A new safe harbour is rising around Norway’s famed Viking ships, arguably the country’s most precious national treasures. State officials unveiled the winning designs on Tuesday for a new “Viking Age Museum” in Oslo, to be built around the existing museum building, which itself is on the country’s historic preservation list.
Statsbygg, the state-owned company in charge of national real estate, reported that a unanimous jury had selected three winners in the architectual competition for the new museum. First place went to a Danish architecture firm, AART, for their design called Naust, which in Norwegian is the word for a boathouse.
“The jury concluded that the Naust contribution provides a very good solution to a complicated challenge,” Statsbygg’s chief executive Harald Nikolaisen said when the winning designs were released. “The new building will secure and preserve the unique, popular and fragile Viking age collection.” He called the collection of the vessels Oseberg, Gokstad and Tune plus myriad items excavated along with them in Vestfold County in 1904 “one of the world’s foremost cultural monuments.”
The challenges have been many. The current Viking Ship Museum, which dates from 1932, is considered one of the great works of Norwegian architect Arnstein Arneberg but also has become outdated and too small to handle the crowds visiting it, especially during the summer tourist season. A proposal arose 10 years ago to move the Viking ships and the treasures found with them to a new museum to be built on Oslo’s eastern waterfront at Bjørvika, the oldest part of the city with signs of settlements dating back to Viking times itself.
Concerns and opposition surfaced almost immediately, with historical experts fearing the vessels were too fragile to survive a move. The classic Oseberg ship with its remarkable wooden carvings, for example, dates from 834AD, so years of debate over the ships’ fate began. An expert group commissioned to evaluate the risk of a move finally concluded in 2012 that it was too high, and that the Viking ships should stay where they are, at the Vikingskipshuset that Arneberg had designed on Oslo’s Bygdøy peninsula.
It will now be expanded with new wings and the new museum being built around the existing building. The jury believes the Naust design “allows for a beauthiful, coherent sequence of spaces” that will encompass the museum’s existing arches and “create a direct connection between between the new exhibition areas and the present-day exhibition wings.”
The second place award, called Vikingetiden på ny (The Viking Era Renewed) went to JAJA Architects/Coast Studio of Copenhagen. It was hailed for its “muted, organic approach” that “creates a new museum landscape both above and below the ground” in line with Arneberg’s architecture. Third place was awarded to a Norwegian firm in Trondheim, Arketekturfabrikken, for an entry called Favn. All told, the jury assessed 111 contributions, around 90 of which were submitted by Scandinavian architects.
Jury Chairman Bjørne Grimsrud of Statsbygg called the selection process “difficult,” with both site placement and artistic expression needing to be evaluated along with costs and the sheer security measures required to reduce risk of any damage to the vessels. The winners were chosen for having the greatest potential for further development necessary.
The three winners will now be “invited to negotiations” over project planning, with contracts due to be signed by summer. Regulatory and zoning process follow, meaning that the earliest possible start of construction was set for 2020, with completion in 2022.