Beata Labuhn Architecture of Sustainability in Christian Norberg-Schulz’ Editorial Work for Byggekunst (1963-1978)

The monograph focuses on different ways of understanding of and dealing with the ‘environment’ among Norwegian architects, with strong focus on the key year 1968-1969 linking past and present conceptualizations of ´environment´. The first part of the thesis focuses on the students of architecture who defend the natural environment as activists. Here, the main project under scrutiny is the exhibition “…And After Us…” (org. “…og etter oss…”), organized by a group of six students from the Oslo School of Architecture and opened by prime minister Per Borten on April 12, 1969 on the Universiteitsplassen in Oslo. Under its tent structure á là Frei Otto, the exhibition featured a dramatic sound installation, take-away preservatives, self-confrontational (wo)man-in-the-mirror effects, and posters announcing the environmental doom in explicit collages of texts, statistics and images. After Oslo, the exhibition travelled further to wake up Bergen, Trondheim, Namsos, Bodø, Tromsø, Stavanger and Haugesund to questions of overpopulation, environmental pollution and hunger in the Third World. The exhibition never made it to the scheduled Frederikstad, Kristansand, Horten or Alta. It was brought to an abrupt end by a gigantic storm in Haugesund during the night of 21 to 22 September 1969.

In retrospect, the “…And After Us…” exhibition is a key event in the history of Norwegian environmentalism, an important moment in the process of mobilization of Norway´s ecologists to form working groups such as (snm), leading to public demonstrations against hydropower developments at Mardøla, Hardangervidda and later Alta. These protests altered the course of Norwegian politics and contributed to the establishment of Norway´s leading role in the international debates on sustainability. The exhibition and the professional and private lives of its authors are also time documents exemplifying the 1960s student empowerment and the phenomenon of self-initiated projects, the rise of the Marxist-Leninists and the radical politicizing of all spheres of the society, the establishment of (deep) ecology as a subject in education and as an alternative way of thinking about the surrounding world, and Norway´s decision not to join the European Union. On the background play the experimental life style and music of the 1960s-1970s. Above all, “…And After Us…” being an exhibition about environmental crisis organized by students of architecture, raises questions about the complex relationship of architects to the (natural) environment and connects to past and present debates on what sustainable architecture actually is about.

In its second part the thesis explores the relationship of environmentalism and architecture, focusing on the different attitudes towards environmental crisis, interpretations of ‘environment’ and the directives for ‘good environmental architecture’ by the already more established architects of the time such as Knut Knutsen, Sverre Fehn, Geir Grung, P.A.M. Mellbye, Christian Norberg-Schulz and the at that time in-between-youth-and-establishment figures such as Per Kartvedt, Tarje Moe and Robert Esdaile. We see how the 1960s-environmental crisis is welcomed, but also crisscrossed by alternative notions of ´environment´ that were already present in the architectural debate since the pre- and post-war years such as the modernist ´human environment´, the worry for the ´unhuman´ environment of suburbia, the rising popularity of regionalism, appreciation of indigenous and historic architecture, and the different place-theories such as the genius loci of Christian Norberg-Schulz.

The questions underpinning the thesis revolve around the relations between ethics, aesthetics and rhetoric in the different positions in the 1960s ´environmental´ architectural practices and debates:

  • What is the desired relationship between human beings, architecture, natural environment and politics? What is the architect´s role in it?

  • What ethical stance (duty, utilitarian/consequentialist, deep ecological, beautiful acts, anthropocentric, zoo-centric, biocentric, eco-centric) does each different position represent?

  • What aesthetical stance (nature-morph, natural/low-tech, cultural, technological/high-tech, overlapping) does each position represent?

  • What is the relationship between aesthetics and ethics in the different positions?

  • What is the relationship between rhetoric (what an architect says) and acts (what the architect builds as architecture and how he or she acts in his/her personal life)?

Institute of Architecture / Thomas McQuillan (Supervisor)

PhD started in 2016