Mortensrud Kirke – A designer’s point of view

 The miracle of Mortensrud

“They wanted it to be a symbol, as identifiable and awe-inspiring as the Medieval cathedrals. Its design should reference a time where the church played a more active and socially conscious role in society.”

The church is located in a pine forest up in a hill, in Mortensrud, in the south of Oslo. A path through the forest guides you to the building. If you don’t know it is there, you could pass it without notice because it is well hidden by the nature and quietly sitting in the landscape.

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“Geometrically speaking the church is an addition to the existing ground, no blasting and excavation was necessary except carefully removing the thin layer of soil. This technique makes it easier to preserve the existing vegetation and topography, thereby adding a dimension to the experience of the building. “ – explain the architects, Jensen & Skodvin.

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With an area of 2200m2, the church complex consists of two buildings: the church in the north and the parish center in the south, both connected with the traditional kirkebakken (church ground). When entering in the church building you will go first through a small community room, separated from the nave by two atria. From there, a clam and silent view of the interior appears – a small chapel inside on the left side and the chorus on the top right side. Mortensrud does not look like a “normal” church. The nave opens to create a very natural and unique feeling. At first, speaks to you with simplicity, but after a moment of recognition the complexity in the details begins to emerge.

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In the nave of the church, rock formations from the ground emerge like islands. They are braking out of the concrete floor and are part of the aesthetics of the building. Some trees have also been preserved piercing through the building ground. With the glass facade, the existing forest outside creates a feeling of being still in the nature.

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The main structure of the church is a framework of welded steel profiles stabilized by horizontal beams. The walls are made out of hand-crafted light grey slate masonry, each with a smooth and an uneven side.  The slate walls which are withdrawn from the glass facades allow for narrow aisles on either side of the nave, as light penetrates through the gaps between them, creating an interesting atmospheric experience. While the sky is changes, the light spectrum is different in the church. The church is modern and simplified with a combination of traditional materials.

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Some Interesting Details

The pulpit which is a simple reading desk in steel and wood is fixed in a the rock and  the altar is not centered in front of the choir,  it is slightly to the East made of stones from the Berlin Wall, Robben Island and Jerusalem. The sculptor of the altar was Gunnar Torvund, who he also created a blue glass sculpture in the chapel. Sculptor Knut Wold made a marble piece for the chapel. Terje Hope, an interior designer designed the furniture for the church and the textiles were made by Rogmor Bove.

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Construction and Use

The budget for the new building was approximately 5.500.000€, so the architects did a good job with a rather tight budget: “To get this building realized we had to use every possibility we could think of to get more out of less, economically speaking. This was achieved mainly by avoiding conventional “proprietary” systems. Rather we used very basic methods and techniques and surprisingly found out, again and again, that not only was it cheaper, it also gave us a far greater architectural freedom.”  Jensen  & Skodvin Architects wrote.

Until the 1980s, the Mortensrud parish did not have their own church, they held their Sunday masses in a local secondary school.  On the 28 of April, in 2002, they opened the new church. “There was a sense of coming home, when we started using the church. […] The church is wonderful, bright, open and gives the experience of something sacred,” said parish minister Svein-Erik Skibrek.

The modern church has been well received by the locals, the church visitors tripled after just a few weeks. The church won several architectural awards and was named one of the most prominent post-war buildings in Norway in 2007.

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