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30 Jan 2018

Snohetta in Bergen: An art school that you can draw on

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Snøhetta’s new art school for Bergen is a robust, minimal structure that can flex to meet the needs of its current and future students

Referred to as the “city of seven mountains”, Bergen is a municipality that reflects the rich and rugged antiquity of its region. As the second largest city in Norway, with around 420,000 inhabitants at the end of 2016, its buildings are a diverse yet distinguished curation of colourful wooden and stone structures from across the centuries. 

Norway’s architecture has evolved to suit its changing economic and environmental conditions. Heavy climatic shifts, in particular, have influenced design within the region. As a result of harsh winters, high winds, long summers and, in coastal areas, salt spray, Norwegian design trends have typically steered towards wooden structures that are created with sophisticated craft – an effective construction that can withstand extreme weather as well as integrating with the natural landscape.

snohetta 2Photo by Trond Isaksen and Tomasz Majewski

The new Bergen Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design (KMD), designed by Oslo-based international architecture, landscape and interior design firm Snøhetta, goes beyond these Scandinavian trends. Having ticked all the Norwegian archetypical boxes, in terms of locality and its mergence with its surroundings, the Snøhetta team fulfilled the brief with an added twist of future-forward thinking. 

“Designing an art school is not something you do on an everyday basis,” says Astrid Renata Van Veen, senior architect and project leader at Snøhetta. With this in mind, she and the team were able to approach the project from a fresh angle, brimming with ideas for a new interpretation of the traditional arts educational facility. After winning a competition to design the faculty in 2005, the firm set out to recreate the space that resulted in “the ideal situation for an art and design school”, explains Van Veen.

snohetta 3Photo by Trond Isaksen and Tomasz Majewski

But what factors are to be considered when designing an “ideal” educational arts facility? And what makes a structure future-forward? “The art and design school in Bergen is multidisciplinary and they wanted to bring all of these disciplines together to form one common building,” she says. “The main point was to collate all the different faculties into one and to invest and look into the synergy of the different fields.”

The building replaces the former Bergen Academy of Art & Design (KHiB), and has undergone what the firm describes as a “historic fusion”. The previously scattered buildings, split over various locations, have been assembled into one: the new 14,800sq m multidisciplinary faculty is now the second largest cultural building in Bergen after the 1,500-seat Grieg concert hall. 

The new KMD building is open, robust and interactive, gathering 350 art and design students under one roof while simultaneously accommodating and connecting all within to the city of Bergen. Organised along two axes – one internal, dedicated to the students and staff, and one external, open to the public – the crossover allows for a unique open-plan space committed to providing a source of connectivity.

snohetta 4Photo by Trond Isaksen and Tomasz Majewski

“The most interesting part is that we created a huge project hall – it’s 1,300sq m in size with a ceiling height of 23m,” says Van Veen. “This is where all of these different departments can collaborate and work together. It’s a huge workshop and that’s something they didn’t have before.”

A key driver of the design is the need for the users – students and staff – to share the space with the public. This aspect has brought about a unique structure that acts as an innovative hub for teamwork. Accessibility has been achieved through breakout spaces, private working areas, auditoriums, workshops, communal spots and places to discuss ideas. As well as sharing the space with the public, there are also places to comfortably relax and look out at the city via huge glass windows.

snohetta 5Photo by Trond Isaksen and Tomasz Majewski

Set at the heart of the main horseshoe shape of the building, the project hall comes into play as the “centre of the space”, explains Van Veen. “All the different departments look down or are connected by the staircase to this common space. So it’s easily accessible visually and physically.” 

It’s also important to note that the interior of the building is a technical blank canvas for its students; what goes on inside can be completely replenished, as the walls are there to endure the impact of paint chemicals, craft products and movements, serving as a creative backdrop to the artists’ work.

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