Asker Town Hall

The Asker Town Hall was designed by Lund & Slaatto, two of the most influential post war architects in Norway. It’s an Norwegian architectural firm that stand by a wide range of projects around Norway. The construction of the building started in 1958 and was completed in 1964. In the same year it was officially inaugurated by King Olav V.

Image 1 – Asker Town Hall in the winter of 1966.

The institution is located in Asker, a municipality of Akershus. Asker was established on 1 January 1893. About seventy years later, between 1960 and 1970, Asker’s population doubled from 17,755 to 31,700 inhabitants. Hence, Asker required its own town hall to represent and capture its rapidly increasing number of inhabitants.

The first characteristic that captures our attention when we analyse the Asker Town Hall is the fact that it is not located in the centre of the municipality,  which is commonly the case for most town halls. This makes the area around the Asker Town Hall ideal to create a new center on. Currently, it is still on the countryside, despite the developments in its surroundings.

Image 2 – Aerial view of the Asker Town Hall showing the remaining green area around the institution in 1974 and 2017.

A second characteristic that drew our attention is the material used for the majority of the building: natural concrete. It is a material that typifies an important architectural style of that time period; Nordic Modernism and Structuralism. Natural concrete was a construction method in which façades were livened up with exposed river gravel. The use of this material became a golden compromise that many found appealing. The building won the Betongtalven (Concrete Board Award) in 1964 because it successfully applied the natural concrete in an aesthetic and technical way. The building has a late modernist feeling and radiates a rustic Norwegian attitude in colours and materials1.

Image 3 – The Betongtavlen (Concrete Board Award) which shows the importance of the concrete.

After World War II there was no place for youthful utopianism anymore and the mood became more down-to-earth. After the war, in an attempt to seek timeless qualities architects preferred materials with more weight and a value in themselves.

Image 4 – Floor plan of the Asker Town Hall.

The town hall is made of a seven-story high construction with offices and two lower wings which contain representation rooms. The flat ceilings and floors marked as horizontal strips shape the interior and are typical structuralist characteristics. Furthermore, the town hall is interweaved with permanent paintings and changing exhibitions.

 

Current condition of the Asker Town Hall

The first thing that stands out when looking at the building from the outside is the damaged condition of the natural concrete. The concrete is gradually crumbling down due to the expansion of the water in the concrete’s pores when temperatures drop below zero. Water, namely, expands by 9 % in frozen condition and causes distress in the concrete. This expansion pressure is repeated every winter and results in loss of concrete surface. Here and there one can even observe the reinforcing mesh exposed. This phenomenon of concrete locally flaking or peeling at the surface as a result of exposure to cycles of freezing and thawing is called scaling or thaw deterioration. 

Image 5 – Illustration of the concrete scaling.

To prevent this concrete scaling process a surface active agent can be added to the concrete mixture to get it air-entrained. Air-entrained concrete is ordinary concrete that contains a controlled amount of microscopic air bubbles. Concrete with entrained air is less prone to free-thaw damage. 

It is not only the concrete of the Asker Town Hall is in a bad state. The wooden window frames are also dilapidated. The paint coating is peeling off from the wood. Consequently, rain water gets to the wood, causing it to rot.  

Image 6 – Location of damaged concrete (red) and wooden window frames (blue) to the Asker Town Hall.

Image 7 – Inventory of the deterioration to the Asker Town Hall.

In the past decades the Asker Town Hall has received financial support on several occasions from the Norwegian government to renovate both interior and exterior. As described above, the town hall is currently in a bad condition in several respects. For the next renovation, 8.6 million euros have been allocated. This is a considerable amount but considered justified since it is an icon for the whole community of Asker.

Image 8 – Renovation timeline through the years. Amounts and years are obtained by Budstikka.no.

Opinions about this modernist concrete building are currently split. The arrival of the institution was considered the most radical intervention ever seen in Asker and the building has been divisive. Part of the local population would prefer to see the building demolished rather then spending 8.6 million euros for its renovation. Critics consider the renovation a complete waste of municipal funding and would rather see this amount invested into other institutions. While others, consider the town hall as one of the most important buildings in Norway from the 1960’s. These conflicting opinions about the Asker Town Hall make it difficult for historians and analysts to make decisions about the building’s future.

 

Image 9 – Illustration showing the merging municipalities Asker, Royken and Hurum.

The future of Asker Town Hall

The 17th of November 2016 was a historical day for the Akershus municipality. 42 out of 47 representatives from Asker, Hurum and  Røyken agreed to merge these three municipalities into one. The new entity will be called Asker and the current Asker Town Hall will be the official new town hall of the three merged municipalities. The merging of these municipalities will take place in 2020.

One of the main reasons for this merger is that it will enable social tasks be rationalised. Another reason is expected population growth. The new municipality will be better prepared to moderate this growth.

As Asker is becoming the new municipality and the Asker Town Hall will be the central point of the new community, what is going to happen with the town halls from Hurum and  Røyken? Will they get demolished? Will they stay empty for years and crumble further down? It is important to preserve these types of buildings so that their aesthetic and historical character does not disappear. They have an important and emotional value for the people and are carriers of information about the past. The preservation of the building is also very important for the next generations to stay in touch with historical Norwegian architecture.

In the Netherlands the same trend of merging municipalities takes place. Town halls are getting rezoned and changing functions. Some become libraries, some workplaces or exhibitions about the history of the municipality, etc. The possibilities are endless.

 

Possible solutions for preservation

If we want to preserve the Asker Town Hall for further generations, it is important to look for solutions for the physical problems the building is confronted with. 

Image 10 – Original section drawing of the balcony showing the poor insulation.

The three models below shows sections that are made through the balconies of the Asker Town Hall. The first model is of the situation when the building was built in 1964. When we look at the thermal condition and insulation we can see several cold bridges. In the first phase there was only one-layered glass. In 1992 they changed this one-layered glass into a two-layered glass. 

The two other models show possible proposals of better insulation solutions which are trying to solve the cold bridges. In model two, the glass facade is positioned on top of the concrete support to create one straight vertical insulated layer. The balconies would disappear in this model, making the inner space larger. This decision can be justified because the width of the balconies is extremely small and allows for nothing more than merely standing on them. Besides that, the floor of the balconies are in really bad condition. A new insulation layer is mounted on the surface of the original concrete support and a new concrete slab is added on the outside of the insulation layer.  In this way, the original concrete feeling of the balconies is kept.

The second proposal for a better insulation is removing the original concrete support which is, like the balcony floors, in a bad condition today. Between the cantilever and the concrete support a thermal break is added. When the thermal break is adjusted, a traditional concrete support will be reconnected to this thermal break afterwards. This proposal provides a solution to the two main problems of the Asker Town Hall: the poor insulation and the bad condition of the concrete facade.

Proposal models for better insulation. Left: current situation. Middle: facade on the outside. Right: Insulation with thermal break.

 

Bibliography

Books, journals, website articles and videos

Asker Kommune (2014-10-20), Askerfilmen Glad i Asker [Video],                                                                                                       [https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1042&v=BNlNOimihQ, consulted on 2017-08-23].

Asker Kommune, “Asker Radhus” [https://www.asker.kommune.no/om-asker-kommune/asker-radhus/, consulted on 2017-08-26].

Asker Kommune, “Landskap og historie”  [https://www.asker.kommune.no/styringsdokumenter/plan-for-faste-kulturminner-2016-2020/landskap-og historie/, consulted on 2017-08-23].

Christen H., (1965), Askers Historie, Asker, Asker skolestyre.

Concrete Experts International, “Freeze – Thaw deterioration of Concrete”, [http://www.concrete-experts.com/pages/ft.htm, consulted on 2017-09-24].

En.wikipedia.org, “Asker”  [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asker, consulted on 2017-08-23]. Grønvold U., (1997) A history of buildings : 1000 years of Norwegian architectureNorway, Allkopi.

Gutter, K., “Herbestemmen van gemeentehuizen”,  [http://www.binnenlandsbestuur.nl/herbestemmen-gemeentehuizen, consulted on 2017-09-24].

Herbestemming.nu, “Stadhuis, Rotterdam”, [https://www.herbestemming.nu/projecten/stadhuis-rotterdam, consulted on 2017-09-24].

Joedicke J. (2017), “Town Hall in Asker”  [http://www.e-periodica.ch/digbib/view?var=true&pid=buw-001:1966:20::1915#318, consulted on 2017-08-26, pdf].

(1)Kavli G., (1958), Norwegian Architecture: past and present, Oslo, Dreyers Forlag.

Lokalhistoriewiki.no, “Asker Radhus”  [https://lokalhistoriewiki.no/index.php/Asker_r%C3%A5dhus, consulted on 2017-08-26].

National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, “Concrete in practice”  [https://www.nrmca.org/aboutconcrete/cips/02p.pdf, consulted on 2017-09-24].

No.wikipedia.org, “Asker”  [https://no.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asker, consulted on 2017-08-23].

Rendell J., Hill J., Dorrian M. & Fraser M. (2007), Critical Architecture, Routledge.

 The Government of the Netherlands, “Merging municipalities”,  [https://www.government.nl/topics/municipalities/merging-municipalities, consulted on 2017-09-24].

Images

Images used from the online archive of DigitaltMuseum Norway, DEXTRA Photo – Feature Image, 1, 2 and 3.

Images used from the archive of the National Museum of Architecture Oslo – 4 and 10.

Images created by Desimpelaere Simon – 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9

All images that are not created by Desimpelaere Simon belong to other authorities as mentioned above. All rights reserved and copyright applied to all the used images that do not belong to Desimpelaere Simon.