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Landscape architecture in Norway: a playful adaption to a sturdy nature

Karsten Jørgensen
Landscape architecture in Norway: a playful adaption to
a sturdy nature
A presentation of Norwegian landscape architecture in a few pages is, of
necessity, fragmentary, but it can nevertheless throw some light on some
noteworthy contributions to our professioni. As early as 1919 formal garden
architecture studies were established the Norwegian University of Life Sciences,
(UMB) but only around 1970 the profession was well established and acquired a
broad legitimacy anchored in a growing concern for environmental protection.
This article reveals a profession starting from fragile roots in the early 1900s, to
1930s functionalism with its focus on the health and welfare benefits, via a
renewed interest in the imitation of nature, and finally to a focus on urban space.
We’ll start with a few examples from the 19th Century: how did it start? When did
the art of gardening become landscape architecture?
Background: The art of master gardening and public parks:
Public parks were established in Norway from around the mid-19th Century. The
palace gardener, W.C.Clausen was responsible for the first public park at
Bygdøy Royal Manor, in Oslo. On the southern coast of the country, in
Kristiansand, Ravnedalen, another public park, was built in 1870 by the hand of
General Joseph Frantz Oscar Wergeland. On the west coast, in Bergen, the
central park, Nygaardsparken was established after a competition, won by the
Danish master gardener S.Lund Leinbergii, and the park was built in the 1880s.
Even in Mosjøen a small town far up north, a city park was built in 1900, with
trees, walkways, benches and a music pavilion. These and similar green spaces
around the country still form important parts of the green structure and support
and inspire livelihood and well-being for the citizens. The park in Mosjøen has
been renewed by Elise Sørsdal in the 1940ies. It is recently restored and
renewed, and has now been placed under a preservation order as a cultural
monument of national value
Profiles of leading practitioners 1900 - 1980
Marius Røhne (1883 – 1966), was the City Gardener in Oslo from 1916 to 1948.
Røhne made a major contribution to the development of green parks in present
day Oslo. He started as a gardener practicing in Denmark before he attended
UMB in Norway. He graduated as a horticulturalist in 1911 and, after further
practice in both Denmark and Germany, settled in Oslo in 1913 as a practicing
garden architect. He designed the park landscape for the exhibition held in
Frogner Park in Oslo for the Norwegian constitution centennial in 1914. Among
his most important projects are the riverside development along Akerselva, which
was started shortly after his appointment, and the neighbourhood parks
Torshovparken and Torshovdalen, carried out together with garden architect
Eyvind Strøm (1889 – 1988) during the 20s and 30s. Both of these projects
show the modernist tendencies that were an early part of Norwegian landscape
architecture. One of Røhne’s major contributions to Norwegian landscape
architecture was the planning of green paths in Oslo, published in city architect
Harald Hals’ Master Plan in 1929, creating a network joining the central area of
Oslo and the forests surrounding the city. These ideas are clearly based on ideas
developed in a number of American cities, e.g. in Frederick Law Olmsted plans
for Boston in 1869.
Olav L. Moen (1887 – 1951) made the most important contribution to the
development of the academic discipline of landscape architecture in the first half
of the 20th century. He was originally educated as a master gardener and after
several years of practice and further education in both Germany and Denmark,
he finished at UMB with a degree in horticulture in 1918, ten years after Røhne.
Olav L. Moen then took a degree in “garden art” under the guidance of the
garden architect Willy Lange in Berlin and returned to UMB to become a docent
in 1921. In 1938 he was appointed as a professor.
Moen was principle of the programme until his death in 1951. His major design
project is the campus park at UMB from 1924. The design is essentially classical,
responding to the architecture of the main building on campus, but there are also
functionalist parts like the sports grounds for the Student Foundation at the
Moen was deeply involved in the debate about the Gustav Vigeland Park in the
1930ies.iii Vigelands’ design met with criticism from a variety of sources, including
from the Chief City Gardener Marius Røhne, but an adaptation of the design was
built in the end, despite the criticism.
Karen Reistad (1900 – 1994) studied at the Oslo National Academy of Arts
before studying garden architecture at the Royal Gardening School in Dahlem,
Berlin 1923 – 25. Her art education enabled her to take a different approach to
the discipline than most of her colleagues.
Reistad worked for Aker Municipality from 1925 to 1942, maintaining her own
private practice where she focused on the design of private gardens. From 1945
until her retirement in 1970 she was also National Cemetery Consultant, and
taught cemetery planning at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Ås from
1953 to 1970.
Among her most important designs are many war cemeteries built after the
Second World War in Norway, like the Russian War Cemetery at Tjøtta in
Nordland built in 1953, and the international war cemetery built in 1969, which is
close by. Both works show an approach to design that integrates nature. They
are inspired by the functionalist masterpiece Skogskyrkogården in Stockholm by
Sigurd and Gunnar Asplund Lewerentz built 1920 - 40, where the effortless and
explicit symbols contrast with gentle shapes in the landscape. She also designed
a wide variety of private gardens, including Villa Sandvigen in Oppegård and Villa
Riise, close to Hamar, by the famous architect Arne Korsmo. Reistad’s style can
be described as a light, poetic, natural version of functionalism. Her gardens
were easy to maintain and intended for active use, not ornate or pretentious but
practical and harmonious, in accordance with nature's own principles. In her own
words: "A finished garden should seem almost as if it hasn’t been touched”.iv
Torborg Zimmer Frølich (1911 - 2001) went even further than Karen Reistad in
cultivating a natural expression in garden architecture. This is especially well
illustrated in a number of private gardens from the 50s and 60s. Frølich didn’t
have a formal gardening education but did attend Moen’s lectures at UMB. Later
she assisted C.Th.Sørensen in Denmark before she established her own practice
in Bergen in 1936. A magnum opus by Frølich is the 1971 Sjømennenes
Boligbyggelag at Fyllingsdalen, Bergen where Frølich was at pains to preserve
the existing terrain and vegetation. The roads and 240 houses are carefully
adapted to the hilly terrain and the project was awarded several prizes for good
landscape architecture.
Knut Ove Hillestad (1924 - 2005) was trained as a garden architect at UMB
from 1950 – 53. In Telemark, as in other areas of Norway, hydroelectric power
stations were the trigger for a growing awareness of environmental damage to
the landscape. The new Nature Conservation Act of 1954 opened the door to the
protection of valuable landscapes, leading to a conflict between development and
conservation. The Norwegian Water and Electricity Authority (NVE) established a
landscape department at the beginning of the 60s and Knut Ove Hillestad was
head of that department and represented landscape and environmental interests
at NVE for 30 years from its establishment.
Hillestad contributed to the protection of nature and cultural values through
regulations that defined minimum water flows, the establishment of operational
thresholds and a wide range of other measures. He also published several books
on various topics related to this work. This development highlighted the
profession of garden architecture in Norwegian society in a whole new way and
contributed to a new legitimacy for the profession both at UMB and in society at
large. During the 60s and 70s admissions to the study programme quadrupled
and the resources of the department increased. A new interest in environmental
studies and conservation of nature was now acknowledged by the academic
Morten Grindaker (born 1926) studied garden architecture at UMB from 1950 –
53. He was more interested in art and architecture than in agriculture. Grindaker
excelled as a student, he participated in several competitions for the design of
parks and in 1951 he won, together with architect Odd Østbye, a competition for
the design of Nesparken in Moss in 1951. He started his own private practice in
1953 and to begin with, he primarily designed gardens in wealthy residential
suburbs in collaboration with several of the most prestigious architectural offices
such as Arneberg, Platou, Fehn, Grung and Viksjø. Grindaker also maintained
close ties to a number of famous artists, including Odd Tandberg, Gunnar S
Gundersen and Carl Nesjar. In 1957 he was hired by the prominent architect
Erling Viksjø to work on the construction of the new government headquarters in
In the autumn of 1959 Grindaker, together with Egil Gabrielsen (1933-1998),
who was a newly qualified landscape architect from UMB, established the office
Grindaker and Gabrielsen. From 1960 to 1963 they worked with architect Erling
Viksjø designing the park surrounding Norsk Hydro’s new 14 storey
administration building. In 1963 Grindaker and Gabrielsen represented Norway at
the international gardening exhibition in Hamburg, the IGA. Their experimental
contribution built on the interplay of a variety of overlapping, geometrical
surfaces. The project was reviewed both the national press and in the German
journal Garten und Landschaft .
This attention gave the little company led to a growing number of inquiries and
commissions, and several new staff were appointed, including Bjarne Aasen
(born 1933) and Toralf Lønrusten (born 1936). Lønrusten was interested in
conservation and had written a thesis on hydropower at UMB. In 1965, he was
contacted by Hillestad who wanted him to work with the Aurland Hydroelectric
development for NVE. The office got the commission, and, in connection with
negotiations on the contract, Hillestad noted that there was more use of
landscape architects than garden architects in this type of large scale project. As
a consequence everyone in the office changed their titles, thereafter calling
themselves landscape architects.
Egil Gabrielsen was awarded a scholarship at UMB in 1965 and in 1969 he
became a professor there. Morten Grindaker resigned from their company in
1965 and took up a post as a teacher at the National Gardening School. In 1966
the company was reborn, this time with the new name of Landskapsarkitektene
AS Aasen og Lønrusten.
The company Aasen and Lønrusten very quickly made a name for itself in the
two new fields opened up to landscape architecture in the 50s and 60s in
Norway: the protection of the natural environment and urban development. The
change of name immediately brought forth protests from colleagues who feared
that the two had acquired a monopoly over the new title; they were, however,
quickly silenced. Time was ripe for change and in a few years had almost all
garden architects began calling themselves landscape architects. Garden
architecture had become history.
Contemporary developments: 1980 – 2010
Since the 1970ies, the landscape architecture profession has grown
considerably, and number of professionals in the country is now approximately
one thousand (in a population of five million). The Landscape architecture
programme at UMB is still the major education centre, but three more schools
have emerged during the past decade or so: Bergen School of Architecture has
developed a full landscape architecture programme that is largely integrated into
their architecture programme, Oslo School of Architecture has developed a two
years’ Master programme in Landscape Urbanism, and The University of Tromsø
has developed a Bachelor’s programme in landscape architecture that starts in
the autumn 2011. The number of private offices has also increased significantly.
Recently many of the biggest offices have been integrated into large consultants
firms however, maybe leaving these landscape architects offices less room for
developing their own profile. This development has caused some concern in the
National Association of Landscape Architects and is a topic for contemporary
In order to give an adequate picture of the achievements over the last few
decades, the diversity of design and planning projects has been divided into the
following four themes: Cultural landscape projects, Urban design projects, Social
landscapes like schools and residential areas, and Parks and green structure
Cultural landscape
The spectacular Norwegian landscape has been both strength and weakness for
Norwegian landscape architecture. Its strength lies in the fact that the value of
this landscape is so obvious to everyone that it has been easy to argue in favour
of investing resources to prevent ruthless exploitation of it. This was an important
reason why the development of Norwegian hydroelectricity led to a huge boost
for the discipline in late 1960 and the early 1970's. A weakness arose because
the notions of preservation and conservation which formed the basis for this
upswing also strangled creativity in the discipline. Landscape architecture
became primarily engaged in nature conservation. This has, however, changed
during the last few decades, not least due to a commitment by the Norwegian
Public Roads Administration to high quality road projects. The National Tourist
Routes has recently been presented in the World Exhibition 2010 in Shanghai,
and projects Akkarvikodden and Hellåga from 2005 and 2006 by Inge Dahlman
and Ørnesvingen from 2006 by Arne Smedsvig, create a highly designed focal
point in the landscape that enhance the dramatic qualities in the surroundings.
Other major projects like the Oslofjord connection from 2000 by Kirstine Laukli
and Hindhamar AS, have been groundbreaking in terms of natural re-growth of
vegetation right up to the hard shoulder of the road, in addition to preserving
existing landscape and providing a great driving experience, both inside the
tunnels and in the carefully positioned artery in the landscape. Another road
development at Vollen from 2007 by Østengen and Bergo, has enhanced the
qualities of a local community by the shore of the Oslo Fjord, and is
characterized by more pragmatic and robust attitudes. Haga Golf Field from 2003
by Grindaker AS, is an example of a suburban cultivated landscape, which is
often about facilitating conservation through active land management.
Urban design
Norwegian landscape architecture has a predominantly green past: gardens,
parks and especially the preservation of nature have been the main focus of the
profession. Interest in the urban environment arose during 1980s and 90s and
during the past few decades this has increasingly constituted a centre of gravity
in the work of landscape architects. An early example of this tendency was the
competition for Oslo in 1983 resulting in the development of Aker Brygge in 1989
by Terje Vedal and Link AS, an urban waterfront development scheme. Stone
and concrete rather than vegetation became the main materials during the
1980s. Since then projects like Sonja Henies place in 1990 by Alf Haukeland
and Snøhetta AS, and the renovation of the Government Headquarters Park in
Oslo from 1994 by Hindhamar, Sundt and Thomassen AS has developed this
new urban trend further in terms of integrated design in the city’s own materials
and style. With projects like Ole Bull's place in Bergen from 1993 by Arne Sælen
and CUBUS AS, Torgallmenningen in Bergen from 1999 by Terje Kalve and
Next to Nothing AS, and Kabelvåg Torg from 2000, also by CUBUS AS, a
strong tendency to integrate works of art into the spatial design grew. Sites of
great historical significance are integrated into urban design in projects like
Vestfrontplassen and Erkebispegården in Trondheim from 1997/2006 by Bjarne
Aasen. These highly sophisticated and contemporary designs remind us of
earlier models of urbanity in Norway. Today Festplassen Bergen from 2004 –
2009 by Arne Sælen and CUBUS AS, and the roof of the Operahouse in Oslo
from 2008 by Snøhetta AS set a new tone and indicate new ways to go for these
types of landscaping projects, which in all likelihood will have even greater
significance in the future.
Social landscapes
The goal of all landscape architecture is to satisfy mankind. That’s true in all
cases, even down to the level where the main focus is to save biotopes for
particular plants or animals: primarily it is our need to save these species that is
the driving force. Nevertheless, in some projects human needs are more central,
such as building nursery schools and playgrounds for children or for those in
need of special care such as hospital grounds or facilities for the elderly. Also
schools, residential areas and university campus fall into this category whereby
the objective, first and foremost, is to create an environment for basic human
needs such health, safety and human contact.
Bjarne Aasen and 13.3/Link Landscape Architects are associated with the
design of the three major university campuses in Norway; Oslo University (1999),
NTNU in Trondheim ( and Tromsø University. In all three cases careful
consideration is given to the compositional qualities as well as the details and
choice of materials, all enhancing the social values of the projects. St Olavs
Hospital and Patient Hotel in Trondheim from 2006 (first phase) by Asplan Viak
AS is designed to encourage contact with nature to improve health and welfare.
The hospital grounds are integrated into and planned like an urban
neighbourhood, with roof terraces, streetscapes and parks. Arken Nursery
School in Moss from 2000 is designed by Hans Flaaten to provide stability and
safety yet promote contact with plants and animals. In residential areas such as
Klosterenga from 2000 by Grindaker AS, and Pilestredet Park from 2006 by
Bjørbekk & Lindheim AS, both in Oslo, ecological treatment of water and waste
is combined with comfortable and user-friendly design. Nedre Elvehavn in
Trondheim from 2009 by Agraff AS and Bjølsen Studentby in Oslo by Snøhetta
AS combine sophisticated design with a focus is on our primary need: a place to
live. Educational institutions such as Bakkeløkka secondary school at Nesodden
from 2002, by Østengen and Bergo AS, challenge the skills of designers to
create outdoor spaces that give us the opportunity to be creative and social
human beings.
Urban parks
The art of gardening was originally an exclusive genre reserved for society's
richest. In the course of the 1800s this changed: it became landscape
architecture, it developed in a social context with focus on the everyday
surroundings of townspeople, primarily reflected in city parks. In Norway town
and city gardens and parks have formed the backbone of the profession
throughout its history. The Nansen Park and Storøya at Fornebu near Oslo from
2008/2009 by Bjørbekk & Lindheim AS, have created whole new green districts
for towns that have not yet been fully developed. Hølaløkka in Oslo from 2004 by
Multiconsult AS – 13.3 Landscape Architects, shows the way for further
development of important ecological functions in city parks. Retirostranda Beach
Park in Molde from 2001 by Arne Strømme, show how good landscaping can
create new opportunities through the design of beachfronts in medium sized
towns. Kjelvene Public Park in Stavanger from 2005 by Smedsvig
Landskapsarkiteker AS, demonstrates that the public park concept has
undergone new developments: a lunar landscape for skaters as the central
element it shows that urban parks are not necessarily first and foremost green.
This park was created through a comprehensive public participation process
whereby particularly young people have been involved. Together, these works
demonstrate that parks still constitute a natural focal point in Norwegian
landscape architecture.
i This article is based on the recent book Contemporary Landscape Architecture in Norway (2010) Gyldendal, Oslo by
Karsten Jørgensen and Vilde Stabel
ii Magne Bruun: Norske hager gjennom tusen år Andresen and Butenschön (2007)
iii See Karsten Jørgensen: Olav L. Moen and new classicism in Norwegian landscape architecture in Byggekunst nr 3, 1988
iv Karen Reistad: Guidelines for moderen gardens in Norsk Havetidende, 1931 s. 53 – 56
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