The Breakthrough of Modernism Architecture in Norway

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The Breakthrough of Modernism Architecture in Norway

In May 1927, a new type of building that the residents of Oslo had not seen before was completed. The elongated, bright yellow restaurant Skansen was able to serve 2,000 guests on the outdoor terrace. Inside the building, there was a ballroom with ceiling paintings of bold female figures by the Norwegian painter Axel Revold. The architect was Lars Thalian Backer, who unfortunately died only 38 years old in 1930. The building was demolished in 1970. Read more about the Breakthrough of Modernism Architecture in Norway.

Lars Backer was educated at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts and the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. He also attended the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London.

The Breakthrough of Modernism Architecture in Norway
Lars Backer, 1911. Photo: Wikipedia

With his designs for Skansen Restaurant, Ekeberg Restaurant and the first high-rise office building in the capital of Norway, the Horn Building, Backer brought the International Style in architecture to Norway. Many people had felt that a new era was imminent, and now it had arrived.

Related: An Architectural Travel Guide to Oslo

«Skansen captures the fjord with open arms, at the same time as it has a good and open view of the city,» wrote a journalist in the newspaper Aftenposten about the new building at Akershus fortress two weeks before the opening. He added: «Fresh air, flowers and trees, sun and sea, beauty and idyll and yet in the middle of the German city.” Critics in the same newspaper, on the other hand, claimed that the restaurant “looked exactly like the gondola in a giant airplane deprived of wings and tail”.

The Breakthrough of Modernism Architecture in Norway
Restaurant Skansen in Oslo, 1927. Image unknown/National Museum, Oslo

A time of transition
The mid-1920s were a time of transition in Norway. Neoclassicism was still the predominant architectural style: power stations, banks, housing developments, sports facilities, museums and cinemas all bore the hallmarks of Ancient Greek and Roman architecture. Lars Backer contributed to this movement with his Frogner Cinema, the beautiful Villa Larsen, and a university project executed in the neoclassical style.

In a richly illustrated book (in Norwegian only) about Lars Backer, architectural historian Ulf Grønvold describes the architect as “an athlete who could climb straight up a flagpole. A man with ambitions to reach the top. A pathfinder. A hero who gave us access to the future. ” For the sake of safety’, he also points out that “the Norwegian rebel leader was beautiful and blonde.”

The Breakthrough of Modernism Architecture in Norway
Ekeberg restaurant, Oslo 1927. Image: Anders Beer Wilse Teigens architects

The breakthrough of Functionalism
In Norwegian and Nordic architecture, the year 1930 marked a watershed. A major exhibition in Stockholm that summer presenting a vision of architecture in the future aroused great public enthusiasm. In Scandinavia, the new style was nicknamed “Funkis” (an abbreviation of the word “Funktionalism”).

Related: Suburban Oslo

The Breakthrough of Modernism Architecture in Norway
The Horn building, Oslo 1929-1931. Illustration: National Museum, Oslo

The last years of the 1920s were in every way Backer’s golden age. Just before he died of a streptococcal infection in 1930, only 38 years old, he was overwhelmingly active, according to Grønvold’s book. He completed two restaurants, as well as the main works the Ekeberg restaurant and the Horn building, a couple of large detached houses, four shop fittings, the tennis hall at Skøyen and the hippodrome at Vinderen. He excels in the competition for the new Crown Prince’s Palace at Oscarshall, participated in a competition for the festivity and cinema premises in Horten, made proposals for tenements in Uelandsgate, kiosk and concert hall on Bestefartomta (Grandfather’s ground), workers’ housing at Amalienborg in Copenhagen and redevelopment of Grand Cafe in Oslo.

The Breakthrough of Modernism Architecture in Norway
Lars Backer was educated at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts and the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Painting: Store norske leksikon

Lars Backer was buried at Vestre gravlund in Oslo. Several members of his firm carried on his work and made names of their own, including Frithjof Stoud Platou who completed the design work on Horngården, an eight-story building on Egertorget.

The Breakthrough of Modernism Architecture in Norway, written by Tor Kjolberg

Feature image (on top): Restaurant Skansen, 1927. Illustration by Platour Architects

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