At the end of the 19th century a new architectural fashion arose in Scandinavia based on traditional wooden houses. This romantic movement came to be knowns by the name of Dragistil (Dragon Style), a reference to the dragon heads that used to adorn Viking ships.
The STRØMMEN TRÆVAREFABRIK outside Oslo, established in the year 1884, was one of the first big steam-powered sawmills to manufacture and export ready-made wooden houses. The houses were built from sawn or milled logs, numbered and dismantled for transportation and reassembled on the buyer’s site. Some order standard models, others custom-made houses designed by architects. In a sense, we can say that Strømmen Trævarefabrik was a forerunner of today’s IKEA.
The very first two huts were built on Cape Adare in the Antarctic in 1899. The main house is still in good shape.
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In a marketing catalogue from 1910, the factory says, “In the course of these years, we have built and shipped about 1300 wooden houses, some churches, several barracks, garden houses, and other buildings for different purposes, which are scattered all over the world – from the island Spitzbergen in the North, where we erected the buildings for the Norwegian Wireless Telegraph Station, to the South Pole, where we furnished “The Borchgrevink South Polar Expedition” with the necessary winter dwellings.”
Customers could look through a catalogue and order a range of houses, as well as wooden churches, railway stations and even a sanatorium.
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One of the most famous houses delivered by Strømmen Trævarefabrik is probably Høfdi, by architect Olav Olson, designed for the French consul in Reykjavik in 1908, and which the Icelandic government later bought as a representation residence. In 1986, Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev met there for a summit raising public international attention.
A large number of the houses from the Norwegian factory were shipped to South Africa, Central Africa, South America, the West Indies and other transmarine places, and in like manner they will be found in most European countries. Thus were 90 houses and barracks sent down and erected at Messina and Reggio after the earthquake in 1908.
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“Our houses have everywhere proved highly efficacious, so that they have attained an ever-growing reputation. In the regions frequently afflicted with earthquakes, a wooden house well-constructed is indubitably the most secure place of habitation,” states the catalogue.
Also the residents of Gelderland, Holland, had an opportunity to learn about this building system at an industrial art exhibition in Arnhem. In 1903, and in 1913, a Norwegian house was exported to Gorssel and assembled on site. It had all the modern facilities of the time, including running water and electricity. The house was owned for a time by Vloogenboom and Van Hasselt and was then acquired by Maria Büchner, who left it to a foundation for disabled children after her death.
The art of building wooden houses is known to be very old in Norway, where this method of building has, with very few exceptions, been the only one in use from the commencement of history. The country still possesses wooden churches, whose age has been proved to be 800 years.
The factory burned in 1919 and went bankrupt ten years later.
The Exciting Story of a Norwegian House Manufacturer, written by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top): Høfdi, by architect Olav Olson, designed for the French consul in Reykjavik in 1908.