A virtual view of the past
The Roald Amundsen House goes digital
The life of a key figure of the heroic age of polar exploration can now be explored in the intimacy of virtual reality (VR). The Follo Museum, part of Museums in Akershus, in cooperation with Glitch Studios AS, has launched a virtual reality experience with an abundance of detail so close to reality that you believe you are at home with Amundsen.
The real-life Amundsen House is a beautiful Swiss style villa located in Svart-skog, on the scenic coastal route. It was here where I actually spent my own summer days by the fjord, with the same view Amundsen once had. With a vista overlooking the Bunnefjord, the house and its contents remain almost unchanged from the day Amundsen left it, when he disappeared in 1928.
Today, the entire house has been scanned with photogrammetry and hundreds of thousands of photographs have been put together into 3-D models. The experience is filled with stories, sounds, images and films from Amundsen’s life, covering both his public persona as a polar explorer and his private life.
With VR glasses, everyone throughout the entire world can now peer in Amundsen’s desk drawer, hear his girlfriend, Bess, talk about their first meeting, and investigate all the strange and wondrous things he brought home from his expeditions.
Here in this house, Amundsen planned and prepared several of his voyages, including the South Pole in 1911, the Northeast Passage from 1918 to 1925, and the first flight over the North Pole in 1926. This is also the house where the two Chukchi girls he brought with him from Siberia, Kakonitta and Camilla, lived from 1922 to 1924.
In recent years, several discoveries have been made in the house. A chest with more than 1,600 photographs, letters, documents, and manuscripts was found. This was the start of a major research project that has resulted in new knowledge about the house, the property, the furniture, and not the least, Amundsen himself.
As a consequence of these finds, the Follo Museum launched the digital project, planned before COVID-19 arrived and left its mark on all social gatherings. The goal was to make the house and the collection more accessible to a larger audience, and at the same time, ensure knowledge of the house and its objects for posterity.
In Amundsen’s villa, which he called Uranienborg, we gain an understanding of the private person. It almost feels like peeping into a person’s private rooms back in time, waiting for Amundsen himself to pop up and ask, “Who let you in?”
There, at arm’s length, is the desk where the polar hero wrote his love letters. It was here that the love letters were found, tucked into a purse, later published in the book Polar love (2018), written by Sigri Sandberg and Anders Bache. Kamilla Schiørn was 15 years old when she fell in love with Roald Amundsen, christened Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen. He was then an 11-year-old boy.
Loss and preservation
The 2019 movie Amundsen, directed by Espen Sandberg, offers further insight into the history of the house. The film not only shows the struggle, the drama, and the sheer cold the explorer and his men experienced, but also financial problems and deceit they encountered. In 1926, Amundsen went bankrupt and lost his home.
Fortunately, two of his financial supporters, Herman Gade and Don Pedro Christophersen, bought Uranienborg and allowed him to stay. Then, tragically, at age 56, Amundsen disappeared without a trace on June 18, 1926, during the rescue operation for his rival Umberto Nobile.
After Amundsen’s death, his supporters gave the property to the Norwegian state in 1933, and since 1935, Uranienborg has been a museum. Beginning in 2003, the Follo Museum has managed the property. In 2017, the National Heritage Board took measures to protect Amundsen’s home.
Just a short drive from Oslo, Roald Amundsen’s home not only been preserved, the entire house with its furniture, inside and out, has now been scanned to create a truly realistic digital model. As we “walk” up the carpeted stairs and see the open drawer, we take ourselves 100 years back into the past into an important chapter of Norwegian history.
The VR experience from Amundsen’s House is available on Steam: store.steampowered.com/app/1435700/Roald_Amundsens_House. The experience is free and available both in English and Norwegian.
This article originally appeared in the Jan. 15, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.