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Architecture

Between ancient fairytales and the avantgarde
Oslo is rapidly growing into a modern, international metropolis. In the countryside, prestigious projects seem to grow out of nature itself. There has never been a more exciting time for Norwegian architecture.
The Rabothytta cabin in Helgeland at dusk
The Rabothytta cabin in Helgeland.
Photo: Jan Inge Larsen / Helgeland Reiseliv/Hemnes

Think about Norway, and you’ll probably imagine mountains, forests and fjords, long summer days and even longer cold winter nights. And yes, medieval stave churches, mountain hamlets, and 1,000-year-old cities are a testament to Norway’s agricultural, industrial and historical past. Yet right now, a number of modern architectural gems and urban developments are popping up, and many of the projects reflect the powerful, often violent contrasts of nature.

As the architecture magazine Dwell puts it when summarizing our position between the ancient traditions and the new architectural surge: Norway is pointing the way fjordwards.

Architecture in Oslo: a remarkable work in progress

Oslo’s heritage goes back more than 1,000 years, but the Norwegian capital is undergoing enormous changes with a number of notable buildings and city development projects underway.

An entire new district is emerging between Snøhetta’s glacier-like Opera House and the “Barcode” high-rise buildings that have given the city a new skyline. Two landmark buildings – a new Munch Museum and the Deichman Main Library – will flank the Opera House. New apartments, commercial buildings, seaside promenades, and city beaches are already in place.

At the other side of the historic Akershus Fortress, the small peninsula of Tjuvholmen is now home to a cluster of modern design houses and hotels, as well as to Renzo Piano’s Astrup Fearnley museum of modern art, complete with yet another beach right outside the door.

Within the city, the “Vulkan” area has risen around several old industrial buildings by the river Akerselva. Mathallen Food Hall is one of several repurposed industrial buildings where you can find a vibrant culture, good foods, and nightlife.

That’s not to say that Oslo is all new. It still has several hidden and not-so-hidden gems of early 20th-century functionalism, like Villa Stenersen and Villa Dammann, the Ekeberg Restaurant and the Ingierstrand public bath.

Read more about Oslo.

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Let’s go to church

During the Middle Ages, immense stone cathedrals were constructed in many parts of Europe. In Norway, a similar technique was used for building in wood. Named after the wooden posts that bear them (Norwegian: “stav”), 28 of these stave churches remain in Norway. Two of them are the magnificently preserved 12th-century Borgund Stave Church and the slightly older Urnes Stave Church (finished in 1132) which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Some aspects of the old traditions are visible in modern church architecture as well, albeit transformed and reinvented. One new landmark is the acclaimed Community Church Knarvik by Reiulf Ramstad Architects, just north of Bergen – a dramatic and stunning, yet still peaceful wooden church.

On the other hand, some recent landmark churches have broken decisively with the stave church tradition. The now 50-year-old Arctic Cathedral in Tromsø is a masterpiece that brings to mind both the surrounding mountains and the Sydney Opera House, whilst the 2002 Mortensrud Church in Oslo is built in steel, glass, and stone.

In Norway, you will also find the northernmost medieval cathedral in the world. The country was converted to Christianity a thousand years ago, and the construction of the Nidaros Cathedral started in 1070 and finished some 200 years later.

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Award-winning drives

Lastly, the Norwegian Scenic Routes initiative cannot go without mentioning. Along some of the most beautiful roads in Norway, several notable buildings and landscape designs now enhance the experience of the surrounding nature, with rest areas and viewpoints that are works of art in their own right.

See it for yourself

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