with concrete barriers. 

Y Block Oslo from the south

Y Block from the west with H Block to the right

Norwegians were stunned and shocked by the attack at the very heart of their government’s administration … the offices of the Prime Minister were on an upper levels in H Block along with offices of the Ministry of Justice and the offices of the Ministry of Finance were in a building immediately to the south. 

Engineers have decided that structural damage can be repaired but a report on the economic arguments, balancing the cost of restoration against the cost of demolition and new buildings, has concluded that new buildings would be considerably cheaper.

Of course the arguments for or against demolition are not simply financial. Many feel that to keep the buildings would be a constant and disturbing reminder of what happened, particularly to those injured in the explosion and for the families and friends of those killed, while others argue that if the buildings are demolished Breivik would, in some ways be able to claim a victory, as his aim (in his perverted and distorted view) was to bring about both political and social change.

A poll undertaken by the Oslo newspaper Verdens Gang concluded that 40% of their readers wanted the buildings to be demolished and 34% were against demolition.

A final decision from the Norwegian government about the fate of H Block and Y Block in Oslo has been promised for the beginning of this year but the decision will be a difficult one. 

H Block from the east

H Block from the east

Grubbegata from the north with Y Block and H Block beyond and the Deicmanske Bibliotek to the right

Grubbegata from the south. The car bomb exploded just beyond the building to the left

In part that decision rests on a judgement about the architectural merit of the buildings.

Høyblokken or H Block dating from 1958 is a substantial office block 15 storeys high with, in addition, a high superstructure. The main fronts are stark grids of narrow concrete ribs with glazing set well back. As a single building it is very large and severe but it picks up the mass and silhouette of the towers of the City Hall on the harbour and that symbolic balance or echo across the city between municipal and national power must, in part, have been deliberate.

The lower Y Block to the north and west was finished in 1969. Again, it is a very large building although its scale is disguised and softened by the gentle curves of the three main fronts and the building deals cleverly with major changes of level across the site. There are three main floors with a common flat roof line but a sub basement with several changes of height and level and a series of wide steps that link walk ways and terraces. Both buildings were designed by the Norwegian architect Erling Viksjø (1910-1971).

Generally, H Block and Y Block are described as Brutalist architecture primarily because of their date and stark style and partly because they are faced in concrete - a material that is now almost automatically derided. To critics the two blocks are seen as obvious examples of what is now considered by many to be least attractive about post war architecture but in their defence the long low outer facades of the Y building are really very elegant and well proportioned. These are monumental buildings with a very high quality of design and construction. In part, because of their scale, H and Y Blocks are also symbols of the rapid growth of government in an ostensibly socialist post-war state and important for that alone in terms of social and political history.

The decision to retain or demolish the buildings is made more complicated and more sensitive to potential criticism because internal staircases in H Block and a large external panel in concrete on the south end of Y Block are decorated with designs by Picasso that are unique and significant. They cannot easily be moved - even if that was desirable - and an article published by Reuters on 13th December last years points out emotively that the Picassos may face a wrecking ball.

An exhibition in the National Museum of Architecture in Oslo, between June and October last year, set out clearly the importance of the murals. In a guide to the exhibition, the art historian Karin Hellandsjø describes the buildings as "still one of the most important public art projects in Norway that has ever been created" and in their introduction to the exhibition the Director General Jørn Holme and Audun Eckhoff, the Director of the Nasjonalmuseet, conclude that "The administration of world-class art and architecture is a heavy responsibility, and time will show whether we have proved worthy of the task."

One of the Murals by Picasso on a staircase. Copyright Siri Wolland.

In the summer I was in Oslo and walked around the area. This was not voyeurism … I was in Oslo for another reason ... but I was walking up from the harbour area to find the design museum and came across the fencing and barriers almost by accident and they were all the more shocking for that. It was only by walking around those streets outside the barriers that I could begin to understand the extent of the damage and the huge area it covers.

Several points about the architecture and the urban development of the government buildings really are significant and should be taken into account as officials and ministers make the final decision to demolish or restore the buildings.

One argument that has already been given for demolition is that the offices were designed as a large number of separate rooms rather than as the large, flexible open-plan spaces that have been common in office design for the last 20 years. That flexibility of open-plan space, if new buildings are constructed, is seen as an important financial argument for new buildings that could tip the balance towards demolition. In part, however, this seems to miss the opportunity to reassess rationally how large numbers of government employees will work or should be accommodated in the future. This is an important time to look forward to anticipate what really will be needed not only immediately but also long-term. These buildings were essentially large stark filing cabinets for people … should that work environment be replicated and is that the most appropriate way for government employees to work in the future? 

Perhaps the reality that Y Block is divided into small office spaces is simply a reason to find an alternative and more appropriate use rather than a reason to demolish.

To repeat, the main blocks that were damaged have been described as brutal but in fact the buildings to the east are much more basic and much uglier structures and the whole system of roads and under passes for the ring road immediately to the north, Hammersborggatta and the Hammersborgtunneln, are actually much more inhuman and alienating. As traffic approaches the entrance to the underpasses drivers seem to speed up so, although there are narrow foot paths, most people seem to avoid them, and the roads are left to cars. The tunnels are filled with exhaust fumes and the pathways and the lower parts of the buildings are covered with dirt and grime thrown up by the vehicles.

I realise that planners responsible for the initial scheme were trying to segregate cars and pedestrians but in reality, as you approach the area, particularly from the north or east, you can see upper walk ways where clearly you should be walking, but it is not obvious how you get there.

Large circular light vents with concrete columns, where the road system passes below the Y building, are dramatic but grim and traffic calming measures to at least slow down the cars should be part of any restoration or rebuilding plans.

One of the underpasses with the east elevation of Y Block above the bridge

The urban streetscape, running north south across the west side of the site, is important and could be enhanced and improved in any scheme that retains the main buildings.

At its south end Akersgata starts at a major harbour-side park and runs north, with ordinary but generally good buildings along the length, although it seems to have a rather secondary role in the city now as Kongens gate to the east is the main commercial and shopping street of the city. At the upper end, as a traffic route, Akersgata has already been broken and disrupted by short pedestrian sections. 

The area of the city north of the castle is laid out on a regular grid and the route up from the harbour along Akersgata crosses a number of major cross axis including Rädhusgata to the east, leading into an attractive square, and Stortingsgata and Karl Johans Gate to the west leading to the long narrow park and the National theatre before the Royal Palace and to the east again there is first Grensen with its view of the Cathedral and then Høyesteretts Plass with the Supreme Court.

As you approach the government buildings, Akersgata has been opened out to the east for the public spaces to the north and south of the Y Block with important diagonal views and attractive mature trees and then, as the road begins to climb and curve to the west, beyond the government buildings, there are a number of large bases or platforms with prominent public buildings including the Trinity Church and then the Catholic church of St Olav raised above street level. Presumably these large platforms are in part man made where the substantial buildings bridge across the valleys and ridges of the natural topography north of the historic centre. Whatever the underlying reason, this is attractive townscape that links major public buildings.

If Akersgata could be paved over, and traffic diverted, it would create an important pedestrian route - a way to walk from the City Hall and the harbour right up to the public space around the Y Block - forming a pedestrian spine to the city that could provide an important and appropriate civic memorial to the events of July 2011.

The National Museum has published on line a good selection of photographs of these buildings and the panels by Picasso with a number of contemporary photographs of other major works by Viskjø.

Sørensen Østlyngen Oslo

Sorensen 1-35.jpg

To the west of the royal palace and cutting through the Oslo district of Frogner, with its well-established and comfortable apartments, are Bygdøy Allé and Frognerveien, both lined with high-quality independent shops.

Sørensen Østlyngen at Bygdøy alle 60 has a good, well-chosen selection of furniture and 90% of the products sold are from Scandinavia. 

But even here there was only one chair that was designed and made in Norway - the iconic Siesta 302 that was designed by Ingmar Relling in 1964. It has a frame of laminated beech and came with canvas and then later leather seats. It is still produced by Rybo of Norway.

Sorensen 2-36.jpg

With their increasing affluence, I certainly can’t blame the people of Oslo for wanting to buy the best in modern design. And I’m not suggesting that everyone should buy classic mid-century modern furniture ... but I was actually hoping to find furniture from young Norwegian designers. The exhibitions at the Museum of Architecture showed how dynamic and adventurous young architects in Norway can be; the fantastic enthusiasm at DogA shows a hunger for modern product design at it’s best and most challenging and the Design Museum shows the rich heritage of mid-century modern design from Norway. Why is so much of the furniture sold in Oslo from Italy and Germany? Is the problem with the consumers and what they want or with the manufacturers and what they can produce? This is not a criticism - I am just curious.

furniture and design stores in Oslo

One quick and easy way to assess popular and current styles for furniture and interiors in any city is to look at the department stores. Steen & Strøm on Kongengate is probably the most stylish store in Oslo with a beautiful interior but it concentrates on clothing and has what seems to be a deliberate approach to be generally international in style rather than specifically Norwegian.  

Glas Magasinet on the square to the west of the cathedral is a more traditional store and has an extensive kitchenware department but again little seemed to come from Norway apart from an amazing display of blankets and a large display of fur and fleece.

As far as I could see, the general fashion in Oslo is not to buy Norwegian but German or Italian furniture. Stilverk on Kirkegata has a very good and carefully chosen selection of modern furniture but has no Norwegian pieces. Tannum Møbler, on Stortingsgata at the corner of Munkedamsveien, actually looks out towards the National Theatre and interconnects with Norway Design selling gifts from Norway and the shop has a beautiful selection of furniture but only one chair that is made in Norway ... the Scandia Chair designed by Hans Brattrud in 1957 and re-issued by Fjordfiesta.

galleries in Oslo

Oslo has a large number of independent galleries that sell paintings and drawings, antique furniture, classic mid-century modern design and modern crafts. The range is enormous and the quality is high. 

The photographs show a variety of galleries but I particularly liked Stengt on the south side of Fredensborgveien, opposite the corner with Thor Olsens gate, with its display of 20th-century vintage furniture and Kunsthåndverk at Kongensgate 2 near the National Museum of Architecture who sell modern ceramics and glassware and other crafts.

architecture in Oslo

I do not know Oslo well. I was last here exactly forty years ago so it seems unfair to try to assess the architecture of the city with another stay of just five days. 

Of course I remembered clearly the wide horse-shoe shape of the harbour dominated at its centre by the city hall and its massive towers. Building work started on the city hall in 1931 with designs by Arnstein Arneberg and Magnus Poulsson. Work was interrupted by the War so the building was inaugurated in 1950. The design strikes me as belonging very much to it’s pre War period with still a strong sense of political power but what is clear is the quality of the work and the style and quality of the bold sculpture that decorates the building.

The imposing remains of Akershus Castle still dominate the east side of the harbour although the harbour is actually much busier than I remembered it ... some of the cruise ships that now dock here seem as high as the castle itself and certainly more solid in bulk.

 I recognised the Cathedral but had forgotten how beautiful it is with the square and its flower market in the front. One of the striking features of the city now is the high quality of much of the street scape with sculptures and fountains and areas of high-quality cobbles.

I remembered the respectable blocks of middle class apartments to the west of the royal palace. Last time I was here I had not ventured up into the working-class area to the north east of the centre but I explored that part of the city a bit this time looking for the Design and Architecture Museum.

I found some of the timber buildings that survive from the old city and looked with new interest at the substantial buildings of the late 19th and early 20th century with their dramatic solidness and heaviness and powerful sculptural elements that sets the architecture apart from that of the neighbouring countries. Clearly my tastes and interests have changed as I found these buildings much more attractive and interesting this time round.

But much has changed. There is much in the city that is very new. The Opera House designed by Tarald Lundevall was completed in 2008 and really does seem to rise out of the east harbour or Bjervika like a huge glacier.

The west side of the main harbour (Pipervika) has seen the most recent change with the ship yards in the area called Aker Brygge redeveloped with new buildings for the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, designed by Renzo Piano and opened in 2012. This area is now known as Tjuvholmen. Surrounded by new hotels, walkways, cafes and shops and huge apartment buildings with workmen still swarming over them, the area is incredibly lively and enthusiastically used including an area of beach and shallow water for children to swim in against the backdrop of the sculpture park but I felt slight misgivings that the buildings seemed too high for the scale of the rest of the city with a huge range of facing materials that must be very deliberate and in a variety of styles that are presumably called International Modern. None of this seemed to be Norwegian in style or character. 

Having said that, it is perhaps ironic that just before I arrived the Norwegian Parliament approved the start of work on a New National Museum in this area on the site of the old west station. When completed all the National Museums in Oslo, including the National Gallery, the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design and the Museum of Contemporary Art will move here. Only the National Museum of Architecture will stay in its present building.



Bridge, the present exhibition at the Design and Architecture Centre in Oslo or DogA, has been organised jointly by Oslo National Academy of the Arts and the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. Forty student projects have been selected to show the importance of the design industry in Norway today. The wide range of design projects show that the design profession has an increasingly significant role to play in the development of society with the need “to meet future challenges in development and innovation.”

I found the range of the projects impressive and many of the solutions to complex issues were inspired and inspiring. 

Aleksander Wassum and Magnus Trevisan looked at the ways that large video screens could replace traditional poster-sized ads in shop windows and street displays and in an appropriate way could change and respond to people walking near.

Several projects looked at how we monitor the use of energy and how displaying information clearly about the temperature and so on would help people appreciate what was happening in their immediate environment. Maren Skyrudsmoen used clear graphics and data transferred to the mobile phones of hotel guests to help them control energy use in their rooms and Ask Helseth and Camilla Monrad-Krohn looked at how workers in an office or public space can make changes to the space around them, by opening windows or adjusting thermostats, without realising what the energy impact of that might be so they created strong graphic patterns on the building itself that changed their display as the environment changed.

Other projects looked at the design of high-speed transport, the ergonomics of desk and workstation design and the effect of well-designed toys on the way children reacted in a play group.

DogA Oslo

The Norsk Design- og Arkitektursenter at Hausmanns Gate 16 in Oslo was an industrial building - formerly a transformer station. The earliest part dates from 1898 but with substantial additions in 1917 and 1948.

The setting is dramatic next to the church of St Jakob but on the west bank of the Akerselva river and this was clearly an industrial part of the city that is now being revitalised.

The buildings were converted in 2005 by Norsk Form and the Norwegian Design Council and now house a large exhibition space, with offices, conference and seminar rooms and a cafe and shop.

The core work of the Design Council is to act as consultants to Norwegian business to promote the “understanding, knowledge and use of design.” Norsk Form provides “interdisciplinary studies, innovation, debate and network-bulding in the fields of design, architecture and urban area planning.”

Aims and mission statements can often sound oddly mechanical and sometimes off putting but I really would urge anyone visiting the city to visit DogA. It was humming with activity and the people I came across were enthusiastic and friendly ... oh and the cafe was great. 


From June until the 6th October 2013 there is a small exhibition in the National Museum of Architecture about the designs that were produced by Pablo Picasso to decorate government buildings in the centre of Oslo. 

Both the H block completed in 1958 and the Y block completed in 1969 were designed by Erling Viksjø a pioneer of modernism. Picasso produced designs for large panels and the drawings were transferred to the concrete by the Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar using sandblasting as a form of etching technique.

The panels by Picasso included a Satyr and Dancing Faun on a stairwell on the eleventh floor and The Beach and Fishermen on the walls of the eighth-floor stairwell of block H completed in 1958. Then for the second phase in 1967 Picasso produced a design entitled Sea Gull for a wall in the vestibule of Y block and in 1969 Fishermen for the exterior.  

Fortunately these works were not damaged in the bomb attack of July 2011 although the buildings are still closed with many of the windows boarded up. In part, the purpose of the exhibition is to stimulate debate about the restoration of the buildings.

Under 40

This is the fourth exhibition to focus on young architects in Norway. The first was in the Galleri Rom in 1988; the second in 1998 focused on 20 architects under the age of 40 and in 2004 the newly established National Museum repeated the format of 20 under 40. The present exhibition at the National Museum of Architecture looks at the work of 11 young architects or partnerships. 

Several major themes emerge. All the architects appear to take on board concerns about sustainability and conservation but new ideas look at integration ... the relevance and importance of good architecture to society.

Two entries were selected for display on a larger scale with large installations in the Fehn pavilion. 

“House of a Medley of Norwegian Birds” by Huus og Heim Arkitektur is simple but very beautiful with wood bird boxes suspended in the space. Each represents a different Norwegian bird whose environment and therefore whose survival is under threat. Each has a sensor that when tripped, by someone walking near, plays the calls of the bird. The whole gallery was filled with bird song. Really beautiful.

Atelier Oslo in their exhibit is concerned about how we relate to space rather than how we relate to nature. “A steady increase in rules and regulations is forcing contemporary architecture to adopt proportions and forms of standardisation that take us ever further away from the dimensions of the human body.” Their installation in pale plywood creates a series of complex spaces with steps and platforms of different heights and curved internal surfaces reached by narrow openings that you have to squeeze through making you very aware of the width and height of the linked spaces as you explore them.

In installations by other architects, including those by Strusshamn, Laa Toyen AS and SFOSL AS, there is a clear concern to reassess vernacular architecture to produce housing that is appropriate to its Norwegian landscape and a historic context. Several of the projects show buildings with cruciform plans or angled and glazed ends that engage with specific views out.

National Museum of Architecture Oslo

Opened in 2008, the National Museum of Architecture at Bankplassen 3, is close to the Castle of Akershus, on the west side of a very attractive square that has the National Museum of Contemporary Art across the south side. 

The earliest part of the building was designed by Christian Heinrich Grosch (1801-1865) and completed in 1830 for Norges Bank. Grosch was Norwegian but educated in Germany and Copenhagen. He became the chief architect and planning engineer for the city of Oslo and was the Inspector of Royal Building.

An interesting film (in Norwegian) in an upstairs gallery explains about the extensive work required to restore and adapt the 19th-century building for the new museum and shows the skill and craftsmanship required to rebuild brick vaulting, lay brick floors and restore the striking decorative scheme of the entrance hall and main staircase.

For exhibitions there is a large, almost free-standing glazed pavilion that was designed by the Norwegian architect Sverre Fehn (1924-2009). The space has amazing natural light, unusual in many modern museums because of conservation issues, with views back to the rear elevation of the old bank and views out to adjoining streets. When necessary, light levels are controlled by louvres or shutters. Fehn was the leading architect of his generation and was awarded the prestigious Pritzker Prize for Architecture and the Heinrich Tessenow Gold Medal in 1997.

The museum has a collection of drawings, architectural models and photographs and has a programme of exhibitions and lectures. There is a small but good book shop and a pleasant restaurant.

Swinging 60, the work of Sven Ivar Dysthe

At the Kunstindustriemuseet at St Olavs Gate 1 in Oslo is a temporary exhibition to celebrate the work of Sven Ivar Dysthe running from the 5 May to the 25 August 2013. Dysthe was born in 1931 and studied at The Royal College of Art in London. Over a long career he has produced a wide range of furniture for offices and for the home including collaborations with his wife, interior designer Trinelise Dysthe.

Design Museum in Oslo

In Oslo, the best place to start exploring Norwegian design is the Kunstindustrimuseet (design museum) at St Olavs Gate 1. This has temporary exhibition space and a reference collection of furniture and applied art including glass and ceramics and costume. On the second floor furniture from the middle ages through to the 19th century is set out in sequence but on the first floor is furniture from about 1900 through to early this century. 

There are some incredible pieces by Gerhard Munthe (1849-1929) considered to be Norway’s first industrial designer although clearly he also looked towards the Arts and Crafts movement.

From the late 1920s there is a chair by Kristian Kristiansen and the Stol (chair) Futurum by Axel-Einar Hiorth. From the middle of the century there is work on display by the architect and designer Arne Korsmo and a selection of shell chairs and from the late 20th century moulded plastic chairs.