5 May 2012

Contemporary Norwegian Architecture at RIBA

My visit to RIBA was cunningly timed to take in two of their exhibitions at the same time.

The main draw was A Place to Call Home but the prospect of combining that with an exhibition of contemporary Norwegian architecture was always going to appeal having spent some time there last summer enjoying buildings of all ages and especially the very modern opera house in Oslo.

With the possible exception of the front room on the first floor, RIBA lacks exhibition space so they make do with what they can and fill other spaces with models and drawings. There is always something to see on the pretty staircases between the first and fourth floors.

With A Place to Call Home claiming the main space and the Library, the Norway expedition had to find somewhere else.

One of the spaces it claimed was the middle of the restaurant.where it was housed on a collection of light blue boxes.

On these boxes were a series of models, some diagrams and a few words. Between the boxes were some large photographs.

The schemes on display here were all to do with improving the main tourist route through the country.

The country consists of a lot of solid rock carved in to exaggerated shapes by millennia of fast moving water and slow moving ice.This is scenery to admire and so places have been built to admire it from.

Some of these are plain scary with flimsy platforms suspended over drops that take you half an hour or more to drive down round equally scary hairpin bends.

Others were more sedate places for visitors to eat, rest and recover while still being able to appreciate the majesty of the rocks.

Obviously glass featured heavily, not only does it keep the views, it also looks fantastic when made to adopt unusual shapes.

A little surprising was the amount of open space that some of these places had. This is a country where the main road north-south is not clear of snow until May.


The exhibition continued on the second floor is what is really just a wide corridor around the central atrium. Here there were walls to put displays on as well as more tables with more models.

There was a slight change of mood to with some more familiar buildings such as a Centre Parcs like hotel with a number of buildings arranged so that none of them could see each other.

There were also examples of new buildings made with traditional materials, i.e. wood and stone, and designed to sit comfortable with their surroundings.

And there were more viewing platforms too, including this one that I have been on.

As you can see, the barrier is high with a rolled top that keeps you away from the very edge and while the water is white with fury the drop is not that far so the vertigo does not kick in.

It was a small exhibition squeezed in to a couple of unnatural spaces but the content won through and it was a great success.

The lesson from A Place to Call Home was we used to know how to build housing but we have given that ability away to the "free market". The lesson from Contemporary Norwegian Architecture is that other countries do it better. But then anybody who has been to mainland Europe recently knows that.

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