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A few weeks ago I took part in a course offered by the association of architects in Oslo which took place in and was sponsored by the bank DNB. A part of the course was a tour of their new 17 floor headquarters in the Barcode, Bjørvika, designed by MVRDV with DARK and A-lab architects as its Norwegian partners, and opened in May 2013. MVRDV also did the highly dense master plan for the whole area consisting of 11 buildings each assigned to a different architect.

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The building is an assembly of pixels or cubes, void or filled, put together to allow for a variety of interior and exterior spaces as well as allowing the daylight to permeate better through it. Their random assembly is also a representation of the organisation and function of the establishment, in the words of the architects, as a transparent and democratic financial institution. This manifests itself in an absence of traditional offices or cubicles, there are no assigned seats, no hierarchical structure in the placement of people in the building, no corner office with a view over the fjord. Anyone should be able to work anywhere (and probably anytime) and the building reacts to this. The orientation points are the larger public spaces such as the canteen (one at the -1 level by the entrance and another on the top level) and the fact that all floors are different because of the constellation of the pixels. The cubes are bound together with various/differing informal or formal/enclosed meeting spaces along the passages of movement, vertical and horizontal.

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Here around 20 offices that were once spread across town are collected in one building counting about 2500 mobile workplaces.

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The incidental clustering of generic spaces offers the flexibility needed by the requirements of modern banking but this absence of hierarchy also makes it relatively difficult to orient oneself. Since everything is different, somehow everything becomes the same. The spaces for movement are often generous as they are designed as casual meeting spaces, but somehow become a little too haphazard to actually work as such. The system of the cubes on the other hand seems to work quite well, and the voids create some very nice situations throughout the building. The tricky part is connecting the dots, or pixels in this case.

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In these more or less established in-between and public spaces there is a noticeable presence of art, the new headquarters is a logical place to show off the biggest private art collection in Norway. The more successful instances of this include video screens by the elevators that would usually have commercials or general information that show various video art, Yayoi Kusama’s infinity box (cover photo) in the canteen and the gentle giant greeting you in the entrance. I could not help thinking of ‘Allgemeine Gewerbeschule und Schule für Gestaltung’ (https://socialskillsarchive.wordpress.com/2012/11/18/brute/) where art and architecture is skilfully integrated, in the DNB headquarters there is a missed opportunity of a collaboration between the architects and artists since for the most part the new, Nordic and edgy collection they have chosen to display hangs very inoffensively on the walls.

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The stronger points of the building are the robust and beautifully executed brick interior/exterior and the urban spaces created at the street level, even though the planned entrance route has not been opened yet, so you arrive from the back so to speak (they are working on the whole street level in the Bjørvika area, completion planned in 2015). It is quite nice to pass through there, gazing into the varied lit spaces and interior public square/canteen with the extra large and very metropolitan looking big screen shining with bright colours.

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