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Norway’s new design palace

How can one take an existing brick structure with great character which was built in stages between 1898-1948, and transform it into a showcase of contemporary design? That was the challenge faced by Jensen & Skodvin Arkitektkontor, when they were given the task of converting and refurbishing a listed historical building into the new Norwegian Center for Design and Architecture.

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Before it was reborn as a modern design palace, the structure on the shore of the Aker River at Hausmanns gate 16 had served as Oslo’s first electrical power and transformer station. The new home for the two organizations Norsk Form and Norsk Deisignråd opened its doors in February.
“What was important to the architects was keeping traces of the past. That meant that they couldn’t simply create a white cube showroom, which is the usual way to show art or design,” says Pia Bodahl of Norsk Form.
Instead, the ingenious architects worked like urban archaeologists, peeling away more layers on the walls using various cleaning techniques. All traces of former doors and windows were kept.
In the main exhibition hall (500 square meters with an impressive 12 meters of headroom), one can see original light-yellow tiles and decorative patterned masonry, which was presumably created over a century ago. Evidence of previous years of usage has been preserved and revealed, rather than concealed.
The conference area is located on a mezzanine overlooking the exhibition hall, and framed by colorful glass panels. In the area reserved for staff, built in an “open office” style, bookshelves and desks are made of bended steel plates in keeping with the industrial past of the building.
The lavatory walls are also special. To save space, the walls are made of rolled and sexily curved steel. The curved walls are made possible by using new computer technology, which allowed digital drawings to be directly transferred to the roll.
When Nordic Reach paid a visit to the design and architecture center shortly after the opening, workmen were still hammering away at the building’s café and gift store. Those parts of the building had yet to be completed, but the first exhibit called “Extreme North” was already in place.
The exhibit consisted of twelve scenes from the outer edge of Europe, corresponding to the twelve months of the year, and stressed the connection between Norway’s extreme climate and the products and architecture, which has been developed here.
It is was an ambitious and visionary exhibit (with bilingual catalogue in Norwegian and English), and an auspicious start for the Norwegian Center for Design and Architecture. For more info, see:
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