Erling Viksjø. Oslo Bymuseet

                                                    Photo: Teigen/Eier, DEXTRA Photo, from the book Frogner hovedgård

How does one create architectural additions that meet the modern views of architecture and fit a historical context? An excursion to the Oslo City Museum supplies us with one answer.

The Oslo Bymuseet is located in the beautiful old outbuildings of the Frogner hovedgård, a farm built in the 18th century. The location is quite convenient, since an old farm, like a city, worked as a frame for the life of people from different classes and times. The city took over the farm in 1896 and created a public park, Frognerparken, and let Oslo Bymuseet use the main building for exhibitions.

For the celebration of Oslo’s 900th birthday in 1950, the city wanted a special exhibition and thus engaged the architect Erling Viksjø, who used the outbuildings, with a new entrance in the middle. Since the grounds were protected he drew a “temporary” building, one that still stands and works as the entrance of the museum.

bymuseum sektion     bymuseum plan

                                                                                                    Pictures from the book Frogner hovedgård

The new building follows the old one with similar volume and material, the most apparent modern feature in the exterior is the large windows of both sides of the wing. The interior is so large and open that one rather associates to a church than an outbuilding. The vaulted white ceiling creates a light space, contrasting the darker, more narrow rooms further inside.

Bymuseum utv idag     Bymuseum inv idag

Despite the intention of tearing down the building after the exhibition, the building feels remarkably permanent today. The contrast between the discreet exterior and the more modern interior is the concept of Viksjø’s building and still feels, 65 years later, as a timeless way to go. Sure, one could have asked for a more spectacular exterior, which, if it was built today, in the time of iconic buildings, would surely have been the case. But the question is if the subtlety of Viksjø isn’t harder to achieve. His design of the Høyblokka in the government district shows that Viksjø could make monumental buildings.

Isn’t knowing what sort of building suits which context the very heart of our profession? Of knowing when to show off and when to be modest? Walking in the surroundings of Frogner hovedgård, I can not help but feel we have lost that very knowledge in the architecture we create today. When everything has to be so special, one can forget that what is special is sometimes what is already there.

Source: Lars Roede. Frogner hovedgård:  bondegård, herskapsgård, byens gård. Oslo: Pax, 2012.