Hakon Mjelva. Ammerud – A New Way Of Living


During the post-war years, Norway started the construction of a new social-democratic state with the goal of building up a welfare society. The principle of the welfare is to benefit social equality in a whole country. In the built environment, welfare state intervention ranges from the buildings for health, education, government to everyday dwelling.

In combination with the tendency of large-scale suburbanization, the critical shortage of housing became quite acute after the war. Under the social-democratic political belief that everyone should have the opportunity to have equality in housing and the introduction of prefabricated elements, the housing buildings became mechanized. Therefore during the 1960s, massive apartment complexes were built far from the center of Oslo. One example is Ammerud designed by Mjelva, and done by OBOS (Oslo Housing and Savings Association). In the rigid control of the government, Ammerud is a combination of affordable units in high-rise buildings and a limited number of more expensive, single-family for the most senior.

Ammerud 1960s (Source: Oppdag Groruddalen, http://www.oppdaggroruddalen.no/Omraader/Ammerud)


The Influence Of  Modernism Movement                                                                                                        

The architect of this project, Hakon Mjelva as a member of Pagon (Progressive Architects Group Oslo Norway), was inspired by the ideas promoted by CIAM which was under the influence of Le Corbusier. From his point of view, the factory production process applied to high-rise buildings with identical components, apartment types and buildings are the most modern and egalitarian of urban forms.The architectural concept of Ammerud is deeply rooted in the tradition of the modern movement. This article will explore the influence on Ammerud of international tendencies towards iconic large-scale developments, primarily the Unite d’Habitation built by Le Corbusier in the south of France in 1952.


Birdview of Unite d’Habitation1947-1952  (Source:Le Corbusier and Postwar America, Mardges Bacon,

Analogy : Ammerud & Unité d’Habitation

After the research of the original archives by the architect, I found that the first design concept by Mjelva was almost another copy of Unité d’Habitation. Considering the specific climatic conditions of Norway and local context, he later evolved Le Corbusier’s design into a new way of living.
1.Composition of Plan & Types of Apartment


A Machine for Living (Source:Modernist Architecture, http://modernistarchitecture.blogspot.no/2015/07/the-radiant-city.html)

In the early sketches and drawings of Ammerud, it is clear that the architect was inspired by Le Corbusier’s design for the Unité d’Habitation in Marseille.  The Ammerud apartment plan shares many similarities with the Unité d’Habitation and appears to have been influenced by Le Corbusier’s ideas about a house being “a machine for living”. In both projects the service core which includes the kitchen and bathroom is located in the center of the narrow and long plan. The layout maximizes daylight to the living room and bedrooms. 

Typical Plan Ammerud,1962 (Source: Archive From Nasjonalmuseet)

Typical Plan Unite d’Habitation,1952 (Source:Le Corbusier: Oeuvre Complete 1952 1957)

Le Corbusier narrows the apartment units and uses double height space to create an interlocking system of residential volumes. This idea has greatly influenced Mjelva’s design of the section at Ammerud, as seen in the early concept sketches for the building.  

Section Sketch, Ammerud(Source:Archive From Nasjonalmuseet)

Section Sketch, Unite d’Habitation (Source:Le Corbusier: Oeuvre Complete 1952-1957)

As the project was processed, the plan of Ammerud was developed in response to the Norwegian context which differs from the environment the Unité d’Habitation. Firstly, the hallways of Unité d’Habitation are long and dark. This shows that Le Corbusier really wants people to calm down before they enter into their own apartments. The hallway is the connection to communal life. Nevertheless, Ammerud didn’t follow this point and has its new organization of general plan without the central corridor because of the gloomy and cold climate in Norway.

Typical Floor Plan, Ammerud, 1962 (Source:Archive From Nasjonalmuseet)

Typical Floor Plan, Unite d’Habitation,1952(Source:Le Corbusier: Oeuvre Complete 1952-1957)


Besides, with more variations in types,  a four-room, a three-room and one-room apartment is oriented around the elevator and the staircase. It offers more possibilities to meet different needs of family composition. As the development of demographic structure, it is an improvement from Corbusier’s prototype in social housing.

Apartment Plan, Ammerud, Present (Source1)

2. Facade & Material

In the first drawings of facade, the composition looks very similar with Unité d’Habitation. These elevations comprise a series of balconies and deep-set windows that reveal the spacing of the internal floor plates. 

West Facade, Ammerud,1962 (Source:Archive From Nasjonalmuseet)

West Facade, Unite d’Habitation,1952 (Source:Someone has built it before, https://archidialog.com/tag/unite-dhabitation-in-marseille/)

However, in the later stage, the architect evolved the design. The horizontal and continuous windows of the east facade became square windows.  Perhaps the architect wanted to create different types of apartment and offer more privacy to the bedrooms.

East Facade, Ammerud, Present (Source: Empo, http://www.empo.no/ammerudblokk)

East Facade, Ammerud, 1962 (Source:Archive From Nasjonalmuseet)

In terms of material, Unite d’Habitation is constructed from reinforced béton brut concrete (raw concrete), which was the most economic in post-war Europe. However, it could also be interpreted as materialistic implementation aimed at characterizing the conditional state of life after the war – rough and worn.

The external walls of the blocks in Ammerud consist of concrete elements that are specially treated so that the texture of natural stone is made visible. The new production technique with prefabricated concrete elements meant that the walls between the apartments were structural. The apartments therefore had a width that corresponded to the widest span between the load bearing walls. The result was that apartments with small facade length to obtain the sunlight.


Brutalist Building,Unite d’Habitation,(Source:http://downtown-creator.net/2009/02/06/the-rise-and-fall-of-the-unite-dhabitation-3/)

Prefabricated Concrete Elements, Ammerud (Source1)

3. Facilities & Roof  Garden

In the beginning, the roof plan of Ammerud included a kindergarten on top. The architect intended to add some facilities. However later, this was made unfeasible by the harsh climate in Norway. As a result of lacking cultural facilities and social meeting places, Ammerud was criticized as “ sleeping town”. Elementary schools were provided as part of the basic, public service infrastructure, but they were not given prominence in the masterplan. The closest shopping centre was one subway stop away.


                                            Roofplan, Ammerud, 1962 (Source:Archive From Nasjonalmuseet)

By comparison, the flat roof in Unité d´Habitation is designed as a communal terrace with sculptural ventilation stacks, a running track, and a shallow paddling pool for children. The Unite d’Habitation is based on Le Corbusier’s idea of the “vertical garden city” that brings the villa within a larger volume that allowed for the inhabitants to have their own private spaces, but outside of that private sector they would shop, eat, exercise, and gather together.                                                                                                                          

Ammerud (Source1)

Roof View, Unite d’habitation (Source: Photo by René Burri, 1959)

Conclusion: A New Way Of Living


By researching these original documents of Ammerud and making the analogies between Ammerud and Unite d’Habitation, it’s of great significance to find the thinking process of the architect Mjelva. It is hard to say if Ammerud is a successful project or not at that time. But it is a great attempt to try a new way of living under the context of Norway.


1.Anne-Kristine Kronborg. Boliger I Oslo. OBOS Fra 1930-Tallet Til 1980-Tallet. Varen 2003
2.Barbara Elisabeth Ascher.Housing-The Oslo Case
3.Bendik Manum. Apartment layouts and domestic life [Oslo] : Oslo School of Architecture and Design, 2006
4.Barbara Elisabeth Ascher & Helena Polati Trippe. Housing as a welfare service.

5.All the original sketch drawings are photographed by the writer in Nasjonalmuseet.