Enerhaugen Housing, low-rise community to high-rise tower block

From cramped low-rise timber houses to greatly sought-after high-rise towers, the neighbourhood of Enerhaugen in East Oslo is an area that has undergone many transformations. Upon visiting what remains of the old timber dwellings exhibited in Oslo’s Folkesmuseum, then visiting an apartment in the new Enerhaugen housing estate towers, it is striking how unrecognisable the place is and how little remains from what was once there. The stark contrast between these two modes of dwelling intrigued me and I became interested in further study of this moment of transition from one mode of dwelling to the other:

Enerhaugen low-rise wooden houses on exhibition at the Folkesmuseum RHS: Enerhaugen high-rise towers as they exist today.

Enerhaugen was originally an Eastern suburb of the city, housing mostly farmers and workers from the nearby land. However, with the population boom after the Second World War, this area became extremely overcrowded and housing standards worsened. Conditions here were very cramped with many houses having only one bedroom, a kitchen, and a shared outhouse in the yard. The timber houses received little maintenance, ventilation, or natural light:

Enerhaugen 1957-1959 showing housing in poor condition. Source: Left: Peter Anker 1959, Right: Unknown photographer 1957, Byhistorisk samling, Oslo Museum, Olsobilder.no

Water was also a significant issue in this area as none of the houses had private water supplies and many families would collect water from a shared pump. The shared bathhouse and water pumps acted not only as a necessity but served important social functions through interactions between neighbours and places for gathering and leisure:

 

Social exchange around a shared water pump at Enerhaugen. Source: Laundry at the water pump 1959, Norsk Folkemuseum, oslobuilder.no

Though cramped conditions caused issues with health and living standards, such conditional also led to frequent use of the shared spaces and sources show there was a strong sense of community at the time.

 

When the houses were torn down in the 1960s to create new places of social democracy and utilitarian design, how much of the old neighbourhood feeling of dwelling remained?

 

International Influence: An emphasis post-war on housing for the working classes led to the slums and neighbourhoods of the pre-war years being cleansed and demolished. In 1947, the city council of Oslo unanimously approved that the area of Enerhaugen would be one of these places. In line with similar international ideologies of the time, the solution to this 4 towers with electricity, running water, and views out over the city:

 

Original drawing of towers including St. Hallvard Church proposal. Source: The archive at The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design.

The influence of this new way of thinking stretched across Europe and reached Norway simultaneously with the introduction of the welfare state. Designed by architect Sofus Haugen, and completed in 1965, the uniform approach of the housing blocks was attuned to the modernist ideals of hygiene, functionality, and efficiency sweeping much of the Western world at the time. This housing was to be ‘Social Housing’ and the utilitarian design was hailed as a successful solution to the housing crisis of the 1960s giving the working classes better standards than that they had been accustomed to before. But at what cost did these new conditions have to the neighbourhood and community feeling that once existed?

Analysis:

1_ Plan Layout: 

The estate consists of four blocks, three of which have 13-15 stories and one lower block of 10. The buildings are laid out in a fan arrangement, with main axis facing Northeast / Southwest. This arrangement has the benefit of preventing overlooking from block to block and also allows maximum advantage of daylight and views out.

However, the layout of these blocks within the site results in a disjointed public realm surrounding them. Rather than the buildings facing onto a shared space between each block, they turn their backs on each other and as such, there is a lack of ownership and use of the vast public external space. A recent study {insert footnote} shows that these spaces are not frequently used even on a sunny day and in contrast to the shared yards of the old wooden houses, these spaces feel dead and lifeless.

Diagram of new plan layout showing fan arrangement and separated entrances

Diagram of previous wooden houses showing connectivity across the shared external yard.

2_ Outdoor Spaces:

Due to the height of the new towers, there is a sense of disconnect between the shared external green spaces and apartments. Individual balconies have replaced shared courtyards, giving all residents direct access to private outdoor space and a place to enjoy the views out of the city- a luxury previously inconceivable in the low-rise slum housing. Surveys show (footnote 1) that people prefer to use their individual private balconies and thus a lack of neighbourly interaction exists.

Diagram section showing the use of external space in the towers today.

 

Diagram showing neighbour interactions in shared courtyard of previous dwellings.

The transition from shared external space to individual private balcony characterises the shift in priority for the new homes. The old shared yards were a much-loved meeting-place where the large family and their friends and relatives could all come together, a key aspect of community life for residents of old Enerhaugen.

 

3_ Shared Corridors /Section Arrangement

A key component of the proposals by Le Corbusier previously discussed was the ‘Street in the Sky’ phenomenon whereby shared corridors would widen and become lively streetscapes of community life and interaction- some even showing convenience stores along them. In Enerhaugen the importance of the shared corridors are expressed on the façade as they are marked out by a change in opening size every three stories:

Photograph of elevation showing clear differentiation of circulation space. Source: Enerhaugen høyhus 1965,Teigens Fotoatelier, DEXTRA Photo, Norsk Teknisk Museum, Olsobilder.no

The corridors are placed on the exterior of the plan allowing this exterior expression in addition to direct daylight into this space. High-level windows reduce the view out, especially for children, but differentiate circulation from housing units on the façade. Internally they act as an extension of the public realm, serving many neighbours from the same blocks. However, the lack of views out and the narrower width of these corridors make them feel more a place for circulation than interaction and pause:

Shared corridors showing high-level windows  Source: Author 05/09/17

Branching off from these corridors are the shared entrances that serve sets of 3 apartments. Upon passing through the front doors off this space, we learn of the perhaps most intriguing aspect of these buildings – the sectional arrangement:

 

Original section drawing by Architect Sofus Haugen.

Contrary to what one might expect, these three doors lead to apartments on three different levels. The central door leads to a smaller apartment level with the corridor you are entering off however on either side of this one apartment goes up a level and the other down:

Diagram explaining the sectional arrangement of apartments branching off the shared corridor.

This means that the walls and balconies of your apartment are shared with different people to those you enter the buildings with. The use of the elevator may mean that one may never even encounters their neighbours nor knows who they are. However, due to the nature of the section and the corridor layout, apartments not on the same level as the circulation space receive natural light and views out on two sides:

 

Cross-sectional diagram showing openings on both sides to “Up” and “Down” Apartments. RHS: Plan diagram of the shared corridor.

 

Conclusion: These various features of the Enerhaugen Towers mean that although the utilitarian design and modernist layout result in a higher standard of dwelling with more spacious and clean apartments for the many, the numerous aspects seem to almost discourage neighbourliness and community encounters lost a key part of the previous notion of dwelling in the Old Enerhaugen area. At the time of original occupants moving in, many missed this feature of the old dwellings. Today these apartments are highly sought after and many new residents much enjoy living in them- the views, light on both sides, and spaciousness make them highly desirable and perhaps it was just a matter of time for the mode of dwelling in Tøyen to catch up with the international movements and perceptions.

 

Sources:

Footnotes:

1- Karine Denizou and Marit Enne Rudd, Report: studie av to boligområder i sentrum av oslo, 2001. 

Erling Annaniassen, Vendepunktet For’den Sosialdemokratiske Orden, 2002, 9.

“Enerhaugen and Hammersborg – Norsk Folkemuseum,” accessed September 29, 2017, https://norskfolkemuseum.no/en/enerhaugen-and-hammersborg.

“Enerhaugen Photos Search”, accessed September 21, 2017, http://www.oslobilder.no