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NORWEGIAN ARCHITECTURE:

Our love for
WOOD

Wood is our living archive.

Norwegian Wooden Architecture .
Photo: ONZONZ/Visit Norway Stories
Norwegian wooden architecture .
Photo: ONZONZ/Visit Norway Stories

The woods are our lungs.

75 percent of Norway is covered by forest.

Romeriksåsene in Lunner .
Photo: Vidar Moløkken / Visit Norway
Romeriksåsene in Lunner .
Photo: Vidar Moløkken / Visit Norway

Wood has sheltered us for thousands of years.

Krintokleiva Lifjell .
Photo: Vidar Moløkken / Visit Norway
Krintokleiva Lifjell .
Photo: Vidar Moløkken / Visit Norway

From the early Vikings ...

Njardarheimr, Flåm .
Photo: Visitflam.com
Njardarheimr, Flåm .
Photo: Visitflam.com

… to modern travellers.

Woodnest tree top hut .
Photo: Sindre Ellingsen/Woodnest
Woodnest tree top hut .
Photo: Sindre Ellingsen/Woodnest

The wood that built Norway

Hear the echo of hammers banging long ago, from a time before saws were invented, before there were metal nails and spikes, when wood was held together by wood. These techniques are so good and durable that many continue to use them even today, including the well-known log construction technique called laft.

This was a time when the scent of tar — faint traces of which still remain in old log buildings, fishermen's shacks, and churches — meant preservation and continuity.
All of this is thanks to the trees. Without them, we would not have been able to live here in this rocky outpost in the far north.

Nor would we have been able to cross the seas. Norwegian Viking ships are one of the strongest symbols of the golden age of the Vikings, who had extraordinary craftsmanship and knowledge of wood construction techniques. These enabled the Vikings to sail the far seas and bring back new cultural impulses and even better building techniques.

A Viking ship is sailing outside Lofotr Viking Museum
Viking ship, Lofotr Viking Museum.
Photo: Lofotr Viking Museum

Their intimate knowledge of wood was a key factor in elevating the Vikings and making them one of the world's richest and most advanced civilizations almost 1,000 years ago. Vikings once ruled large swathes of the North-Atlantic, and dominated the longest coastline in the civilized world.

The Vikings were the foremost seafaring nation in the world thanks to their techniques for building wooden ships. These skills even brought the Vikings all the way to what is now North America — or Vinland, as Leif Eriksson named it — long before Columbus.

A living, breathing material...

...where each ring is a unique imprint of time and tells a story.

Wood and timber .
Photo: Alexandre Jaquetoni / Unsplash.com
Wood and timber .
Photo: Alexandre Jaquetoni / Unsplash.com

Just like these elaborate carvings, carefully engraved by masters centuries ago.

You can still admire them at ...

Urnes Stave Church .
Photo: Lene Buskoven / Riksantikvaren
Detail, Urnes stave church .
Photo: CH/visitnorway.com

...the incredible Norwegian stave churches.

Urnes Stave Church is the oldest preserved wooden building in Norway, dating back to 1130...

...while Borgund Stave Church (video) has some of the most elaborate carvings.

The magical thing about wood is that it is almost eternal, if we take good care of it.

The oldest dated timber used in Urnes stave church comes from a tree that started to grow in 765 CE!

Borgund stave church in Lærdal, Fjord Norway .
Photo: Anders og Magga AS /Trigger Oslo / Visit Norway
Borgund stave church in Lærdal, Fjord Norway .
Photo: Anders og Magga AS / Trigger Oslo / Visit Norway

Fast-forward to a new generation of wood.

Kilden culture house .
Photo: Torbjørn Sundal Holen
Kilden culture house .
Photo: Torbjørn Sundal Holen

Hear how the echo of the stave churches resonate in the modern Våler church...

Våler Church .
Photo: Torbjørn Sundal Holen
Våler Church .
Photo: Torbjørn Sundal Holen

... or in new, futuristic music, art and culture venues, such as Kilden.

Kilden in Kristiansand .
Photo: Hufton Crow
Kilden in Kristiansand .
Photo: Hufton Crow

The power of wood

Viking ships, Norse mythology, the arrival of Christianity, European cultural influences — some of the most important, dramatic history lessons are literally carved on the walls through elaborate carvings in the Stave churches. Mythical creatures and ancient Norse gods with big eyes and long beards look down on you – incorporated into the new Christian church.

When a growing population created demand for bigger churches, almost all the more than1,000 (perhaps as many as 2,000) Norwegian stave churches were torn down. Only 28 stave churches remain intact today.

But the craftsmanship still remains very much alive today. The traditional building techniques can be seen in more recent and contemporary Norwegian wood architecture.

Two people hanging out of windows at the Per Gynt gården in Vinstra, Eastern Norway
The Per Gynt lodge in the Gudbrandsdalen valley.
Photo: CH / Visitnorway.com

Explore the history of wood

Visit Norwegian fjords and valleys full of timber history, like Gudbrandsdalen, Hallingdal or Setesdal, and the Trøndelag or Telemark regions, to learn more about building traditions and our rich cultural heritage.

In many places, you can even dine and stay overnight in a beautiful old farm house that has been carefully restored. Many of them have grass and even small trees growing on the roof! Torvtak, roofs made of birchbark and peat, were common up to the 18th century. Birchbark was actually commonly sold for roofing in Norway right up until the 1930s.

Today, grass roofs have made a comeback and can be seen on modern cabins and, surprisingly, in far more urban settings. Why? Insects love it, and it's good for the environment!

You can also sleep well in a rorbu or a sjøbu, a traditional fisherman's cottage, in unique wooden fiskevær, or fishing villages, in Northern Norway or Fjord Norway.

A great place to explore traditional timber houses and construction styles, is at one of Norway's many open air museums.

Winter at Hadeland Folk Museum .
Photo: Hans Hauge / Visit Innlandet
Winter at Hadeland Folk Museum .
Photo: Hans Hauge / Visit Innlandet

You can also appreciate playful details in the more recent homes of famous Norwegian composers and musicians...

... such as Edvard Grieg's home at Troldhaugen (pictured) or Ole Bull's eccentric villa at Lysøen.

Troldhaugen, KODE Art Museums and Composer Homes, Bergen .
Photo: KODE Art Museums and Composer Homes
Troldhaugen, KODE Art Museums and Composer Homes, Bergen .
Photo: KODE Art Museums and Composer Homes

Explore narrow lanes with quaint white wooden house in cities that dot the southern coast, including Risør, Mandal, and Flekkefjord.

Summer in Risør .
Photo: Adam Read / Visit Sørlandet
Summer in Risør .
Photo: Adam Read / Visit Sørlandet

Travel even further back in time, and soak up the nostalgic atmosphere of the tiny timber homes in the UNESCO-listed former mining town of Røros...

Kicksledding in Røros .
Photo: Tom Gustavsen
Kicksledding in Røros .
Photo: Tom Gustavsen

... and admire picturesque wooden houses in the Bakklandet neighbourhood of Trondheim, or explore the famous medieval wharf, Bryggen, in Bergen.

Bakklandet, Trondheim .
Photo: CH / Visitnorway.com
Bakklandet, Trondheim .
Photo: CH / Visitnorway.com

Timber town bonanza

After the glorious (but also quite bloody) Viking Era, Norway entered a darker and less prosperous chapter in the Middle Ages.

Once again, wood proved its power to us. Stronger boats were built of wood to be able to fish further from shore, and to transport Norway's new 'gold' — Timber — all the way to Europe; to the Netherlands, Denmark and, later, the UK in particular.

In the17th and18th centuries, the Netherlands was the world's wealthiest country and a leader in shipbuilding, generating great demand for strong wood. Did you know that big parts of Amsterdam actually rest on piles made from Norwegian trees?

You can still visit many of the idyllic, white wooden testaments to the timber trade period. In Southern Norway, cities like 'The Dutch Town' of Flekkefjord, Mandal, and Risør, 'the wooden house town', to name a few, grew forth as shipping harbours for the timber and fisheries trades.

Unfortunately, unregulated timber trading threatened to completely deforest large parts of Norway's west coast.

Several huge canals were built to transport timber from more distant, forested inland valleys to coastal ports. Today, you can cruise through impressive timber-walled lock chambers on both the 105-kilometre-long Telemark Canal and the Halden Canal on historical wooden vessels.

Wooden houses in Stavanger.
Photo: Arnold Lan

A new era for wood

As we have seen, our wood architecture also reveals much about how the present interacts with the past.

Changing times have successively introduced new trends. You can see traces of all the popular European art styles in Norwegian wood architecture: everything from renaissance, classicism, and baroque to Jugend, functionalism, and modernism.

Especially noteworthy are the old patrician style houses, and houses built in the romantic, Norwegian 'Swiss style', of which you can find many examples throughout Norway. Take note when you travel by train; many of the older stations are wonderful examples of this style!

Several devastating city fires, such as the one in Ålesund in 1904, paved the way for a policy of building more concrete buildings in urban areas.

But after the Second World War, when materials were scarce, wood helped us reconstruct our homes again, and the first ferdighus, cheap, pre-fabricated houses, began to flood the country.

But it was not until later that wood really had its renaissance....

Wake up to a new morning ...

WOODNEST, Odda Treehouse .
Photo: Gjermundphotography.com / Woodnest
Juvet Landscape Hotel .
Photo: Juvet Landscape Hotel Birdhouse/@Thetravelbook

... or stop by Finansparken in Stavanger, where the wood naturally optimizes the air quality and regulates moisture.

It also absorbs noise....

Finansparken .
Photo: Sindre Ellingsen/Moelven
Finansparken .
Photo: Sindre Ellingsen/Moelven

... perfect if you want to read a book in the Vennesla public library, rated as one of the most beautiful in the world.

Vennesla library .
Photo: Hufton+Crow
Vennesla library .
Photo: Hufton+Crow

In the middle of the woods, you can soon also experience cutting edge wooden design.

In summer 2022, hyper-modern The Plus, the world's most environmentally friendly furniture factory, will open in Magnor, Eastern Norway.

The Plus in Magnor .
Photo: Illustration: BIG / Verve
The Plus in Magnor .
Photo: Illustration: BIG / Verve

Wood brings us closer to nature.

Flokehyttene outside Haugesund, Western Norway .
Photo: Holon Arkitektur
Flokehyttene outside Haugesund, Western Norway .
Photo: Holon Arkitektur

It makes us feel good.

Skåpet tourist cabin .
Photo: Thomas Rasmus Skaug / Visitnorway.com
Skåpet tourist cabin .
Photo: Thomas Rasmus Skaug / Visitnorway.com

Wood for the future

Norwegian engineers, designers and architects are now rediscovering and inventing new ways of using this versatile, renewable and extremely flexible material, which even can withstand hurricanes and drastic changes in climate.

"We think that timber is the right material for the green transition in the building industry. It's beautiful, and it's a very sustainable and environmentally friendly solution," says Siv Helene Stangeland, partner and creative director at Helen & Hard architects.

Their firm has designed both the award-winning Vennesla library and the stunning Finansparken office building, to mention just a few of their commissions.

"Timber is also an organic material that connects us to nature and has a tactile quality. It smells good, it provides very good acoustics in the room, and it has a certain effect on us – it calms us down. Wood architecture therefore has the potential to give us a better life," adds Stangeland.

Since 2000, Innovation Norway has spearheaded initiatives and played an important role in supporting the development of new and innovative ways of using wood in construction.

And the results are beautiful. Projects from bridges, shopping centres, and airports to sports halls, office buildings, and student housing, to bird watching huts, and some truly amazing residences and cabins have been built in wood. Not to mention some spectacular viewpoints and rest areas along the Norwegian Scenic Routes.

There is now a boom in new wooden construction plans.

A sustainable hope

As much as 75 per cent of Norway is covered by forest land. The Forest Act obliges the landowners to plant new trees to replace old ones that are cut down, assuring a 100 % renewable cycle. Strict environmental standards and programs have also been implemented to secure biodiversity and reforestation.

"In Norway, we actually only cut down two-thirds of the annual growth in our forests," says Krister Moen, head of Innovation Norway's innovative wood programs.

Although great progress has already been made already in the industry, the best may be yet to come. Wood is an extremely versatile material, and can contribute to our future in new and unexpected ways.

"Everything that can be made from oil, can also be made from trees. Many parts of trees can actually be eaten. Norway Spruce can make the only natural taste replacement for vanilla," says Moen.

Where wood you like to sleep tonight?

Viewpoint Snøhetta, Hjerkinn, Dovre .
Photo: CH/visitnorway.com
Viewpoint Snøhetta, Hjerkinn, Dovre .
Photo: CH/visitnorway.com

In one of the stately, charming old wooden hotels in Norway, made to please aristocrats of the past?

Check out our exclusive hotels.

Kviknes Hotel .
Photo: CH / Visitnorway.com
Kviknes Hotel .
Photo: CH / Visitnorway.com

Or what about a night at the world's tallest wooden hotel?

Stay at a green hotel to help secure more sustainable travel.

Frich's Wood Hotel in Brumunddal, Eastern Norway .
Photo: Frich's Management AS
Frich's Wood Hotel in Brumunddal, Eastern Norway .
Photo: Frich's Management AS

Or perhaps countryside luxury is more to your liking?

Rural luxury at Hoel Gård in Ringsaker .
Photo: Hoel Gård
Rural luxury at Hoel Gård in Ringsaker .
Photo: Hoel Gård

Book early if you want to stay in one of Norway's many small wooden gems and unique places to stay!

Tunheims Fjøra Lodge .
Photo: Torild Moland / TravelStock
Tunheims Fjøra Lodge .
Photo: Torild Moland / TravelStock

You can also spend the night in a modern, or traditional, cabin or mountain lodge, that perfectly blends in with nature.

Tungestølen, Luster .
Photo: Ole Schanke Eikum / DNT
Tungestølen, Luster .
Photo: Ole Schanke Eikum / DNT

Wood is always a natural choice here in Norway.

The Finnskogen forest .
Photo: Nikolas Gogstad Andersen / Visitnorway.com
The Finnskogen forest .
Photo: Nikolas Gogstad Andersen / Visitnorway.com

Wood you like to visit us?

Treetop Cabins Oslofjord .
Photo: Gunnar Bækkevold / Oi-design / Tretopphytter Oslofjord
Konglen, treetop house in Norway .
Photo: Endre Knutsen

Exceptional architecture

Historical wooden hotels

Must-see wood architecture 

Into the woods

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