The Louisiana exhibition New Nordic is an overview on how we build in the contemporary north. It seeks to define the Nordic identity through several themes (“Re-assessing the site-specific, Re-interpreting community, Re-claiming public space”) and interventions; (film, placed objects or small “theatres” and pavilions or houses).

The architects invited to make a house/pavilion in the exhibition all explain their work and their approach to the Nordic identity in a series of videos published on the Louisiana museum site.



There they each explain what the nordic essence is to them and how it affects their work and the house they did for the exhibition.

I have been confronted with that same question being a Nordic architect and being involved in a project in the far north (69degreesN), an area I wasn’t familiar with. In the interview with Jarmund/Vigsnæs, he describes the search for the essence of a place and quotes Jaqcues Herzogs analogy of the architect being as a criminal investigator, searching for leads to find the perpetrator. This is one way of looking at this process of taking in a new place and absorbing all sorts of signs and details that make up a certain place, with this trying to get to its essence. Sometimes It can be an asset being from the outside looking in. You often see values in things that the locals have stopped seeing or have gotten too used to to even notice.

On my travels in the north, I found some characters, with a great personality that I wanted to understand better, to diagnose, so that I could insert something there that belongs, a comrade that would speak the same language as this group of characters. The area is not very urban and to delve into the built tradition can sometimes seem like a bit of a challenge when the bulk of the built environment is ordered from a catalogue or seems like a temporary warehouse. I find it important to not be selective when evaluating the different eras of an areas building tradition. These, perhaps less valuable or significant interventions also play an important part in the environment and they make the pattern of the built fabric which demonstrates how the city is used. Apart from the urban elements there are extremely important traits that one must remember when designing. The -50 degrees celsius and the complete darkness in winter and short, bright and relatively mild summer translates into very concrete forms in the design.

What is nordic? It is different things of course, the north has many different places with very different features and attributes that translate into different needs in the built form. But there is also a common feeling in the north. A feeling I felt quite strongly when arriving in this foreign place. It was different but the same, and the people also. Perhaps it has something to do with one of the 3 themes in the Louisiana Expo (“Re-assessing the site-specific, Re-interpreting community, Re-claiming public space”). It has something to do with community and the culture of the welfare system. This feeling mentioned earlier of fellowship within a community but also between the Nordic countries comes perhaps from these shared values that are quite specific to the Nordic countries.


Thanks Sigrun! I really enjoyed the interviews… I particularly enjoyed Studio Granda’s Interview – they seem to have fantastic clients. Their admission of ugliness was fascinating! Although i don’t agree that the house they designed was in any way ugly, i really admire their fiercely contextual approach.

Again we have 3 CAPITAL R’s – I Really wish your Nordic values would take hold in the UK, although i fear this is rather optimistic given our current government!

I was encouraged recently when I vistied the New Lyric Theatre, by O’Donnell Tuomey, in my hometown of Belfast. It really embraces the unforgiving qualities of its site and has created a public space of rare fluidity and formal quality. Unfortunately I dont have any of my own pictures to share, but here’s a link to some photographs and a video on the RIBA website; NEW LYRIC THEATRE

Last month I attended a debate at RIBA, where the nominees for this year’s Stirling Prize were invited to speak about their work and engage in an open conversation (chaired by Rowan Moore). I was delighted to hear John Tuomey speak about his latest work, he described his approach  to the tough context with great clarity and charm. I was particularly impressed with his sense of place, and his understanding of the character of the city – something which is readily apparent went you visit the building. For me his description of Belfast as a ‘hard, pointy kind of town’ really hit the nail on the head, although i doubt it will be endorsed by the Tourist board… He also pointed out the saving grace of the Belfast townscape – the surrounding hills and countryside, which can be seen from many of the pointy little red brick houses that comprise the city and its suburbs, thanks to the cities varied topography. These views are framed to dramatic effect in the public areas of the Lyric, which enjoys an elevated position overlooking the river Lagan.

O’Donnell Tuomey’s building is tough and sits comfortably in its jagged setting. They have embraced the ugliness of the local built environment, extracting its best qualities and producing a rough, pointy and beautifully crafted structure. A new ‘house’ for the city’s thriving theatre scene – it also provides much needed extra space that has already become a valued piece of public real estate. Happily its cafe and foyer have been invaded by knitting circles, yummy mummies and teenagers alike. Inside its hard shell, this Belfast building has a refined and finely articulated sequence of spaces, that perhaps deserves another post!  I will be sure to take some photographs next time I am in town…


One thought on “New Nordic/ building in the north

  1. Pingback: More on the Lyric | social skills

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