Night to Thursday, May 25, 2009, the 203-year-old Våler church in Norway was completely destroyed by fire. An international architectural competition was announced and resulted in 239 proposals from 23 countries. In 2012, architect Espen Surnevik won the competition with a solution that would give society back the wooden church, but in a form adapted to our time where the art of Espen Dietrichson was to be integrated as a major part of the architectonics. The tragic loss of the old Norwegian church gave birth to a new beginning.
Våler is a small village on the Glomma River. The churchyard is one of the few planned areas of the town centre, and when the old church burned down in 2009, people felt the loss very keenly. The all but impossible task of the new church was to recreate the lost space as a frame for significant events in local people’s lives.
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So, the theme of the new church became resurrection. Together with the artist, Espen Dietrichson, the architects worked with different design elements to manifest the theme through the project. The most important element was the work with daylight coming into the church from different daylight openings. This symbolizes hope, and that light defies darkness, after the tragic loss of the old church.
A collaboration between architect and artists
The new church is placed on the existing processional axis, and clad in straight board of heartwood pine, reflecting the local forest landscape. The natural facades have a long local tradition. Due to climate they slowly get darker before ending up going back to nature. Every fifty years the façade-wood will be renewed, and the church will resurrect as new for every new-born generation.
Espen Dietrichson has painstakingly followed Espen Surnevik’s mathematical instructions, and decorated the entire end wall with a myriad of windows with associated mirror panels and purple-colored glass consoles. At the forefront stands understated liturgical furniture, co-designed by the artist and the architect.
The forms of the building are designed by strict geometric rules. The plan is quadratic and divided by a diagonal procession-axis going from a small chappell, placed south, and over to the main church room placed north. Two towers are showing where the liturgics points are placed in the church. The highest tower is 24m high, and the small tower is 12m. The towers have daylight openings on the top, making a view from the audience towards the sky. At the same time, the daylight openings allow daylight to enter the rooms.
Religious aspects worked out in an abstract way
The footprint of the old cross-church, were made into a memorial as a big grave in the middle of the old graveyard. Behind the memorial the new church rises up. The new church is built as a cultural arena, an open-minded gathering-place for the whole community of Våler.
“The religious aspects are worked out in an abstract way. As you walk up the aisle, the lines meet a point above the ground that unconsciously lifts your gaze up to something bigger than yourself,” says Espen Dietrichson.
Tragic Loss of Old Norwegian Church Gave Birth to a New Beginning – Project Details
Client: Våler church-council (Location Våler – Hedmark – Norway)
Architect: Espen Surnevik (1973) – professor at The Oslo School of Architecture
Collaborating structural engineer: Dr. Techn. Kristoffer Apeland AS
Collaborating artist: Espen Dietrichson (1976)
Contractor / Entrepreneur: Martin M. Bakken AS
Project type: Lutheran Norwegian Church.
Location: The eastern part of Norway, close to the Swedish border, two hours driving north of Oslo. Våler-center (place) – Våler (local district) – Hedmark (district) – Norway
Site: Old cemetery form the 17th century.
Project size: The Church is 950 square meters. The large tower is 24m high. Small towers are 12m high.
Awards: Våler Church is awarded with:
Building of the Year 2015 in Norway (Årets bygg 2015)
Norwegian wood-award 2016 (Innlandets trepris 2016)
Archmarathon Award Milano 2016 “Best Religious Building”
The Norwegian Governmental Award of Architecture 2016 (Statens Byggeskikkpris 2016)
Text description provided by the architects.
Tragic Loss of Old Norwegian Church Gave Birth to a New Beginning, compiled and edited by Tor Kjolberg