tirsdag 25. mai 2010

Bryggen in Bergen and Fantoft stave church

Two major tourist attractions in Bergen in Western Norway are wooden buildings with roots in the middle ages, and they have both been plagued by fire. The way they have been reconstructed are rather different.

Bryggen, the old wharf in Bergen, are rows of wooden buildings close to Bergenhus fortress. The buildings have a medieval structure that goes back to 1070. Up to 1945 it was called Tyskebryggen (The German warehouses) due to its Hanseatic history. Between 1360 and mid-16th century it was the seat of one of the most important offices of the Hanseatic League. Its importance was due to the trade with dried cod from northern Norway. In the Bryggen area the Hanseatic merchants lived in a separate quarter of the town and enjoyed exclusive rights to trade with the northern fishermen.

The long, parallel rows with the short ends facing the harbour gave space for offices, living quarters, commercial activities and store houses. Two and two rows are close together followed by a passage way for goods and people.

After the great fire of 1702, when 90 percent of the city of Bergen was burned to ashes, the whole structure of Bryggen was rebuilt in wood according to the medieval pattern.

For 800 years the buildings were used in the same way, but this came to an end early in the 20th century. That is why in 1901 the southern half of wooden rows was demolished and replaced by slightly bigger buildings constructed in brick. The new buildings repeated the gables of the former buildings and were a conscious attempt to harmonize with the historic context.

A devastating fire in 1955 destroyed about half of the remaining buildings from 170. This opened the site for archeological excavations, and this again resulted in the building of Bryggens Museum where the findings are exposed and the history of the area is presented. But what should one do with the vacant site, and what should be the fate of the 62 Bryggen buildings that had escaped the fire? The decades just after World War II, generally speaking, was a period when the general public had little patience with old buildings. A new bold era had started, and old buildings represented a past of little use. The old wooden Bryggen-buildings were in bad shape, and many people wanted to knock down the trash. There were also several simplistic, boxlike projects for the vacant site. The oil crisis in 1975 stopped the design process giving the architect, Øivind Maurseth, time to reconsider his project, a new hotel, for the site. Someone said: Why should we not go for a Warzawa-solution and recreate the appearance of the old building front?

This lead to a two part solution for the hotel project: Six shortened, recreated rows constructed with a concrete frame, due to fire regulations, but clad with painted, wooden boards and looking exactly like the former buildings facing the harbor. And behind them and partly hidden, the hotel proper consisting of seven double pitched rows built in bricks and a bit taller than the wooden ones. The hotel (1982) and the museum (1976) were both designed by Øivind Maurseth and the whole operation was a turning point in Norway for an architecture that harmonized with the existing historic context. Bryggen was accepted on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979.

Stav in Norwegian means column, and a stave construction has an inner core consisting of columns bound together with diagonal Andreas crosses and wooden “knees”. The churches are both famous for the way they are constructed and marvellous wooden carvings, especially around the entrance doors.
In the middle ages stave churches were common in Northern Europe. There were more than 1000 just in Norway then. In 1650 270 of these churches were still existing. In 1850 the number was reduced to 60. The Church Law of 1851 demanded that a church should be big enough for 30 % of the congregation. This made the small stave churches useless. Now there are only 28 left, and they are considered Norway’s most important contribution to world architecture.

There is one stave church in Hedared near Borås in Sweden. The only other existing stave church outside Norway is in Karpacz in Poland, formerly Brückenberg near Krummhübel in the Riesengebirge in Prussia. It was moved from Vang, Valdres in Norway and reerected in Eastern Prussia in 1844 where it was greatly altered, with the best intentions. The church was too small for the congregation in Vang and they built a new church. The old church was saved by the famous painter Johan Christian Dahl who persuaded his friend King Frederick William IV of Prussia to take responsibility for it. The history of Vang stave church is parallel to what happened to many of the other Norwegian stave churches.

On the 6th of June 1992 the old stave church at Fantoft in Bergen burnt down to the ground. It is believed to have been put to fire by members of the black metal groups, youngsters that also showed an interest in the Pre Christian Nordic religious practice. Several churches were burnt down in the years that followed, and the most prominent black metal artist, Varg Vikernes, was convicted for having killed a fellow black metal artist and is believed to be connected to several of the church fires.

The stave church at Fantoft was originally situated at Fortun in the dramatic landscape at the end of the Sognefjord, not so far away from Urnes stave church which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The stave church at Fortun was built around 1200, but altered several times. The body of the church was prolonged 3 meters in the Midle Ages and in the 17th Century a west tower and a choir was built as a log construction.

In 1879 a new church was built near by and the old church was not needed anymore. In 1883 the medieval part of the condemned church was bought by Fredrik G. Gade and put up on his property at Fantoft south of Bergen. When the church was reconstructed there, it was built as one believed it had originally looked. Borgund stave church, the best preserved stave church, was used as a model. In 1940 architect Kristian Bjerknes proved that the reconstruction was based on several misinterpretations.

In 1997 the new stave church at Fantoft was consecreated and opened to the public. The reconstruction was financed by the wealthy family Horn that now owns the church. The owners did not want to adjust the rebuilding in accordance with the findings of Kristian Bjerknes, they wanted the church to be rebuilt as replica of the church that burnt down. The measured drawings of the old were few, so the architects Johan. L. Andersen and Kjell H. Irgens had to study Borgund stave church, just as was done in the 1880s when the first church was built in Fantoft.

In 1881, about the same time as Fortun stave church was rebuilt at Fantoft, king Oscar II of Sweden and Norway, bought the stave church at Gol in Hallingdal and put it up at Bygdøy in Oslo. This was the start of Norsk Folkemuseum (The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History), one of the oldest open air museums in the world. This reconstruction also used Borgund as a pattern.

The inhabitants of Gol argued for a long time that they wanted their church back, but when Fantoft stave church was successfully rebuilt after the fire, they instead decided to build a new stave church at Gol. The result has been criticized for its technical simplifications.

In the year 2000 the Norwegian church celebrated one thousand years of Christianity in Norway. Since Iceland was part of Norway at that time, the millennium celebration also included Iceland. Norway decided to give Iceland a copy of Haltdalen stave church. The Norwegian parliament voted the necessary funds, and NIKU (The Norwegian Institute for Cuktural Studies) was contracted to oversee the construction work using Johan. L. Andersen and Kjell H. Irgens as architects.

The small Haltdalen (or Holtålen) church has a history that is parallel to that of the others that has been mentioned: it was moved from Haltdalen to Trondheim in 1881 and is presently at Sverresborg open air museum there. Now the inhabitants in Haltdalen also wanted a copy of their stave church, and using the drawings by Johan. L. Andersen and Kjell H. Irgens a stave church was constructed in Haltdalen. – So after a pause of 800 years Norwegians are building stave churches again, four within a few years.

Article in the catalogue for the exhibition Geschichte der Rekonstruktion
Konstruktion der Geschichte
, 15.07.2010 - 31.10.2010, Architekturmuseum der TU München, Pinakothek der Moderne.

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