Can regional identity be expressed in architecture? Glass takes the temperature on Nordic architecture
In the second half of the 20th century, Nordic architecture has been synonymous with attention to detail, texture and materials, always focusing on the human scale. Atmosphere, touch and light are themes reoccurring throughout the classical canon in which we find Asplund, Jacobsen and Aalto. Glass explores how their legacy is kept alive in contemporary production and how the challenges of globalisation in this century have influenced and shaped the region's architecture?
When looking for a common determinant to describe the approach to architecture within the Nordic region, the notion of place is central. Despite the region offering a vast variety of landscapes and climatic conditions – from the dramatic mountains, the volcanoes, the vast forests and the lakes to the flat heaths, not to mention cities – place is essential and ever present.
Nordic buildings are saturated by an urge to let as many aspects as possible of their surrounding context – of place – influence them. Place plays a dominant role in shaping architecture and, as such, becomes central to the understanding of a building – often the internal arrangements and framing of views of the surroundings from the interior become as important as how the building will eventually look. Views and light in every individual room are important in places that experience long and dark winters. This, combined with what Lene Tranberg of Danish practice Lundgaard & Tranberg calls the “dare to be boring” approach – resisting the urge to create the spectacular for the sake of it and instead working contextually – makes up Nordic understated architecture.
Another lesson which this architecture takes from its old masters is their attention to materiality and use of local materials and building methods. In the words of Margrét Hardardottír of Icelandic Studio Granda, this can “act as a shield in an increasingly globalised world”. Architects tend to use materials which are fundamentally local – not only in the sense of being locally sourced, but in terms of the inherent properties which allow them to coexist with their surroundings. Being aware of how a material responds to different weather conditions – how it looks when wet, for example – and an attention to detail and connections appears to remain one of the lessons carried forward, as well as not covering, or dressing materials up. This, combined with an essential attention to the tactile – to how a material feels upon touch and where to best use it – is fundamental to Nordic tradition.
Recent years have seen these traditions brought to the forefront of architecture. Dogmatic approaches have been dusted off, refreshed and reinterpreted into a contemporary expression in which global influences are intertwined with lessons from the past. The combination of vernacular crafts and tradition with high-tech and industrial materials creates interesting new expressions and, as described by Norwegian Jarmund/Vignæs, “a strangeness that appears shockingly obvious”.
These reoccurring elements in Nordic architecture are the foundation of a new exhibition – New Nordic – currently showing at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark. The museum is the perfect setting for an exhibition that aims to explore the relationships between architecture, culture, and identity, and collective memories and narratives as reflected in spatiality and materiality. The building is set within a gentle landscape north of Copenhagen, and features large panoramic views of the sea. The interaction between the exhibited artworks, the architecture of the building itself and the surrounding nature is unique, making the central theme of the exhibition ever present.
A wide selection of works by architects from this region is represented in this exhibition, as well as a series of “theatres” created by well-known cultural people from within the region, all trying to explore the question of what is the Nordic for you?
By examining three themes – Re-assessing the Site-Specific, Re-interpreting Community and Re-claiming Public Space; the exhibition attempts to address and answer questions about national and cultural differences in a globalised world, and to understand the place-specific. En route, the exhibition explores these questions through five specially-commissioned pavilions or houses, designed by Johan Celsing (Sweden), Jarmund/Vigsn¾s (Norway), Studio Granda (Iceland), Lassila Hirvilammi (Finland) and Lundgaard & Tranberg (Denmark). Through the construction of these structures the exhibition explores and interprets both the common themes which reoccur across national borders and also the differences.
Exploring the contemporary architecture in the region, we can see that traditions are still very present and that these architects manage the fine art of reinterpreting the past while simultaneously acknowledging the present world. The natural beauty of the place is carefully balanced into the architecture that manages to embrace the needs of contemporary living – including both sustainability and high-tech requirements. As pioneered by Bjarke Ingels, we truly can say “Yes is More” – that we can include the beauty of the reinterpreted vernacular, whilst remaining a part of the global village. by Runa Mathiesen