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The sun is setting fast over a half-frozen hill about five miles west of Oslo. Named Kikkut after a now-demolished villa, the site neighbors Ekely, the old estate of Edvard Munch (itself now half razed), and save for some graffiti-covered detritus and an early crop of spring wildflowers, its peak is totally barren. Squinting northward to Munch’s
The brainchild of
With its ambiguous forms and incorporation of landscape, Snøhetta’s work has often betrayed a penchant for the weird and whimsical. It’s little surprise, then, that the architects found a perfect match in Melgaard’s notoriously saucy and controversial practice: an ever-growing list of scandals that includes a 2014 sculpture dubbed
Perhaps equally unsurprising, Melgaard’s signature paper trail of
“Many suggest we are building directly upon Munch’s estate, or
A trio of models in Snøhetta’s office are evidence of the nearly decade-long engagement between architects and artist; only one of them looks anything like the initial renderings. Although the project architect Martin Brunner admits to serving “like Melgaard’s secretary” at times, he regards the otherwise collaborative process as an immeasurably valuable lesson in architectural synesthesia. “All of our standard procedures and tools had to be reconsidered,” says Osuldsen, “We were basically interpreting Melgaard’s work like musicians.”
Working closely with the opinionated artist, Brunner and Osuldsen were forced to re-think their design approach, which had at first consisted of translating Melgaard’s sketches into three dimensions in Rhino—deemed by the latter as too obvious a solution. They slowly developed a more iterative procedure conveyed in a series of
Yet they eventually found their groove, with Snøhetta transforming Melgaard’s signature
Before the first year of their partnership was out, the team had a solid design in place. They submitted it to the city municipality for approval: Bingo. They then took a victory leap to the national heritage council, who rejected it “totally without reason,” says Osuldsen. “We had to ask them, ‘Is this about our proposal, or is this actually about not building on the site at all?’”
Yet local press begged to differ, with the Norwegian Morgenbladet
As they were to soon discover, the reason was buried deep in the cultural memory of the landscape that anchored the House’s design. “We were dealing with a pro bono plot of land with plenty of historical baggage,” explains Osuldsen. “It’s not so simple as just relocating the project, or building it somewhere else. The site and the project have always been seen as one.”
Unfortunately for Snøhetta and Melgaard, that way of thinking is a two-way street. The proposal has been met with opposition from local artists, who, according to Brunner, view the project “as a desecration of holy ground because of its connection to Edvard Munch.”
Things have become heated, even taking the form of ad hominem attacks (including homophobic graffiti slandering Melgaard). But the dissent has largely been civil, with opponents drawing attention to an endangered species of flower recently discovered on the site, which has landed the project back into planning purgatory.
The House’s third and current redesign is a considerably shrunken permutation (even smaller than the original Kikkut Villa demolished 28 years ago) that does not encroach on the public side of the hill, a space which the artist always intended to be public. And despite the convoluted restrictions and huge overhaul of the House’s design, Melgaard and Snøhetta are delighted with its final form, a jagged, crystalline mass of charred timber, complete with glowing engravings and perched on cubist creature-shaped columns. “I don’t want to say the process was a pleasure, but the design has definitely benefited from all the constraints,” Brunner shares with a sly smile. “It’s really matured.”
Melgaard’s whimsical structural figurines, arguably the most endearing part of the final design (and the architects’ own favorite), were once hidden underground in a secret studio space. Now, they emerge from the woodland. It’s a detail that is sure to appeal to students of the elementary school nestled at the base of the hill.
Moving beyond its general silhouette, many of the proposed building’s once inward-facing delights are now extroverted—like Melgaard’s own creaturely etchings upon its burned wooden exterior, which will now be fitted with backlit glass. The intended effect is a sort of tapestry of glowing illustrations whose black background blends into the starry sky above: An astronomical change to the hermetic original design.
Today, the proposed project once again finds itself up against the heritage council. This will be its final lap around, whichever way the cards might fall. Even if Munch “has not—and never—played a role in the process, or Melgaard’s practice,” according to the Snøhetta and Melgaard, who has