St. Hallvard Kirke og Kloster – Architectonic Space as an Addition to Natural Space

Architects | Lund & Slaatto
Location | Oslo, Norway
Project year | 1958-1966
Type of building | Church

Beyond the experience of the spiritual power of darkness at St. Hallvard Kirke, the first impression you get when you enter the building is that motherly gesture of being under God’s care and protection. This feeling is easily achieved because of its suspended dome which, with its lowest point off-center, gives the space a dynamic strength. Looking at this building in particular, we can say that an architectonic space must be seen as an addition to natural space. I see in this building the opportunity to quote Hans van der Laan on the importance of the functional relation between elements like nature, material, house and man: “Out of this enrichment of natural space by architectonic space there arises a natural space-image that can be harmonized with the space-image of our experience. The two space images can be so attuned that each becomes the perfect complement of the other, and they form as it were one whole” (LAAN, 1983). When I talk about natural space I’m not citing the nature itself, but instead the meticulous use of material and the way they build the space of the church. “The compact, rounded form of the material we extract from the earth – be it a block of stone, a piece of wood or a lump of clay – cannot produce the enclosed form of interior space directly; for this at least a few pieces of material need to be joined together” (LAAN, 1983).

imagensAt that time no longer was it necessary to polish and paint concrete. We can compare this work with the Benedictine Monastery by Hans van der Laan, The Hedmark Museum from Sverre Fehn, the First Unitarian Church by Louis Kahn or even an amount of works by Le Corbusier like La Tourette or the masterpieces from Chandigarh. Concrete could be used untreated with the pattern left from the framework. “Natural materials such as wood, brick and stone were to give architecture an anchor in the concrete and make it more basic” (GRØNVOLD, 1988). Furthermore, this church appears like an ode to materiality and was marked as one of the most relevant masterpieces in Norway after 1945.

As it should be, I could not avoid making reference to Norwegian architecture. And, in this case, introduce this work in the context of Norwegian architecture also involves the recognition of an architecture, which at the time was looking for a change, adapting to the new technologies of construction and portraying new ideologies. In that sense, what makes St. Harvard Kirke even more interesting, in my opinion, is the fact that Lund and Slaatto expressed difficulty in the recognition of what a church should be. So, in the end, the whole process was in the basis of a productive research and experimentation work.

GRØNVOLD, Ulf. Lundo & Slatt0. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1988
LAAN, Dom H. van der. Architectonic Space: Fifteen Lessons on the Disposition of the Human Habitat. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1983
NORBERG-SCHULZ, Christian et al. St. Hallvard kirke og kloster. Oslo: Arfo, 1997