City Hall Square, Oslo, Norway
David Adjaye turns a former railroad station into the visually, intellectually, and spatially alive Nobel peace Center in Oslo
Architecture and themes of peace sometimes coalesce in serene places, as in traditional Japanese gardens. But the task that faced London-based David Adjaye in designing Oslo’s Nobel Peace Center involved the far more complicated issues of strife, as well as peace. The purpose of the center is to introduce visitors to the history of the Nobel Peace Prize since its inception in 1905, and host temporary installations revealing aspects of war and peace, humanity caught in inhumane conditions, and the struggle for human rights around the world.
The site—or, more precisely, the venue—for the project is Vestbanen, a small, late-19th-century train station that reveals little of its original function. Literally a stone’s throw from the Oslo Fjord, this decommissioned, 16,000-square-foot station stands on an open plaza across from Oslo City Hall, a robust icon with twin brick towers. Selected through an interview process, Adjaye and his firm, Adjaye/Associates, were not permitted to make any major changes to the landmark-protected structure. So they took advantage of the urban space outside Vestbanen, placing a pavilion right in the path of dignitaries walking to the Nobel Peace Center from the annual award ceremony at City Hall.
Called Canopy, the pavilion is a tubelike box, which, the visitor soon discovers, is akin to some of Adjaye’s insertions within the Vestbanen building. A rectangular sleeve of sandblasted aluminum, with a curved floor and ceiling, Canopy remains open along its two longer sides. A walk (or bicycle ride) through it evokes the experience of traversing a small covered bridge. Pierced with many small holes delineating the world’s continents, the shell uses aluminum that, ironically, was once slated for a Greek cannon boat.
After passing through the freestanding Canopy, visitors can proceed indoors, into the Peace Center foyer, which Adjaye describes as “a deliberate void.” Here, as with many of his projects, he says he intentionally attempted “to have no thresholds.” A vivid green space to the left of the entry offers visual counterpoint to a glossy red one to the right. In between stands Register, a second sleevelike box, this one made of black GRP (glass reinforced plastic). Like Canopy, it is perforated, but its holes, representing major population centers, glow with green or red light, depending on that site’s peaceful or warring status. Each puncture also emits the sound of a voice speaking in the respective city’s language.
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