Norwegian countryside and the characteristic red barns

The Norwegian countryside especially agricultural landscape is full of characteristic and dominating man-made outbuildings. The most noticeable part of these buildings is their large size and red color. They are also representatives of agricultural changes that happened in Norway. Before these multipurpose barns, the Norwegian rural landscape was dominated by much older building traditions and farm typologies that have not changed in centuries. Norwegian farm buildings are intrinsic to the history of Norway and the way people perceive the rural landscape.

Norwegian agricultural building history can be divided into two parts, one the historical farm typologies that dominated agricultural architecture and the other being the multipurpose barns that replaced these old typologies. When talking about Norwegian countryside it is important to know how its most characteristic buildings have evolved and what changes led to this evolution.


Introductions of historical Norwegian barns

Example of old Norwegian outbuilding typology. Source: Røde låver – alt under ett tak. Pamphlet by Norwegian Institute of Cultural Heritage (NIKU).

Historically, Norwegian farms were organized like small towns and they were self-sufficient. The architecture of these buildings was influenced by the geographical differences across Norway and by the life of the people living in these buildings. The architecture of these farms can be divided into four types depending on where they were built. The southern part of Norway had two different characteristic farms. In the eastern part of Norway, the buildings were divided into two parts, one side for dwelling and the other for outbuildings. In the western part of southern Norway, the farm buildings were linear in plan and the outbuildings were attached to other buildings. In the central part of Norway, the farm buildings were usually placed in a quadrangular arrangement and the outbuildings formed part of the square. Lastly, in the northern part of the country, the farms were laid out in a variety of ways, without a single plan type dominating. These farms each had their own unique architecture that evolved over time and construction techniques were passed down from generation to generation. Most of these traditional ways of construction were lost in middle ages when black Death swept across the country.

(drawing by the author)

Around 1800 there where new ideas introduced to farming by pioneers and reformers of that time.

 


The land reform and the first appearance of multipurpose barn or “Enhetslåve”

Comparison of different barn buildings. Left is an example of the multipurpose barn and right are older log-constructed barns. Source: Røde låver – alt under ett tak. Pamphlet by Norwegian Institute of Cultural Heritage (NIKU).

When farming came to be more technologically advanced many of the old types of log-construction farm buildings were replaced by a new type of barn typology, a multipurpose barn. This transition from numerous outbuildings towards just having one or two large-scale outbuildings that housed under one roof all farming related functions changed the rural landscape at the time.  Simultaneously, Norway introduced the great land reform act that was meant to combine previously scattered farmsteads into single farms. It is easier to understand the need for land reform when you know that only 3% of the country is arable land and most of it is privately owned even today.

These new type of farm buildings were designed by the men in the agricultural administration and education, and then farmers and carpenters were taught how to plan and construct them. The designing of these new multipurpose barns was divided among seven men in the administration. Each responsible for a different part of Norway.

Map showing the division of planning. Source: Røde låver – alt under ett tak. Pamphlet by Norwegian Institute of Cultural Heritage (NIKU).

This centralized planning meant that the same barn typologies were used across Norway, a contrast with the older farms where the geographical location and people affected the farm typology. These multipurpose buildings had livestock on the ground floor, which was made of wood, brick or stones, while the upper parts that housed the hay where made of weather-boarded framework walls. These barns also had one important improvement, the external barn bridge leading to the upper story. This made it easier to carry and store hay.

Section cut of a multipurpose barn with external barn bridge. (drawing by the author)

 

 

By storing hay in the upper floors of the barn, it was kept out of reach of pests and it stayed dry from the heat coming from the animals below. Storing hay above the animals made it easier to feed them and change the hay in the stalls.

By 1920 barns in the eastern part of Norway were built with muck cellars and they housed different livestock under one roof. This continued up until 1970 whereupon the tendency shifted to keep different livestock in different outbuildings. In the same time new barn buildings where reconstructed to be single-story structures with tall silos or dryers attached to them.

Example drawings of barn typologies. Right, a multipurpose barn and left, it’s follower a silo barn. Source: Røde låver – alt under ett tak. Pamphlet by Norwegian Institute of Cultural Heritage (NIKU).


Explanation of the Land act

Norwegian farms are relatively small and thus include a variety of types of land from crop fields, grazing land, forested areas to communal rights in larger areas of timber-line. This type of ownership was somewhat altered in the last century by the great land reform also known as the Land Act. The Land Act regulates the use and transfer of land ownership outside build up areas and there are strict rules to non-citizen buying land. Agricultural lands must be used as such and the owner is required to live there as well.  There are also laws to secure that the ownership stays in the family and transferring land needs to be approved by the local council. These decisions can be further appealed to the Country Land Board and further up to the Department of Agriculture. Source: Anders Anderssen, 1998, The land tenure system in Norway, and local democracy in relation to land issues.


Mass farming and the end of the red barns

Example of the barn that is replacing the multipurpose barn. Source: Book Norges Låver by Eva Røyrane, Oddlev Apneseth, 2014.

Nowadays these multipurpose barns are encountering the same kind of problems than their predecessors.  Farming is moving towards mass production and these barns are coming to end of their use. It is necessary to ask what will happen to these barns after they are not used for their original purpose. One example is to find a new purpose for these buildings but the difficulty is their scale and finding uses that fit the context.

 


Sources:

Røde låver – alt under ett tak. Pamphlet by Norwegian Institute of Cultural Heritage (NIKU).

Book Norges Låver by Eva Røyrane, Oddlev Apneseth, 2014.

Anders Anderssen, 1998, The land tenure system in Norway, and local democracy in relation to land issues. http://www.caledonia.org.uk/land/tenure.htm

Pictures: Røde låver – alt under ett tak. Pamphlet by Norwegian Institute of Cultural Heritage (NIKU).

Drawings made by the author. Drawings are composed by the author, using the original materials of the NIKU pamphlet.

First image: Picture depicting Norwegian red barns. source: Røde låver – alt under ett tak. Pamphlet by Norwegian Institute of Cultural Heritage (NIKU).