A plan for Ammerud


The post-war satellite town built during the housing crisis after the Second World War, that shows a variety in housing under a system of cooperative homeownership.

The politics of ownership

1. Aerial View of Ammerud

Norway faced an acute need for housing after the destruction wrought by the Second World War. At that time, the housing policy’s intention was to provide good housing to all by initiating homeownership. The leading labor politician at that time, Trygve Bratteli, famously declared that the ownership of other people’s homes was not a legitimate business activity, not even for local authorities.

In modern Norwegian times, ownership of own homes is common. At the end of last year, one of Norway’s leading newspaper wrote on how “Norwegians are obsessed with buying their own homes” ¹, while the rest of wealthy Europe generally rent. The connotation of the headline is that the rate of homeownership is greater in poorer countries, such as Romania, with the highest rate of 96.4%, and less in richer countries, such as Switzerland, with the lowest rate of 44.5%.

In Norway, around 80 percent of the population are homeowners through individual ownership or co-operative housing, leaving a small rental sector. In addition, the subsidized state loans established in 1946 were particularly generous towards cooperative housing. Whereas the State’s Housing Bank covered 80 percent of production costs for individual owners, cooperative associations were granted a state coverage of 90 percent, which showed a clear favouritism towards the cooperative housing system.

The Housing Planning Commission (Boligplankomiteen), which formulated the principles behind the Housing Bank, explicitly wanted to further the expansion of cooperative housing through the state loan system. These financing mechanisms – such as low-cost building sites, subsidized loans and grants – were put in place to meet the housing needs of all. The cooperative housing sector built houses on the principle of “selling at cost” and taking no profit.

The influence of political movement in modern architecture

In order to realize this new policy in Oslo, the municipality bought large areas in the Aker municipality, the so-called “outer east“, which were then added to Oslo in 1948. In the year of 1950, a general plan for Oslo was made by Erik Rolfsen, a Norwegian architect, which laid the foundation for post-war housing in Oslo. Rolfsen was in favor of a strong future-oriented regional plan, where residential areas, workplaces and education centers were coordinated to reduce travel distances. Central to his urban planning was the preservation of nature as an important part of the city. Oslo expanded into the suburbs, creating satellite towns.

One of the satellite towns was Ammerud. The architect Håkon Mjelva was commissioned by the City Planning Office to submit a development plan for the whole area. He was one of the most important Norwegian architects of his time, who graduated after the war and was very active during the 60ies. He participated in shaping the understanding of modern architecture in Norway, through being in contact with Norberg-Schulz who was familiar with CIAM (International Congresses of Modern Architecture), and with whom, together with Odd Østbye, Sverre Fehn and Geir Grung, he formed PAGON (Progressive Architect’s Group Oslo Norway) in 1951. He endorsed CIAM’s programme for renewal in the teaching of architecture and for greater participation by architects in debates on matters of public interest. An important goal for PAGON and for the newly-graduated architects was the renewal of the modernism of the years between the wars. The group became internationally known for its intention. The architecture of Ammerud is deeply rooted in the tradition of the modern movement.

The development plan

2. Plan of Ammerud

After submitting a plan for the whole satellite town, with its main goal being the provision of housing for at least 6000 people, he was appointed as the architect for the atrium houses and the Bananblokka – two projects out of the development plan.

3. The curve of the Bananblokka4. Plan of the Bananblokka5. Typical apartment type and storage rooms on the pedestal floor

The Bananblokka – loosely translated – Banana Building, is an eye catcher in the plan. It’s designed as a curved slab in three to four stories. The curve was primarily a result of the existing topography. The Banana Building slips as a 270-meter-long concrete structure between the pines and the rocks, containing 164 freehold-apartments. The slab is filled with a multiplication of a circulation core and two apartments deriving from each of it.


6. Aerial view of the atrium houses

7. Typical floor plan for the atrium houses

His second project, the atrium plant, was one of the first in Norway on that scale, with 236 units in cluster formation. One type of house in four different variations follows the hilly terrain to break the monotony and repetition. The atrium house was built with all the windows turning out towards the closed atrium, thus there was a sharp distinction between the private and the public. In addition to that, the lack of windows was a way of preventing people from showing their individual taste to the outside, in order to protect the architect’s own aesthetics.

The criticism and the success

8. Aerial view of Ammerudlia

Being the architect of the development plan, Mjelva designed four housing blocks – Ammerudlia – for which he was not selected as the appointed architect. Yet, his early sketches show a clear inspiration by Le Corbusier, who was one of CIAM’s founders. In his opinion, the factory production process applied to high-rise buildings with identical components and apartment types are the most modern and egalitarian of urban forms. After Ammerudlia was built, it was heavily criticized. Domestic, as well as foreign critics, decided that such low-cost high-rise blocks led to unhappiness, criminality and substance abuse.

Years later, Ammerud proved to be quite successful. Through the variety of housing, the connection to the city, the infrastructure and especially the aspect of home-ownership, Ammerud provided a living environment that offered content everyday life. The intention behind the satellite towns was that they were supposed to create better citizens in a progressing society. This way of living proved to fortify democracy, as it created local communities where people owned their apartment buildings collectively, through housing associations such as OBOS, and therefore cared about their environment.


¹ Langberg, Øystein: “Mens nordmenn er besatt av å kjøpe egen bolig, er det helt vanlig å leie i resten av det rike Europa” (While Norwegians are obsessed with buying their own housing, renting is usual in the rest of rich Europe), Aftenposten, Dec. 28, 2016.



Luccarelli, Mark: Green Oslo, Visions, Planning and Discourse, Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2012

Kronborg, Anne-Kristine: OBOS. 100 borettslag 1929-2013

Arkitektur i Norge, Norsk Arkitekturmuseum Arbok 1998

Byggekunst, Vol. 49 Nr. 6, 1967

Langberg, Øystein: “Mens nordmenn er besatt av å kjøpe egen bolig, er det helt vanlig å leie i resten av det rike Europa” (While Norwegians are obsessed with buying their own housing, renting is usual in the rest of rich Europe), Aftenposten, Dec. 28, 2016 -www.aftenposten.no/verden/Mens-nordmenn-er-besatt-av-a-kjope-egen-bolig_-er-det-helt-vanlig-a-leie-i-resten-av-det-rike-Europa-611475b.html

www.snl.no/Hakon_Mjelva (09.11.18)

http://www.oppdaggroruddalen.no/Omraader/Ammerud (09.11.18)

www.ammerudenga.no (09.11.18)

Biørnstad, Lasse: High-rise housing blocks – from bright vision to concrete hell, 2014 -www.sciencenordic.com/high-rise-housing-blocks–bright-vision-concrete-hell (09.11.18) 

www.housinginternational.coop/co-ops/norway/ (09.11.18)

Brady, M. Michael: The cost of living: Home ownership is high in Norway, 2017 https://www.norwegianamerican.com/business/the-cost-of-living-home-ownership-is-high-in-norway/ (09.11.18)


1. Kronborg, Anne-Kristine: OBOS. 100 borettslag 1929-2013. Foto by Ivan Brodey.

3. Ammerud, blokkbebyggelse. Foto by Teigens Fotoatelier.

6., 8., Oppdag Groruddalen, http://www.oppdaggroruddalen.no/Omraader/Ammerud. Foto by OBOS.

Featured Image:  Aerial view of Ammerud in Oslo. Foto by Chell Hill.

Plans are by the author.