Lillehammer is a ski resort town of approximately 25,000 located an hour and forty-five minutes by train from Oslo. The town is located on a hill overlooking the shores of Lake Mjøsa, the largest lake in Norway. This topography leads to a very concentrated downtown area anchored by the train station and Storgata (the main street), with a very steep climb to sights such as Maihaugen (Norwegian Folk/Handicraft Museum) and the various sites used for the 1994 Winter Olympics. Due to the skiing and exposure from the Winter Olympics, the town has become a tourist destination, with cultural attractions such as Maihaugen and the Lillehammer Kunstmuseum (by Snøhetta).
The town being located directly on a steep hill adds a new dimension to the typical relatively flat urban landscape and is quite the change from Oslo. In a way it allows Lillehammer to retain its connection to nature by maintaining natural topography (the street grid runs perpendicular to the hill with only a few streets running up and down the hill), and the allowance of rivers to run through the town to the lake. The abundant use of wood also creates a connection between town and landscape.
Fehn’s competition winning scheme (with Geir Grung) in 1949 takes these contextual cues into consideration in the design by working with the natural contours. This created a design that worked within the landscape rather than an object in a landscape. Fehn and Grung created a long, linear, low-slung building based off of an exhibition path that moves along and with the landscape, with a punctuated beginning (entry/larger exhibits) and ending (auditorium/path towards the outdoor exhibits). A separate out building was created for offices and services, aside a natural amphitheater created in the hillside. This scheme and its concept of being deep-rooted in nature, recalls the vernacular and the everyday life in Rural Norway that Anders Sandvig (A local dentist who created the Folk Museum and donated his collection of folk art and artifacts to Maihaugen) desired to showcase with Maihaugen and the Sandvig Collection.
The Fehn/Grung proposal was heavily modified from the landscape sensitive proposal that won the competition into a building that is an object in a field. Since Fehn and Grung were largely inexperienced and recent graduates from AHO (Oslo School of Architecture), older architects were brought in to help with the building. Some aspects of the Fehn/Grung proposal were kept, such as the low-slung buildings and some of the materiality, but the main concept of an exhibition path though the landscape is lost, replaced by a centralized building cluster of exhibit and offices, with parking surrounding the building. Fehn and Grung’s concept extended the path through the grounds into the museum, which is lost in the built form heavily modified by others.
Next up, Oslo and the Norsk Arkitekturmuseet and a post on the Oslo Opera House to round out the Norway series. My book on Sverre Fehn’s museums is quickly approaching 75% complete! If anyone would like to provide proofreading services please contact me!