Lambertseter, an emblem of Norwegianess

Perhaps we can simply say that a certain receptiveness to international planning ideas is a distinguishing feature of Nordic urban development (…) [for example] England’s New Towns were held up as ideals and adapted to the nature of suburbs like Lambertseter 1

Describing the Norwegian values is a difficult task, to say the least. Norwegians have always been aware of their cultural and national identity trying to single themselves out from other Scandinavian countries. As shown in the previous quote, Norway is a region that takes pride in its roots and folk history while learning from other cultures; not being afraid to show an interest in ideas outside its borders that can be adapted to the Norwegian characteristics to create a distinctive style. For instance, the 1950’s Lambertseter plan can be considered a translation of the English urban planning system of the Garden City into the Norwegian post-war context. Lambertseter became an emblem of the new architectural movement very related to social housing and democracy, and OBOS (Oslo Housing and Saving Association) became the main expression of the social movement.

Fig 1. Picture taken on October 1958 of Antenneveien Street, Lambertseter. Photography by Ornelund, Leif

After the Second World War, Oslo became a very populated city with a great need for expansion due to housing scarcity. This shortage in dwelling represented a serious concern for the political parties who understood the necessity of assessing the housing problem as a priority. Oslo Bys Vel’s residential survey results during the war were used for Lambertseter’s planning process as common ideals to create housing solutions from a society-driven perspective. The forested hilly area of Østmarka was going to become the site for this new satellite city. It would be planned by a group of six young architects under Frode Rinnan. Each of them would take on a different area to build a neighbourhood.

Fig 2. This original plan by Rinnan from 1950 shows a schematic idea of the six different areas that would be assigned to the different architects in the team. The public buildings, green areas, private courtyards and a hierarchized circulation system are also hatched and planned in anticipation.

Frode Rinnan obtained his architectural degree in 1930 and participated actively in both academic and political activities, he was a member of the Oslo City Council for the Labor Party as well as an active role in the Socialist Architectural Association.2 He established an architectural practice together with Olav Tveten with whom he built a large number of projects such as Blindern’s university campus, sports facilities for the Olympics in Oslo 1952 and the revolutionary Lambertseterplan. For this last project he worked hand to hand with some of the most relevant Norwegian architects today, amongst which are the modernist Erling Viksjø (1910-1971) some of whose major works are the Bakkehaugen Church and the Government buildings in Oslo, Knut Knutsen (1903-1969) who built the Norwegian Embassy in Stockholm as well as many cabins and detached houses, and Bjerke og Eliassen (1914) winners of the competition for the Kristiania Elektrisitetsverk’s Administration Building amongst others.

Fig 3,5. This is a side by side comparison between The Three Magnets from the English Garden City model and the Norwegian adaptation to Lambertseter.

Human society and the beauty of nature are meant to be enjoyed together, […] Town and Country must be married, and out of this joyous union will spring a new hope, a new life, a new civilization.3

For the Lambertseter plan, Rinnan studied Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City model of urban planning from the 1890’s and tried to make a Norwegian version of it confronted with the question on how to implement this British neighborhood-based town planning approach to Oslo’s architectural style and construction materials.

Evenezer’s intentions were to mix the best of the city life with the countryside as shown in the Three Magnet diagram. It would represent the ability to stay close to amenities, access to public transport and streets well light, whilst enjoying nature, fresh air and not having the pay the high price of the rent. This new urban typology would become a symbol of progress and optimism. Therefore, after the devastating times of war, an opportunity and a necessity of urban growth were emerging. With so much land to grow, the decision needed to be made on how to control these new settlements. Some, were of the opinion that they needed to be made in a big scale, taking virgin land and house planning as an urban city. This way of thinking was against the development of aleatory urban settlements which would result in unconnected cities.

The cities would develop along newly established railways, near to the main road and in connection to nature, or in Lambertseter’s case close to Østmarka forest. Rinnan also wanted to acknowledge the importance of Oslo’s landscape and used the existing topography and vegetation as formative concepts in the planning of Lambertseter. “The planning not only included housing but also local service centers, schools, kindergartens, shops, post offices and banks all situated in an open green park-like environment”4. Rinnan took into consideration the existing topography, the natural resources as free entertainment parks, housing had to be oriented north-south for practical and economic reasons following the rocky terrain, and all of it without forgetting the light each facade received and having nice views. Reality met expectations after all, as Rinnan stated in the booklet on the area from 1958: “Seen as a whole, both in terms of its scale and organization the independent and complete urban district is in itself the greatest experiment achieved.”5 

Rinnan’s motto was “homes for most people” and good block units with apartments built over a rational, late-functional plan solution became his hallmark. The blocks were hit by generous green areas and Rinnan became one of those who faithfully continued the “light-air-green” magic of the interwar period.6 Lambertseter’s masterplan was divided into six different neighborhood units separated by recreational areas. Most dwellings were in three- or four-story blocks of flats. There were also a number of high-rise blocks and some areas of terraced housing. When people started moving to the neighborhood, the demographics were those of 70% working class, 60% were men coming from Oslo and 12% had a college education. The age range was between 26 and 40 years old, which meant parents with little kids. The buildings were thought from the social point of view. They favored social interaction and having a relationship with the neighbors by generating community public spaces and housing units that are the perfect size.

On the one hand, the flats were big enough to fit 2-3 rooms, one bathroom, a living room and a kitchen. The entry space would be as small as possible and there were barely any square meters wasted in hallway space. On the other, the flats were small enough to work economically, since they had to be built on a tight budget, their small size encouraged people to exit their homes and use the outdoors areas and public buildings to socialize.

Nowadays, the new generations are coming in and Lambertseter’s urban planning is getting tested to see its flaws compared to our daily lives. Take for instance the circulation as seen in the picture above. When Rinnan planned the size of the driveways to the volume of cars that would use them, he underestimated the future dependency on private transportation. Nevertheless, fixating on aspects of this sort would be splitting hairs. Lambertseter was able to take an interest in an urban plan from a hierarchized society and adapt it to the Norwegian classless democratic socialism. The welfare state worked to provide everyone, independently of their social demographics, with an opportunity to get a house. Taking advantage of the pioneer solution to housing growth, Rinnan chose a site that represented the Norwegian character, connected to nature and that complemented Ebenezer’s utopic plans. Lambertseter was the caricature of the Norwegian character, society and politics in the 1950’s becoming a key stage in future housing development.

The article would not have been possible without the generous help from Tom Davies. 

Quotes

  1. Hall, T., 1991. Planning and urban growth in the Nordic countries, London: E. & F. N. Spon.
  2. no. (2018). Frode Rinnan – lokalhistoriewiki.no. [online] Available at: https://lokalhistoriewiki.no/wiki/Frode_Rinnan.
  3. Howard, E. et al., 2003. To-morrow: a peaceful path to real reformOriginal ed. with commentary by Peter Hall, Dennis Hardy & Colin Ward., London: Routledge.
  4. Rikke Stenbro & Svava Riesto, 2014. Beyond the Scope of Preservation? – On the life and potential national heritage protection of early Danish and Norwegian mass housing. Nordisk kulturpolitisk tidsskrift, (02), pp.210–234.
  5. Rinnan, F. & Obos, 1958. Lambertseter 1958, Oslo: OBOS.
  6. Findal, W. (2018). Frode Rinnan – Norsk biografisk leksikon. [online] Store norske leksikon. Available at: https://nbl.snl.no/Frode_Rinnan.

Images

Fig 1. Ørnelund, L. (October 1958). Antenneveien.. [online] Digitaltmuseum.no. Available at: https://digitaltmuseum.no/021015461692/antenneveien.

Fig 2,4. Lokalhistoriewiki.no. (1950). Frode Rinnan – lokalhistoriewiki.no. [online] Available at: https://lokalhistoriewiki.no/wiki/Frode_Rinnan.

Fig 3. Howard, E. & Osborn, F.J., The Three Magnets. No.1, 1965. Garden cities of to-morrow, London: Faber and Faber.

Fig 5. Ascher, B.E., 2016. The Hallagerbakken housing project in Holmlia, Norway: when welfare became business. The Journal of Architecture, 21(3), pp.433–458.

Bibliography

Ascher, B.E., 2013. Built rationally! Design approaches to housing within the limits of scarcity.

Ascher, B.E. (2013) “From Scarcity to Abundance: social housing in Oslo, 1945-1980”, SCIBE. Scarcity and Creativity in the Built Environment [Online]. Available at: http://www.scibe.eu/publications/.

Granum, K. (1981). Nasjonalbiblioteket. [online] Urn.nb.no. Available at: https://urn.nb.no/URN:NBN:no-nb_digibok_2014071006094.

Parsons, K.C. & Schuyler, D., 2002. From garden city to green city: the legacy of Ebenezer Howard, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Rinnan, F. (2018). Byggekunst Nr. 7, (7), pp.168-196.

Granum, K. (1981). Nasjonalbiblioteket. [online] Urn.nb.no. Available at: https://urn.nb.no/URN:NBN:no-nb_digibok_2014071006094.