OBOS & Husbanken – Social Housing in Oslo

As described by the Oxford dictionary social housing is, “Housing provided for people on low incomes or with particular needs by government agencies or non-profit organizations.” But we haven’t always had social housing. In fact it was only until the industrial revolution that many European countries started founding public housing programs. In this post we will be examining the history of social housing in Oslo during the 20th century.

1900: Towards the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th,  the industrial revolution lead to the rapid growth of cities. The large influx of people to the city was creating problems of over-crowding in homes which in turn lead to cramped, unhygenic conditions and  the spreading of diseases as a result.

1920: During the 1920’s the living conditions of workers worsened as we can see in the pictures below. In 1929 the building co-operative Oslo og omegn Bolig- og Sparelag(OBOS) is founded. It’s owned by its members and the main concern is to supply them with housing

1930: In 1931 the first “Borettslag” with regulated prices, Etterstad 1 Oslo, is built. Later in 1935 OBOS changes name to Oslo Bolig – og Sparelag (OBOS), and becomes the housing developer for the municipality of Oslo.

1940: Norway is invaded and little to no building construction takes place during the years of the war. Meanwhile, in 1944 Sweden’s Hemmens Forskningsinstitut  was conducting studies that examined how one could live more efficiently in the home.

Norway was very inspired by Sweden’s extremely rational approach to make the home more efficient and made their own survey called the Oslo Bys Vels boligundersøkelse conducted between 1943-1946. This was a survey that dug deep  into the issue of the housing shortage and exposed overcrowded living conditions the planners knew little about before.

In 1946 Husbanken(the house bank) is founded, and inspired by Sweden ,an efficient model for housing development took shape. The municipality provided land, Husbanken provided loans and OBOS did the construction. This was a shift from the pre-war focus on the middle class population.

1950: After the war several cities had to be rebuilt from scratch, many people had no home and baby boomers contributed to the already the cramped living conditions.

Frode Rinnan was in the 50s the most active and criticized architect. In the spirit of CIAM and modernism as he was one of the main figures in shaping the architecture of the social democracy.  He built low, high quality housing, stripped for all excess details to keep the cost down, preferably in green areas outside the city center. Lambertseter was the first satellite town in Oslo and was mainly built by OBOS. 10 000 inhabitants in 3000 apartments in three and four story narrow buildings with lawns around. Frode Rinnan, called it “the realized social democracy”. People moved from rundown worker apartments in the center, to new modern apartments in the suburb.

1960: The introduction of pre-fabricated elements allowed buildings to be constructed quicker than ever before. Housing construction is rationalized further resulting in monotonous buildings with narrow apartments and bad light conditions. A famous example of this is the Ammerud apartment complex. In 1969 the Ammerudrapporten was finalised; a survey made shortly after the Ammerud housing was finished, critisizing the lack of working places and services making the area a “sleeping town”.

1970: Skjettenbyen was a reaction to massive high-rise housing with large vacant green areas and no room for personal expression. Modularity as a means for diversity, and low buildings with half private outdoorarea. In 1977 the municipality of Oslo starts to sell housing at market price.

1980:  This decade was most known for getting rid of the price regulations of housing and turning over to the free market.

1990: In the beginning of the 90’s, the country was having a tough time with economy and many large building projects came to a halt. Between 1990-1999 OBOS only built 2134 homes. However towards the end of the 90’s building production started to increase again often collaborating with entrepreneurs.

2000: After the housing market was deregulated in the 80s , OBOS ‘ role changed from being a suportive agency for social housing in the public sector to a competitive business operating under the same regulatory framework as other operators in the sector .

2010: Today OBOS has offices all over the country. Even though their primary ambition is to focus on providing homes for those with special needs, they have also started producing commercial buildings.


Presentation 20151105