Architecture as art with a functional twist
The discipline of architecture is hard to define. It emerges from practical necessity: a building must be used for a purpose. And yet, the architecture we often love most is made of beautiful forms. In the history of cultures, the way form and function meet is one of the things that most helps define a people or a cultural group.
Here in America, for example, one cannot help but admire the Shakers’ ability to marry form and function in equal measure. For them, the importance of both was more than practicality. It was their philosophy, their religion.
And somehow the Scandinavians have a similar aesthetic. Both groups have a wonderful way of working with wood and melding human fabrication into the natural environment.
But a recent project in Norway has taken this Nordic aesthetic and practicality to an entirely new level, in a structure called “The Twist,” which is part of the Kistefos Museum.
A little about the history of this site and organization, which is located in Jevnaker, about 50 miles north of Oslo, created by benefactor and art collector Christen Sveaas. The site had originally been part of his family’s paper mill, which was established in 1889, operating as a viable business until 1955.
Hoping to reopen, the machinery and tools remained, which was fortuitous for Sveaas, who chose to preserve the history of the space, by creating an Industrial Museum with other shareholders that opened opening in the early 1990s. It is described as “a living factory.”
But, Sveaas also had a keen interest in art, so he added an outdoor sculpture park, one of the largest in northern Europe, which opened in 1999. It displays work from world-renowned artists and, since 2005, has added site-specific pieces.
Because of the harsh Norwegian weather, the museum could only be open in the summer. This, however, did not put the kibosh on the Kistefos’ ambitions, as he looked to add another building to increase the museum’s programming capabilities.
In 2018, the museum sponsored an international competition, which attracted a host of crème de la crème architects. Bjarke Ingels Group, BIG, a group of architects, designers, and builders based in Copenhagen and New York won with the design “The Twist,” which opened on Sept. 19, 2019.
In a video interview, Danish architect Bjarke Ingels described how this site was chosen and how their site-specific project evolved.
“In our search for a site, we came farther and farther away from the old mill. Somehow we did not want to compete with history and heritage. And also we kept going closer and closer to the water, because from the water you had a more incredible view of the river and of the mill. And eventually it just became clear to us, that by spanning the river we could transform the two sides into one continuous journey….
“And it just felt like everything was very simple. And, you could say, at that point, the whole project became about bringing together opposites: bringing together the two sides of the river, bringing together the mountain and forest and, of course, the idea of the two galleries: the introverted and extroverted, the vertical and the horizontal and joining those two created the gesture of the building, that then as a consequence made it feel like a sculpture….”
“The Twist” is a hybrid spanning several traditional categories: it’s a museum, it’s a bridge, it’s an inhabitable sculpture. Their design is brilliant and a wonderful melding of old and new architectural materials in their unspoiled surroundings.
The exterior of the structure is comprised of aluminum, but the interior keeps to Nordic tradition with its use of wood. Slats of Douglas fir (a wood actually native to North America but speaking to a Scandinavian aesthetic) are painted a crisp white to create a wonderful juxtaposition of materials that speaks to both present and past.
Nonetheless, the materials of metal and wood connect in their linear shape, what is referred to as striations, as explained by Eric David in “Architecture with a Twist: BIG’s Sculptural Bridge in the Norwegian Countryside,” (www.yatzer.com/the-twist-norway-big).
But the main surprise or “twist” is the twirl of the building itself, an engineering feat. One would think that there would be a buckle as you walk along the interior—yet no buckle exists. In practical terms, this wonderful form can function without interruption of the stroller’s gait or loss of much wall space.
So, how is this achieved? Ingels describes it like a deck of playing cards that fan out—but instead of cards, sticks have been used. It’s a magical alchemy, as entirely straight lines create the curves.
The building itself surprises at every turn. How perfect! How clever! There is extraordinary attention to detail, to the play of light and dark, and to the environment surrounding the structure. Twist becomes more than architecture; the result is more than art—it is a concrete example of harmony and transcendence.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 9, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.