Knut Hamsun is Norway’s most innovative and controversial writer through all times. With the publication of Hunger in 1890, and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1920, Hamsun gained a position as Norway’s greatest author. His pro-German sympathies during WWII represented a major fall. The debates about Knut Hamsun’s literary and political legacy continue to this day.
The Knut Hamsun Center is located by the vicarage ruins on the banks of the Glimma River in Presteid in Hamarøy Municipality in Northern Norway. The center is situated in a beautiful cultural landscape surrounded by nature that remains virtually as untouched as it was in Hamsun’s time. The center’s tower offers an impressive view over the realm of Hamsun, the area that inspired the author to write such world renowned books as Pan, Growth of the Soil and Wayfarers.
The Hamsun Center was designed by the American architect Steven Holl. The center comprises two buildings – a six-floor main building (known as the tower) and a single floor auditorium.
These buildings are connected by an underground passage and have a surface area of 837 m² and 524 m² respectively. The buildings collectively form an entrance area which may be used for outdoor events. The main tower houses exhibition areas, reception, café, library, shop, cloakrooms/toilets and the administration.
The auditorium features a flexible stage with a telescopic amphi theatre with a seating capacity of 219, which may be used for school presentations, as a theatre, cinema, for concerts, lectures, conferences and more.
The spine of the main building is a central elevator shaft of perforated brass and you can move in a spiral movement down the building, alternating through a large open room which rises five floors and several smaller, more intimate exhibition rooms.
The ground floor houses the reception, shop and café. On this floor, you can get information about the exhibition, events at the Knut Hamsun Center and other Hamsun-related activities.
The basement houses the administration’s offices, cloakrooms, public toilet facilities and the passage connecting the main building with the cultural auditorium.
The exhibition areas are located on floors 1-4 and are designed to provide a varied and flexible exhibition. The natural light enters the building in dramatic “light columns”, which strike important places in the building on special days of the year. The building features a roof-top terrace, several balconies and windows from where visitors can admire the surrounding cultural landscape.
The auditorium comprises a large room divided into an amphitheatre for the public and a stage floor. The rear of the building features a vestibule, toilets and a control room.
The passage from the stage floor connects the auditorium with the basement of the tower building, which features cloakrooms and toilets. The technical room is located below the amphitheatre. The stage floor is large and is ideal for dances, concerts and the like. The auditorium accommodates 219 people, including the amphitheatre which seats 142.
represents a journey through the life and works of Knut Hamsun. It explores the breadth and ambiguities of this celebrated and condemned writer; his modernist narrative and his criticism of modernity, his restless, wandering characters, his idealization of agricultural life, his tales of love, of the North Norwegian nature and the shifting moods of the human soul.
Hamsun’s political sympathies are central elements in the exhibition, which is interwoven with quotations illustrating Hamsun’s remarkable powers of articulation. The exhibition has been produced by Hybris Produksjon AS.
The exhibition is structured into different themes, allowing you to begin wherever you like. Take the elevator up to the 4th floor and start with the debates about Hamsun’s political and literary legacy – or begin on the 1st floor by exploring the author’s childhood and years of adolescence in Nordland. On each floor you can further immerse yourself in the various themes of the exhibition via Hamsunweb.
4th floor – The Wanderer
Knut Hamsun was constantly on the road, and the figure of the wanderer is central to his works. His travels to America, throughout Europe and to the Orient, impacted both his life and his literary style.
The novel about Isak Sellanraas’ settlement in the wilderness of the northern Norwegian mountains was perceived as a message of peace and self-sufficiency upon its publication in 1917. Today, Growth of the Soil is seen as a novel expressing ambivalence toward modern life and the idea of progress. In 1920, Hamsun received the Nobel Prize in Literature for this book.
3rd floor – Flowers and blood
Knut Hamsun is considered one of the world’s greatest writers on the subject of love. Who were the women in his life and his writings?
During the 1890s, Hamsun wrote some of the most influential novels in the history of literature. He wanted to craft a new type of psychological literature – an exploration of “the whispering of the blood and the prayer of the bone.” Hunger, Mysteries and Pan are today regarded as highlights of literary modernism.
The walls of “the Archive” building allow you to explore Hamsun’s creative process – handwritten notes, restlessness, writer’s block and euphoric outbursts of inspiration. Here you may experience articles and objects from some of Hamsun’s books – Ylajali’s veil, Nagel’s yellow suit and Glahn’s Lieutenant’s uniform.
1st floor – Childhood
Knut Hamsun was born as Knud Pedersen in Gudbrandsdalen on 4 august 1859. Three years later, the family moved to the farm property Hamsund in Nordland. How did Hamsun’s childhood memories and impressions affect his writings?
More than half of Hamsun’s roughly forty titles are in some way associated with Nordland. Life along the fjords inspired Hamsun to write many humorous stories, as well as harsh criticisms of the modernization taking place in society.
“Modern life has influenced and changed and refined human beings,” Hamsun said in 1891. Throughout his writings, he was attentive to all things modern – and critical to the hectic and superficial aspects of the new age.
Hamsun was interested in politics throughout his life.
It has been a long and eventful process from the conception of the idea about a Hamsun Center in the mid 1980s until the completion of the building on August 4, 2009 – the 150th anniversary of the birth of Knut Hamsun.
The idea about an international museum or center for Knut Hamsun arose from the environment around the Hamsun Days festival in Hamarøy in 1986. In 1994 the Nordland County Council and Hamarøy Municipal Council set up a limited liability company to lead the work. Later that same year the American architect Steven Holl was engaged to design the Hamsun Centre.
Holl spent considerable time gaining an insight into Knut Hamsun’s life and works and immersing himself in Hamsun’s literature. The novels Hunger, Mysteries, Pan and Victoria and Hamsun’s contrasting literary characters were of particular importance to Holl. He travelled to Hamarøy and started to draw. When he presented his characteristic watercolor sketches for the first time in 1996, they showed a strange tower, a building that was an interpretation of Hamsun’s literature and which the architect himself described as a Hamsun character.
“Building as a Body: Battleground of Invisible Forces… The building is conceived as an archetypal and intensified compression of spirit in space and light, concretizing a Hamsun character in architectonic terms. Peculiar and phenomenal experiences in space perspective and light create an inspirational frame for the exhibition.”
The building’s design generated considerable attention and debate in Hamarøy, Nordland, Norway and abroad. In 1996, MoMA in New York purchased the model of the building and in 1997 Holl received an award at the Progressive Architecture Awards in USA.
In 1997, the decision was made to locate the center in Presteid and the auditorium was added. In 2000, the Nordland county parliament decided the Nordland County Council would act as owner of the Hamsun Center. The center was jointly financed by the Nordland County Council, Hamarøy Municipal Council, the state and a host of private sponsors and collaboration partners. The final state allocations were received in 2007 and in 2008 the foundation stone was finally laid. Steven Holl was the guest of honor and there were major festivities in Hamarøy. In 2009, Salten Museum took over operational responsibility of the Hamsun Centre.
The building was completed in 2009 and formally opened by the Crown Princess Mette-Marit at a major opening ceremony, which was the highlight of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Knut Hamsun on August 4. The Hamsun Centre opened to the public on 13 June, 2010.
Part of this article is written by by Nina Frang Høyum. English translation: Thilo Reinhard.
The Hamsun Center in Northern Norway, source: Hamsun Center, Hamarøy