Architecture Students Develop Interventions for Traditional Villages in Norway

Students on a beach in Norway in winter
Ben Vongvanij (M.Arch. '18), Alexandra Donovan (B.Arch. '18), and Aya Mears (B.Arch. '18), at Ramberg Beach, Flakstad, Norway. photo / Jeremy Bilotti (B.Arch. '18)
red buildings and snowy landscape in a Norwegian village on the ocean
Traditional buildings and fish-drying structures in the center of Å, a small community at the end of the road on the Lofoten Islands. photo / Kristin Ionata (M.Arch. '18)
Four men discussing architecture in Norway in winter
From left, visiting professors Dagur Eggertsson and Sami Rintala; Professor Mark Cruvellier; and Ethan Davis ( (M.Arch. '17), at Ramberg Beach. photo / Jeremy Bilotti (B.Arch. '18)
snow covered mountains along the side of the ocean with a mixture of sun and clouds
The view from Fredvang harbor, site of one of the studio’s three design interventions. photo / Anuntachai Vongvanij (M.Arch. '18)
Students and professors tour a village in northern Norway
From left facing the camera in foreground: Russell Southard (M.Arch. '18), Xiaoyun (Shawn) Wang (M.Arch. '18), and Sami Rintala, in Fredvang, Flakstad. photo / Jeremy Bilotti (B.Arch. '18)
Wooden structures in Oslo, Norway
Rintala Eggertsson Architects' SALT pavilion is inspired by traditional fish drying racks used in Lofoten. photo / Alexandra Donovan (B.Arch. '18)
Four people standing in a line on a staircase against a white wall with black steel railings
Studio instructors Mark Cruvellier, Sami Rental, and Dagur Eggertsson receiving instruction from the director of the Knut Hamsun Centre, a building designed by American architect Steven Holl. photo / Anuntachai Vongvanij (M.Arch. '18)
April 4, 2017

Lofoten is a remote archipelago and traditional district in the county of Nordland, Norway, known for its distinctive scenery of spectacularly steep mountains, rocky bays, and sandy ocean beaches. Over the winter break, 14 undergraduate and graduate students in the spring 2017 architecture option studio titled Site-specific, Small-scale Interventions traveled to some of the isolated villages in Lofoten to begin formulating class projects.

The group was led by department chair and Nathaniel and Margaret Owings Professor of Architecture Mark Cruvellier, as well as Baird Visiting Professors Sami Rintala and Dagur Eggertsson. Eggertsson and Rintala are the founders of Rintala Eggertsson Architects, a Norway-based architecture firm that focuses on a wide range of types and scales of built work, from public art to architecture, and furniture design to urban planning. They have also frequently led design/build workshops involving students.

Working in teams, the students were challenged with developing interventions addressing public infrastructure, the stresses of tourism, and local industry in three sites around the Lofoten municipality of Flakstad. The sites were suggested by community members before the trip, and included a sandy beach where four women swim in the icy water every day of the year; a small harbor and processing plant in a traditional fishing village; and a scenic beach and mountain with trails and stone ruins utilized by birdwatchers and hikers. According to the class syllabus, an essential challenge and objective of the projects is "to explore how to accomplish a lot with a little in such an environment," taking into account the Arctic climate, ranging from cold and dark winter days, to the brief sunlit summer.

Cruvellier explained how the design process incorporates strong community engagement. "We talked to the swimmers, to the people running the fish processing facility, and to local officials and planners to learn about the sites and how the proposals could incorporate tourism and commercial needs, yet also accommodate the aspirations of the local population and enrich their daily lives," he said. "The idea is to offer design proposals that could get community support and that could plausibly be further refined and built over the next summer or two."

Jeremy Bilotti (B.Arch. '18), Ethan Davis (M.Arch. '17), Paul Fuschetti (B.Arch. '18), Heesun (Joyce) Han (B.Arch. '18), and Kristin Ionata (M.Arch. '18) began their project with a comprehensive analysis of the fishing industry and processing plant in the traditional village of Fredvang. "The village's fishing culture is intertwined with the identity and history of Fredvang itself, as well as with the history of Norway as a whole," said Bilotti. "We'd like to celebrate that culture and propose an intervention on the waterfront that functions as a destination for residents, fisherman, and those who would like to visit Fredvang to interact with and learn about its rich history."

The other students who traveled to Norway were Elie Boutros (B.Arch. '18), Alexandra Donovan (B.Arch. '18), Catherine Ely (B.Arch. '18), Justin Foo (B.Arch. '18), Carmen Johnson (M.Arch.II '17), Aya Mears (B.Arch. '18), Russell Southard (M.Arch. '18), Anuntachai Vongvanij (M.Arch. '18), and Xiaoyun (Shawn) Wang (M.Arch. '18).

The site visits in Flakstad were bookended by stops in Hamarøy at The Knut Hamsun Center, a museum for the writer Knut Hamsun designed by Steven Holl; and two days in Oslo to explore vernacular as well as contemporary examples of Nordic architecture for additional insight into the culture and the landscape. In Oslo, the group visited the Ekebergparken and Skyspace, designed by American artist James Turell. Turell's color and light installation gave the students another way of understanding the Norwegian landscape as it interacts with the sky and the weather.

Teaching associate Erin Pellegrino (B.Arch. '14) said that the trip's experiences — from the country's unique sounds and smells to the unpredictable weather and the presence or absence of light — were key to the design process. "A visit is critical for students to really confront what sort of interventions can be constructed in the landscape," said Pellegrino. "We can see how they are using this sensitivity to the place to focus their studies."

Cruvellier agrees. "One cannot understand this place without being there — weather, landscape, and culture. To develop proposals, the students experienced these and talked to the people who live there," he said. "A lot of them even 'took the plunge' of the early morning swim in the arctic sea."

By Patti Witten