loving celebration of human kind.
From preserving buildings to
by Erling Okkenhaug, spokesman for the Allgrønn network
In our view the Society for the Preservation of Norwegian Ancient
Monuments is the nation’s leading organisation in the work of safeguarding
the cultural riches of our rural and urban environments. Rescue operations
have been numerous, and much praiseworthy and enthusiastic idealism lies
behind the activities of local pressure groups.
Our surroundings are constantly being threatened by builders and
architects who show little respect for the uniqueness of local communities
and our cultural heritage. New buildings materialise like foreign bodies
in well-established and harmonious neighbourhoods – with little regard for
scale and size, and often with contrasting and extreme design and use of
materials. Our architects have little esteem for urban and rural
development. Their education places too high a priority on designing
buildings as individual objects, with the result that greater prestige is
assigned to showing skill as the creator of “exceptional” architecture
than to building successfully in existing contexts.
The Society for
the Preservation of Norwegian Ancient Monuments often stands alone when
defending cultural history in a planning process where most of the other
participants are fighting for their own interests. Architects are
concerned about the prestige inherent in creating buildings that stand out
and profiling innovation in a manner that satisfies their own professional
groups. Developers are anxious to get the most out of every square metre
and to complete the building process in the shortest possible time. Local
planning authorities do not have the resources to lay down strict
guidelines for coherent rural or urban development. Politicians are often
frightened of setting requirements that may threaten the completion of
projects, and are so uncritically determined to “get something done” that
any voice raised in protest against a building project’s design is
regarded as reactionary. Citizens feel out of place in this specialist
field. In this situation it is crucial that the Society for the
Preservation of Norwegian Ancient Monuments strengthens its expertise as
an activist body and finds effective means of meeting the challenges.
Two years ago Allgrønn convened a think-tank meeting for its network –
a group of professionals interested in architecture and the development of
society. The goal was to compile a comprehensible checklist for urban
development on a human scale. We set a limit: the document was not to
exceed 2 A4 pages. Input therefore had to be simple and accessible to all
those interested in urban development and architecture, and also usable
for politicians and others who need a tool to help them meet the arguments
of the professional world. The checklist was easily adaptable to local
working conditions, as for example when it was used in one of the towns in
the south of Norway.
The checklist was
used in Arendal
Arendal encouraged a democratic process in connection with its visions
for designing the new Barbu (a quayside development similar to that at
Bjørvika in Oslo but on a smaller scale). The local residents’ association
used the checklist for urban environment as a framework for the comments
In the first
place the aim was to counteract the rigid and conservative planning
proposal that had been presented by Asplan Viak – a proposal representing
the maximum utilisation of space. Local people were of the opinion that
Asplan Viak’s suggestion would produce a monotonous existence in blocks of
flats whose architecture was alien to the district and whose size and
scale were totally inappropriate to local norms.
However, alternative planning proposals from local architects were also
presented, and these expressed a greater wish to develop a traditional
1. MAIN GOALS FOR THE AREA
- To incorporate the sea in Barbu rather than building out into the
- To build a varied urban development on the site
- To recreate the river for the pleasure of the townspeople
- To provide a balance between dwellings, business and public
functions, recreational areas and ancient monuments
- To construct a variety of homes and business facilities
QUESTIONS AND MEASURES
- Is there a high proportion of dwellings?
- Have amenities for special target groups been included, e.g. the
elderly, young people, children?
- Is there a good ratio of district-related businesses and public cultural
- Have the buildings been divided among selected functions that help to
attain the goal of creating a varied and modern urban environment?
3. HUMAN DIMENSIONS
- To create urban areas that are attractive and congenial to the
- To meet people’s need for a wealth of experiences
QUESTIONS AND MEASURES
Are the plot sizes, streetscapes and squares based on dimensions
traditional in Arendal?
Does the decided rate of utilisation and building height ensure adequate
sunshine and light?
4. THE TOWN AS A MEETING PLACE
- A wealth of variation and a living town
- Safety and
well-being for everyone
- Universal accessibility
QUESTIONS AND MEASURES
Are the groups of buildings divided up into smaller and varied
Have different developers been invited to tender in order to ensure work
Have we made sure there is good accessibility for public transport?
Have we reduced the traffic and noise to a minimum?
Is the streetscape informal and are the facades varied?
Have wide pavements and a sea-front promenade been planned?
Is it possible to provide a diversity of facilities at street level?
Have the groups of buildings several different entrances?
Is the urban furniture satisfactory, and the light fixtures?
Have attractive meeting places been provided?
Have we planned ponds, green spaces, tree-lined streets and a small boat
- To root Barbu firmly in Arendal by showing respect for continuity
and historical lines
- To ensure that the
buildings at Tollbodkaia link Barbu harmoniously with Arendal town centre
- To provide good walking facilities along the sea from Barbu to the town
- To create a new town district that shows coherence and has a diversity
of social and cultural functions
QUESTIONS AND MEASURES
Have local analyses and principles been used in the design?
Have specific rules been made to ensure interplay with the best that can
be found in the area and with adjoining buildings?
Have we allowed the use of traditional and modern architecture that can
interact on a human scale and size?
This checklist for the urban environment can be re-worked and further
developed when the need arises. The Society for the Preservation of
Norwegian Ancient Monuments should give priority to involving local people
in the processes linked to planning the development of the community.
Specific proposals for ways to involve the public can affect the
planning process and result in local people exerting real influence. All
developers, including public developers, should be obliged to involve
future users and neighbours in urban development. Not only developers but
also architects must respect the outcome of such participation and accept
that increased local involvement may result in a development that is quite
different from that they had visualised.
But there is one key point that applies to developers: the principal
business concept is that new buildings must first and foremost strengthen
the community, thus providing the greatest financial security for the
investor. There are innumerable examples of developments that have
preserved overall uniformity and created people-friendly environments and
well-functioning neighbourhoods. In these times of over-production of
commercial space, it is the developers who take coherence and consistency
into account who are most likely to succeed.
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