Friday, 27 December 2013

Villa Stenersen

Villa Stenersen 7This past summer, I managed to scope out William Coaker's bungalow in Port Union. This fall, I checked out Rolf Stenersen's place in Oslo. I blame Shane O'Dea for this urge to look at houses and buildings. I took a course from Shane called The History of Western Architecture while I was an engineering undergraduate student at MUN. It was supposed to be a fluff humanities course to fill up my schedule, but I ended up enjoying it immensely. I now make a point of visiting interesting buildings and houses as often as I can.

Stenersen's house was designed in 1938 by Arne Korsmo in the functionalist school. I thought this might appeal to the engineer in me, so I went to have a look.

The tour guide at the house said that when his neighbor sold Stenersen the land upon which the house now sits, he only stipulated that the house not be above a certain height. Presumably this was to prevent his view from being blocked. However, when he saw the finished house, he hated it so much that he sold his own property and moved up the street.

Personally, I like the look on the outside, even if it is a bit sparse.

Villa Stenersen

Concrete and glass houses would have been very rare back in the 30's. This could have been the reason why there was such a strong negative, initial reaction. There are little blocks of glass everywhere, even the "airlock" doorway.

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The "table" by the door was intended for the woman of the house to lay her purse on as she opened the door. This is perhaps a functionalist idea taken a bit too far? I doubt it was used much.

Likewise with the glass blocks. The tour guide said that the idea of the glass was for solar heat, but that it ended up being quite warm in the house when the sun was out. Much like a greenhouse, I would imagine. And like a greenhouse, I bet this house is terribly cold in the winter.

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The glass is terribly expensive, about 1,000 NOK a block (about $150). This is because each one has to be hand made. For a "functional" design, this is not very practical.

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Korsmo even tried to use glass blocks in the ceiling over the central stair to simulate star light.

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It doesn't work that well, either, because the stair is so dark that supplemental lighting must be used, even in the daytime.

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While the functionalism of the place appealed to me, I did not like the lack of decoration. That is not to say there is no decoration, just not a lot of it. The pillars in the lower level are inlaid with what looks like pre-historic art.

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But this column is pretty much all of the decoration there is. Stenersen donated the house to the Norwegian government in 1974*. Since then, the house has really fallen into disrepair. It is supposedly used for meetings, but it is very sparsely furnished.

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If you are a fan of architecture, or are living in Oslo, then this is an interesting place to spend an hour. Despite having had to learn some lessons in what is truly functional and what is not, Korsmo did a reasonable job with this design. However, if you are in Oslo on a tight tour timeline, there are many other places to see before seeing this one.

* I recall the tour guide saying 1974, but when I did a Google search to verify this, I was surprised to see many dates from many sources, ranging from 1971 to 1978. I guess this just goes to show you have to be careful about facts found on the Internet.

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