Skjettenbyen – home with a handbook

„The row houses at Skjetten are inhabited by people who have different expectations of their homes.
The requirements are different on the day they move in and they will change as time goes by and needs change.
This is an important reason why the Skjetten houses are made adaptable.
The houses are planned and built in order for them to be changed and upgraded.
Construction and plots are prepared for extensions.
The choices made must provide a starting point for the residents so that once they have decided on their home through the choice of a house type, it is just the beginning.
The housing directory is intended as an aid to understand and make use of the adaptability of the houses.
GOOD LUCK!“
introduction, handbook Skjettenbyen

Everyone who moved to Skjettenbyen received a handbook. It described all the tools, which are available to the inhabitants when transforming, expanding and customizing their houses. The first tool they receive is the built environment itself, the architecture of every single dwelling. It is handed over to the residents to be used and changed. Buying a house didn’t mean anymore that you were stuck with it for the rest of your life, personal adjustments were possible. The whole project will continue to develop after its completion through adaptions by the residents.

 

siteplan and traffic system

Skjettenbyen is a quite dense housing area in the north-eastern outskirts of Oslo which was built between 1969 and 1973.
Today around 6000 people live in 1050 dwellings in row houses and 600 dwellings in apartment blocks. The buildings are arranged in groups of rows with green areas, playgrounds and ball fields in between. Infrastructural functions, like a shopping centre, basic social and health centres, compliment the project. Cars are parked at a central space and the dwelling area is to be accessed by foot.
The complex was planned by a cooperation of Danish architect Nils-Ole Lund, who won an architectural competition in 1965, engineering firm Apeland and Mjøset and the architects who won the second prize – Resen, Throne-Holst and Hultberg.  The following architects and engineers also participated: Jens Bjørneboe, Marcin Bugolawski, Margrethe Dobloug, Gunnulv Eiesland, Unni Dahl Grue, Jon Guttu, Turid Haaland and Vigleif Næss.
The initial motto was „Variation – Order – Community – Privacy“.

The architects of Skjettenbyen’s aim was to build a truly „social“ living area, which meant cheap dwellings with direct contact to the ground, a diverse group of inhabitants, and enough educational institutions, green areas, parking spaces and shops. The inhabitants should experience a sense of „belonging“.

The project was a critique on modernist large-scale, high-rise architecture. Architects saw a problem in how the architecture of a building dictated to the average user how to behave and live in a dwelling.  By contrast, architects of Skjettenbyen’s aim was to include the inhabitants in the planning process and give them possibilities for participation and customisation. They wanted to produce small-scale structures, but still keep up with developments in general policy and fabrication modes. A more humane and inclusive form of housing should be developed.  People should get included in the process which contrasted with the modernist’ „top-down“-planning.

The project is oriented on the „tæt-lav“-concept (“low rise, high density”), which was found by Danish architects. It combines the advantages of a high-density town (infrastructure, service provision, etc.) with direct accesses to the ground floor for all inhabitants. They could benefit from urban qualities such as closeness, contact and common facilities besides having a small private garden. Buildings were constructed in an industrialised way to keep it affordable.

The other guideline was determined by the CIAM meeting in Otterloo, 1959 (organised by Team X including Peter and Alison Smithson) that dealt with the same issues. Their answer to the present discontent in spatial planning was structural openness, user participation in design processes, the introduction of human and social sciences to design, the rejection of the International Style and the interest in systems in terms of their functions, not in terms of their elements.

 

construction system, source: handbook Skjettenbyen


system and adaptability

The dimensions of the properties at Skjettenbyen are approximately 6,4 x 25-26 m. The simple module system of each house rests upon a 3 x 3 m, right-angled grid, just the two fields in the middle of each plot were larger (4,2 x 4,2 m).
There should be almost no similar dwellings due to customisation by inhabitants. Extensions in the dimensions of 9 m2 cubes are allowed to be built by the inhabitants at any time and up to three or four at one time, if necessary.

It allows changes and additions matching the lifestyle and desires in living of the individual inhabitant. Buildings which can be adapted are not automatically buildings without architectural character. Instead the inhabitants have a base they can react to when executing changes. The individual, private influences shapes the architecture.

different house types and possible extensions within the structural grid

For each neighbourhood a number of 10 to 20 types of prefabricated houses were developed as a base. The three main categories are houses with living room on the ground floor, houses with living room on the first floor and houses with living rooms on the ground floor and the first floor. According to their orientation, they had names beginning with S (south orientation) or N (north orientation).

possible development of the outdoor areas after 0, 3 and 10 years, source: handbook Skjettenbyen


the handbook

The handbook serves as a “tool-kit” containing all information for customizing the houses. It contains 112 pages on construction, materials and care, garden and planting, technical details, various plans and drawings, suggestions for room disposition, forms for building permissions, explanations on which changes they are allowed to do and how to do them, etc.
Residents have a chance to participate actively in designing their home. The whole project was inspired by the „bottom-up“-movement as a critique on modernist planning.

But the handbook is not only a description for adaptability, it also gives advice on which plants fit best in the garden or how the dwellings could be furnished properly. It gives freedom to rearrange and change something in the individual dwellings, while at the same time suggesting how to do these changes in practice. The architecture of Skjettenbyen was flexible, but people suggest how to use this flexibility. The handbook demonstrates the gap remaining between the modernist top-down planning and the participatory movement inspired by political transformations in the 1960s and 1970s.  The handbook defines the fine line between architecture in the exact form developed by the architect, and the creative freedom for residents to change their properties in the way they would like them to function.

The architects used the handbook to promote the underlying principles of the project, which were segregation between cars and pedestrians, small neighbourhoods along short pedestrian streets and playgrounds and areas for sports, leisure and recreation. It motivated the residents in a positive way to respect the guidelines and the architecture, but also to improve their living situation according to their wishes.


reception

There are different reactions to the architecture in Skjettenbyen. Some people do not like the simple aesthetics, the flat roofs, the strict regulations to protect the distinct housing design, the box-like design or the bad reputation Skjettenbyen got due to some social problems in the past. Others like the separation of traffic, the possibility to expand the houses or the friendships they could build up while living there.
Today Skjettenbyen does not look as varied and diverse as one may expect. Almost all of the inhabitants have expanded their houses to the maximum, which is producing again some kind of uniformity.

What remains undisputed is that the handbook and the possibility for adaption changed the approach on housing. If someone bought a house it did not mean anymore that the living situation is not changeable. Personal adjustments and customisation were possible. Such changes should not be complicated; they should be easy and fast to complete.
All kind of transformations done by the users are part of the architecture. The process of developing the existing environment is not completed when the residents move in.   Those factors made the architecture more accessible and understandable by the inhabitants.   The architects wanted it to provide a feeling of personal belonging. This is an important difference to some huge modernist „top-down“ dwellings where the use by the inhabitant is constrained by the given and unchangeable surrounding.

After some time, a significant issue arose that the people at Skjettenbyen did not use their new possibilities as much as the planners had hoped. A lot of them did some extensions, but the constant change and variety that architects of that time anticipated, did not materialize. If inhabitants tried to do something personal about the appearance of their house, they did some smaller changes which can be compared to changes in allotment gardens.

Now and then, participatory architecture like Skjettenbyen frames people’s practices and culture in a way that is different from other suburban areas, although the social implications of it probably turned out to be not as significant as hoped according to the housing policy of the time.

 

sources:

Baghdadi, Moustafa A.: Changing Ideals in Architecture: From CIAM to Team X, Cairo n.d.

Dobloug, Margrethe: Skjetten. A user’s manual., in: Nordic Journal of Architecture, No.2, 2012, Oslo.

Hultberg, Erik: Skjetten revisited., in: Byggekunst, No. 6, 1979, Oslo.

I/S Skjettenprosjektering: Håndbok 2 etg rekkehus og hage. Til og for folk i Skjettenbyen. Oslo, 1972.

Lund, Nils-Ole: Skjetten Town. Norway (1973)., in: Nordic Journal of Architecture, No.2, 2012, Oslo.

Røe, Per Gunnar: The Construction of a Suburb: Ideology, Architecture and Everyday Culture in Skjettenbyen.

 

images:

image 1, 4, 6: handbook Skjettenbyen
image 3, 8, 9: author’s own (excursion)
image 2, 5: drawings, author’s own
image 7: author’s own (handbook Skjettenbyen)

SaveSaveSaveSave