Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An American built a monument to an unrepentant Nazi-supporter/Literary genius in Norway, and it's Spectacular

above: view through the negative volume that links the tier-like floors.  through a window, light ripples across painted board-form concrete to create an effect based on light and value, not material hue.  

What is more fitting for a brilliant, yet controversial figure than to have a museum in his memory that also contorts in tension, its design so to dividing opinion.  My visit to the Knut Hamsun Center in Hamarøy  , by Stephen Holl completed in 2004 was a noted break in my study of Vernacular-inspired architecture.  Located north of the Arctic Circle, the buildings volume provides a space to interpret the rise of not just modern-literature, but also the loss of a romantic world that comes with modernization itself.  The now-dormant bucolic landscape pokes through a clerestory of windows; juxtaposing expressive formal shifts with the head-down practicality of illiterate farmers.  

It is a jarring break in the cadence of the soft hills and timber buildings. For all of its being out of place, the building is also invaluable to an historic understanding of place. Without its unrepentant and modern posturing, the region that shaped one of the 20th centuries greatest authors might now suffer from an overly-romantically type of Potemkinism.  The aim of the structure is not lionize Hamsun's view or mimic his reality, but to provide a spatial lens with which to interpret it.    

Its tectonic order, defined by load-bearing concrete is loosely solid and unlike Sverre Fehn's use of the material.  In Fehn's notable museums, the use of concrete make the rooves in their weight feel like a piece of the earth that has been lifted.  Holl's enclosure and walls are certainly of the same mass, but not nearly as weighty.  The building is solidly sterometric (the stacking of stone), yet so too posses a materialization of mass ussually only seen in tectonic (light framework) orders.  Frampton writes on the ontological meaning and implication of these modes that, 

"Framework tends towards the aerial and dematerialization of mass, where as the mass form is telluric, embedding itself deeper into the earth.  One tends towards the light and the other towards the dark.   These gravitational opposites...may be said to symbolize the two cosmological opposites to which they aspire; the sky and earth."


Henningsvær, the town that cod built (TorskFisk)

Along the steep coasts of the Lofoten Island,  fishing communities were carved out of inlets where existence, much like this structure, tenuously grip.  Now the archipelago draws as much artists and tourists as it does fishermen.  The gentle quality of its northern light and its hardscrabble past create an atmosphere of a contradictory air. The narrow chain of Islands and the traces of a way of life here are quintessentially coastal and Norwegian.  Boathouses, and structures of all types possess an honest
  ad-hoc quality that is almost Modern in their material practicality.  Some of  the buildings have gradually expanded, lumbering along aggregating and shedding material;  never really becoming complete.  In these working buildings, the unfinished surfaces and additions project sense of continued possibility, even though the fishing fleets have long since modernized.
In this manner, built works of a certain organization and tactile approach can be inherently vibrant, holding traces of past activity.
The character of these raised boat houses certainly are a product of their time and place.  In the sketch above, the wooden piers come down to meet the rocky ground each at their own imperfect and hand-measured height.  Had dynamite been available on the islands, would it have been cheaper to blast away and make all the members of uniform, the geometries forever perfect and taught?
The lateral reinforcement seen here in the angled members are playfully irregular, if slightly unstable.  Of course they are inefficient, but their continued existence they speak to the stewardship of their inhabitants.   Where the form sags, it is sured-up by diagonal struts in an as-needed approach.
 The uneven rocks, rising tides and ice warp the vertical piers to create horizontal stress and an uneven platform.  These forces are then resolved by placing an opposing diagonal beam within the framework in a process that is the product of a relationship that is call and response.
While we would not build in that manner today, much can be taken from the variegated material and the responsive, asymmetrical balance of these structures.  In their imperfect angles and clustered densities, the piers appear to truly hunker up against the earth to shed the sea and wind.

Cistercian Monastery, Island of Tautra

Cistercian Monestary, Jensen Skodvin Architects
 TAUTRA ISLAND, 1.5 hours north east of Trondheim 
63' north

Before heading towards the Island of Vega and then further beyond the artic circle, I made a stop at the Island of Tautra.  Located within the protective fold of the Trondheim sound, the island had been the location of a medieval monastery.  Though comparably humble in scale, Tautra island and the monastic tradition here had a broad reach in the northward expansion of Christendom.  From this spot theology was studied, then spread with along with trade and the seed national consciousness.

The new monastery, completed in 2006, has much lighter disposition than the thick bulwarks that remain of the original monastery. Instead of the vertical rhythm of the Romanesque arch, JSA's building opens with a spectacular horizontality.  Left structurally open, the interior of the chapel opens to a sparse altar.  In a move that connects activity of insular reflection to the outside world, the enclosure beyond the altar is simple glazing with a view to the shore, sea and sky.  The spatial organization in the interior is divided into two realms by this projecting view. The clean and open ceremonial space is compressed by the structural virtuosity of the enclosure's wooden beams.  In its framing of the outside world and openness, this modern Chapel brings the horizon line into the interior space.  Here, the built work possess a quality in the similar conceptual vein of Sverre Fehn's metaphoric use of a boat to explain the forces at play along the water's edge.  When elevated above the foreground, a structure meets the horizon in buoyant dynamism, or as Per Olaf Fjeild writes in, "The Construction of Thought", a material element can serve as, "a kinetic link between the sea and sky." 

The unadorned, but thoughtful framing system of the roof, elevates wood making it a precious material.  The sharp angles of the beams' differing orientation catch light in its varied intensities and moods.  With a clear weather barrier for the roof, the wood is allowed to gleam with and cast sensuous warmth.  This nuanced vernacular style serves the function of both structure and the communicative charge of stained glass, thus acting as a truly sustaining structure.

In a final move, the busy vectors of the triangulated beams act to almost compress the clean glazing that opens the altar to the sea. When looking out to the water, the depth of the sea and sky are compressed under this busy interlocking, creating a view that flirts with two dimensionaity.  The structure flattens the landscape with the weight and temporality of light, creating an effect not unlike a lived-in Cézanne.