in loving celebration of human kind.


From preserving buildings to protecting communities


by Erling Okkenhaug, spokesman for the Allgrønn network www.allgronn.org

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.

Checklist for urban environment
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 it submitted.

    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 town layout.

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1. MAIN GOALS FOR THE AREA
- To incorporate the sea in Barbu rather than building out into the sea
- To build a varied urban development on the site
- To recreate the river for the pleasure of the townspeople

2. CONTENT
   GOALS
- 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 facilities?
- 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
  GOALS
- To create urban areas that are attractive and congenial to the public
- 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
   GOALS
-  A wealth of variation and a living town environment

-  Safety and well-being for everyone
-  Universal accessibility

QUESTIONS AND MEASURES
Are the groups of buildings divided up into smaller and varied sites/units?
Have different developers been invited to tender in order to ensure work for several?
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 harbour?

5. CONTEXT
    GOALS
- 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 centre
- 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?

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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.

More about ALLGREEN (Allgrønn) in english here: www.allgronn.org/allgreen.html