Nordic Pavilion to Study Architecture’s Role in East African Independence

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The National Museum in Norway has been chosen to curate the Nordic Pavilion for the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale, in collaboration with the Museum of Finnish Architecture, the Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design in Stockholm, and architectural firm Space Group. La Biennale di Venezia, regarded as the world’s premier architecture exhibition, opens tomorrow and will be open to 23 November.

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The exhibition, “FORMS OF FREEDOM: African Independence and Nordic Models” will study modern Nordic architecture’s role in the liberation of East Africa during the 1960s and 70s.

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As the curators describe, “The liberation of Tanzania, Kenya, and Zambia in the 1960s coincided with the founding of development aid in the Nordic countries, where there was widespread belief that the social democratic model could be exported, translated, and used for economic growth and welfare. The leaders of the new African states, for their part, wanted partners without a murky colonial past and looked to emulate the progressive results achieved by the Nordic welfare states after WWII. The Nordic social democracies and the new African states established solid bonds built on a mutual belief in progress.”

060614_Kenyatta_International_Conference_Centre3The exhibition will revolve around two concepts: Building Freedom “denotes the architectural nation-building where masterplans were used to build cities and regions, prototypes and prefabricated systems were used to build education and health centres, and so on.” Finding Freedom, “conversely, denotes the experimental free area that emerged from this encounter between Nordic aid and African nation-building, where progressive ideas could be developed as architectural solutions on a par with the international avant-garde.”

Karl Henrik Nøstvik, whose archives remain intact, will be one of the few architects of the era studied. He was among the first employed by the Kenyan government in 1965, as part of the Norwegian aid package, to design the country’s first government building: The Kenyatta International Conference Centre, a national icon of independent, modern Kenya.

An unexplored field in architecture history 
The Nordic architecture in East Africa has yet to be studied and documented by historians of Nordic and international architecture. The exhibition, which the National Museum in Norway has developed in collaboration with the architectural firm Space Group, revolves around two concepts. “Building Freedom” denotes the architectural nation-building where master plans were used to build cities and regions, prototypes and prefabricated systems were used to build education and health centres, and so on. “Finding Freedom”, conversely, denotes the experimental free area that emerged from this encounter between Nordic aid and African nation-building, where progressive ideas could be developed as architectural solutions on a par with the international avant-garde.

Kenya: Karl Henrik Nøstvik
Karl Henrik Nøstvik, one of the few architects of the era whose archives remain intact, was among the first group of experts sent to Kenya in 1965 as part of the Norwegian aid package. Employed by the Kenyan government, Nøstvik was commissioned to design the country’s first government building. The Kenyatta International Conference Centre (1966–73), which adorns the Kenyan 100 shilling note, was East Africa’s tallest building until the 1990s and remains a national icon of independent, modern Kenya.

The world’s foremost architecture exhibition 
The International Architecture Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia is considered to be the world’s foremost architecture exhibition. The appointed curator for Biennale Architettura 2014 is the renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. The biennale’s overarching title is Fundamentals, while the exhibitions at the national pavilions will address the theme “Absorbing Modernity 1914–2014”. Koolhaas’s idea is that each nation shall narrate its history of modernization over the past century in various ways, using their own approaches and hopefully presenting unofficial and hitherto untold stories. The biennale takes place in two larger areas in Venice: Arsenale and Giardini. The Nordic Pavilion, situated in Giardini, was designed by Sverre Fehn and built in 1962.

About the curators 
The National Museum in Oslo is the Commissioner for the Nordic exhibition 2014, and Dr. Nina Berre, Director of Architecture at the National Museum, is the main curator. Gro Bonesmo, partner in the architectural firm Space Group, was appointed co-curator and exhibition architect.  Space Group has its headquarters in Oslo, with local offices in São Paulo and New York. The three partners Gro Bonesmo (NOR), Gary Bates (US), and Adam Kurdahl (DEN) worked for several years with Rem Koolhaas at OMA in Rotterdam, before the three of them teamed up to found their own firm in Oslo in 1999. Gro Bonesmos is a Professor at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, and has also taught at Columbia University, Harvard, and the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen.