Frølichbyen – The impact of rethinking materials

Situated north of St Hanshaugen between Geitmyrsveien and Von der Lippe’s Street lies a group of rather peculiar houses. Today there are eleven houses left of the original twelve. At first glance they resemble regular brick houses which largely dominate this area. These buildings are however a result of both a political housing debate and a material use which differs from the rest of the buildings at St Hanshaugen. What is the story behind these unusual houses and do they play a role in today’s discussion on the use of local and affordable materials?

 

2 – Frølichbyen in the 1880s

The social housing debate in the 1850s

Social housing for workers was an important task and challenge in Norway after the industrial revolution, especially in Oslo where many factories were established during the second half of the 1800s. Numerous social housing projects were started in this period of time as a consequence of the poor living conditions for a growing group of workers.1 One of the first of these projects in Norway was Frølichbyen.

Frølich and his knowledge of earth architecture

Fritz Heinrich Frølich (1807-1877) was an industrialist who became a key figure in Oslo’s business and social life in the mid-19th century. He was one of the founders of Christiania Creditkasse and he also owned several factories.3 Frølich wanted to create affordable housing for his workers of his many newly established factories. Due to the requirements of building in masonry within the city borders, he was unable to build these houses in wood which was considered the cheapest material at the time. 

In the 1860s, Frølich started to experiment with soil as a cheaper and fire-proofed building material.4 He was raised on the island Als in Sønderjylland in Denmark, but his family was originally of Polish origin. It is therefore reasonable to believe that he had knowledge of these types of buildings in his family, as earthen buildings were more common in Poland at the time.5 In an article in Norsk Folkeblad, Frølich writes that he also became acquainted with the technique on his many journeys abroad.6 As a role model in Norway, Frølich looked at Skinarbøl hovedgård in Kongsberg which was built in 1849. Here the walls were cast using a rammed earth technique with formwork and a mixture of clay and straw.7

 

3 – Skinarbøl Gård

 

The site where Frølich planned to build was at St Hanshaugen in Oslo, where the geological structure of the site shows that the property lies on a thick clay and fine sand layer. To keep the costs of the buildings down, he believed that a brick made from the locally sourced clay-based earth could be the cheapest and at the same time a good quality material to build with.8 

The planning of Frølichbyen

To create a site plan and a plan for a serial house type, Frølich hired the Norwegian architect Georg Andreas Bull (1829-1917). Bull had by then previously designed villas, railway stations and churches in Norway. The first plan for the housing project at St Hanshaugen consisted of 28 houses. Each plot was 320 m2 with space for a small garden and each house had a footprint of 100 m2, consisting of a basement, main floor and a loft.9 

 

 

Fig 1 – First situation plan for Frølichbyen – signed by Georg Andreas Bull

 

The houses were intended for four workers’ families where each family unit had a bedroom, living room and two shared kitchens in the basement. The idea was to make a payment plan where the family could pay down the costs monthly for 15 years and would eventually own their own houses.10 

 

Fig 2 – First proposal for the housing in Frølichbyen, signed by Georg Andreas Bull

 

The final 12 houses

The building of the houses started in early February 1870. Twelve one-and-half storey houses were finally under construction. The earthen bricks used as the main construction were produced on the property. As the weather conditions were advantageous, the bricks were ready for use after only three weeks. The cellars of the houses consisted of quarried Norwegian greystone. Between the natural stone and the earthen wall was a layer of well-burned brick and a layer of coal tar to prevent moisture from the ground rising into the earthen construction. As an addition, there was a light wooden construction on the inside of the outer walls to hold the roof and to ensure stability in the construction. As protection, the facades were painted first with warm coal tar and then plastered.11

 

Fig 3 – The building prosess of Frølichbyen

 

A closer look at Anton Schjøth’s Street 5

By looking at the style features of the houses in Anton Schjøth’s Street and Banksjef Frølich’s Street, one can see many similarities to the Swiss chalet style, which was one of the more popular architectural styles at the time. The Swiss chalet style is a style of Late Historicism and refers to traditional building designs characterised by widely projecting roofs and facades richly decorated with wooden balconies and carved ornaments.12 

 

Fig 4 – The 12 houses

Fig 5 – Facades of Anton Schjøth’s Street

 

Last week I was very lucky to be able to visit the resident in Anton Schjøth’s Street 5. By studying the facade of this house, one can spot many of the Swiss chalet features, among these is the projecting roof and the decorated porch towards the garden. Some of these features, for example the decoration of the porch, are possibly purely decorative showing the style of the time. Others, such as the projecting roof and the large foundation, are also recognised Swiss chalet style features. These features however, also work in favour of protecting the fasade and the construction underneath.13

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fig 6 – Ground floor plan – Anton Schjøth’s Street 5

Fig 7 – 2nd floor plan – Anton Schjøth’s Street 5

Fig 8 – The facade of Anton Schjøth’s Street 5

 

 

4 – Facade elements of Anton Schjøth’s Street 5

 

Who ended up living in Frølichbyen?

The Frølichbyen project did not go entirely as planned. The initial intention was to build affordable housing for the working class. Unfortunately, even with the chosen building materials, the houses turned out to be more expensive than anticipated. It therefore turned out to be the bourgeoisie and not the working class who were able to purchase them. In 1884, professionals such as teachers, engineers, church ministers and lawyers were listed as residents of the Frølich houses. 14

  

5 – Facade

 

Frølichbyen today

The intentions of Frølich have still yet to be realised. The houses which were intended for four families are today inhabited by one single family or a couple, which makes them spacious compared to general housing in the city. As housing prices have risen considerably in recent years and these homes have a number of qualities that are rare to find in city dwellings, the Frølich houses are placed on the higher end of the price scale. Frølich never managed to build for the working class, but he managed to create houses which have withstood the test of time. Even though the houses are characterized as old, they need little maintenance and today inhabitants seem very satisfied in terms of indoor climate, even compared to today’s standards.15

As we can see, the houses in Anton Schjøth’s Street and Banksjef Frølich’s Street were a result of many factors. The main reason being the aim to create affordable living for the working class. Unfortunately, this project turned out just as many other social housing projects throughout the ages, by being too expensive for the working class. In terms of material use, Frølich was a pioneer in the use of earthen brick as this was the first project of its kind in Norway. The way he used local material and built houses which still stand today, is a remarkable feat given our nordic climate.16 

 

 

6 – Facade

 

With today’s discussions on sustainable architecture one could certainly take inspiration from the way Frølich used what was available locally, to create quality housing. Maybe this way of thinking can inspire new architects to look to other building traditions and customize the buildings to the site much the same way as Frølich and Bull tried in the 1870’s. Because of the global environmental issues we are now obliged to think along new lines. In my opinion it is more and more likely that we will see a rise in the use of natural materials in future buildings. Frølich attempted to utilize new materials as a tool to solve the social housing problem of his time. If we too can become more innovative regarding material use, perhaps this may help us solve many of the issues we are faced with today. 

 

  1. Haupts, Hauke. 2011. The workman houses at Koengen in Oslo, thesis in Proceedings EARTH USA 2011. USA: Quentin Wilson, 2011 [07.11.2020] 
  2. Mæhlum, Lars. 2016. “Frølichbyen” access date: 08.11.2020 URL: https://snl.no/Fr%C3%B8lichbyen [11.11.2020] 
  3. Nerheim, Gunnar. 2009. “F H Frølich”, URL: https://nbl.snl.no/F_H_Fr%C3%B8lich [11.11.2020]
  4. Haupts. 2011 
  5. Conversation with Knut Gulbrandsen, resident at Anton Schjøth’s Street 5, 07.11.2020
  6. Frølich, F.H. 1868. “Hus af vindtørred Sten” Norsk Folkeblad, No. 30, p. 203 [10.11.2020] 
  7. Almar-Næss, Hilde. 1976. Diploma thesis on Frølichbyen, Universitetet i Trondheim – Norges Tekniske Høgskole [14.11.2020] 
  8. Conversation with Hauke Haupts, 05.11.2020
  9. Almaar-Næss. 1976
  10. Haupts. 2011
  11. Haupts. 2011.
  12. Sørseth, Anne Margrethe. 2009. “Sveitserstil”, URL: https://snl.no/sveitserstil [13.11.2020]
  13. Haupts. 05.11.20
  14. Almaar-Næss. 1976
  15. Gulbrandsen. 07.11.20
  16. Haupts. 05.11.20

 

Bibliography

Almar-Næss, Hilde. 1976. Diploma thesis on Frølichbyen, Universitetet i Trondheim – Norges Tekniske Høgskole [14.11.2020] 

Conversation with Hauke Haupts, 05.11.2020 

Conversation with Knut Gulbrandsen, resident at Anton Schjøth’s Street 5, 07.11.2020

Frølich, F.H. 1868. “Hus af vindtørred Sten” Norsk Folkeblad, No. 30, p. 203 [10.11.2020] 

Haupts, Hauke. 2011. The workman houses at Koengen in Oslo, thesis in Proceedings EARTH USA 2011. USA: Quentin Wilson, 2011 [07.11.2020] 

Mæhlum, Lars. 2016. “Frølichbyen”, access date: 08.11.2020 URL: https://snl.no/Fr%C3%B8lichbyen [11.11.2020] 

Nerheim, Gunnar. 2009. “F H Frølich”, access date: 11.11.2020 URL: https://nbl.snl.no/F_H_Fr%C3%B8lich [11.11.2020] 

Sørseth, Anne Margrethe. 2009. “Sveitserstil”, access date: 13.11.2020, URL: https://snl.no/sveitserstil [13.11.2020]

 

Photographs 

1 – 07.11.2020

2 – Væring, Olaf Martin Peder / Oslo Museum, URL: https://digitaltmuseum.no/011014329848/vallelokken-og-frolichbyen

3 – Sinding, Bergliot / Norsk Folkemuseum, URL: https://digitaltmuseum.no/011013373541/skinnarbol-kongsvinger-hedmark-hovedbygningen-med-hagen-fra-dr-eivind-s

4 – 07.11.2020

5 – 07.11.2020

6 – 07.11.2020

 

Illustrations

Fig 1-5 – Illustrations made by the author, using material from Almar-Næss, Hilde. 1976. Diploma thesis on Frølichbyen, Universitetet i Trondheim – Norges Tekniske Høgskole [14.11.2020] 

Fig 6-7 – Illustrations made by the author, using material lent from resident at Anton Schjøth’s Street 5, unknown original creator

Fig 8 – Illustration made by the author, using material from Leif Grostad, Oslo, 25.05.45. Found at Saksinnsyn Oslo Kommune, access date: 13.05.20