Steven Holl Architects’ Knut Hamsun Center Wins 2010 North Norwegian Architecture Prize

Steven Holl Architects has received the 2010 North Norwegian Architecture Prize for the Knut Hamsun Center in Hamarøy, Norway. The Prize is awarded annually to projects with special reference to, and significance for North Norwegian historical, cultural, economic and physical conditions. Having opened its doors to the public on August 4, 2009, on the 150th anniversary of Knut Hamsun’s birth, the Knut Hamsun Center is dedicated to Norway’s most renowned twentieth-century author, and the 1920 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The jury praised the building for its “angular and defiant beauty” and its ability to “emphasize the landscape.”

The 2700-square-meter center is located above the Arctic Circle by the village of Presteid of Hamarøy, near the farm where Hamsun grew up. The building includes exhibition areas, a library and reading room, a café, and an auditorium for museum and community use.
Influenced by Hamsun’s explorations of the intricacies of the human mind, the building is conceived as an archetypal and intensified compression of spirit in space and light, and as the realization of a Hamsun character in architectonic terms. Inspired by passages of
Hamsun’s texts, there is an “empty violin case” deck, while a viewing balcony is like the “girl with sleeves rolled up polishing panes.”

The concept for the Hamsun Center, “Building as a Body: Battleground of Invisible Forces,” is realized from both inside and out. The wood exterior is punctuated by hidden impulses piercing through the surface. The spine of the building’s body, constructed from perforated brass, acts as the central elevator. The board form concrete structure, with stained white interiors, is illuminated by diagonal rays of sunlight that are calculated to ricochet through the section on certain days of the year.

The tarred black wood exterior skin alludes to Norwegian Medieval wooden stave churches, and in the roof garden, long chutes of bamboo refer to traditional Norwegian sod roofs.