Norway has the same size of population as Scotland (yes, we know, we keep being told this fact), but with five times as much space and a land where you could expect to live 5 years longer and pay 6% more tax. So I traveled 4◦ North to find out more. And in doing so, I returned to Edinburgh with a reinforced understanding of the importance of considered design and making things last.
Visit the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo and you will be struck by the elegance of the 9th Century ships but possibly even more stunned by the fact that they are so well preserved. Built almost entirely from oak and with exquisite detailing, they have certainly stood the test of time. Visit the Art Nouveau town of Alesund on the West coast (Noway’s most important fishing harbour) and the skill continues – you can spot timber ships being meticulously crafted with a view to lasting another few centuries.
I’m no architect but it doesn’t take an expert to see that the Norwegians have a healthy appetite for enterprising buildings – take the firm Snohetta , responsible for the stunning wild reindeer pavilion on the outskirts of the Dovrefjell National Park and the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet home in Oslo. The Opera house looks like an iceberg floating on the waterfront and actively entices and encourages you to walk over the structure, even on the roof where you get tantalising glimpses of activity in the building under your feet. It’s not an inanimate public building plonked down, the structure is like a new urban walkway, an adult climbing frame. It’s engaging, connects with the public and is fun.
Walk around the suburbs in Oslo and you will see nestled in amongst early twentieth century homes, thoughtful new school buildings. Can you imagine the positive long term impact it will have on the kids being immersed in such considered buildings. They are imaginative buildings – I’m sure if you asked the kids from the school pictured below to draw a house, they will come up with many ideas – not just the classic square with a triangle roof.
I have to confess that it was while sitting in the cinema in Edinburgh that I decided to visit Norway. I was watching the 2015 film, Ex Machina, and knew as soon as I saw the landscape and architecture in the film that I had to get to wherever it was set at some point in my life. As soon as I was home I googled the film set and found it was filmed in the Juvet Landscape Hotel about a two hour drive East from Alesund.
Phoning the Juvet just intrigued me even more. The super polite but no nonsense owner, Knut, said, “you shall be in a bird box, supper is at 8 o clock in the barn and there is a sauna, but don’t expect cucumber, this is not a spa” …
I don’t want tell you too much about the Juvet, all I can say is go if you can. Everything about it is remarkable and you will meet remarkable people who you will have enriching and fascinating conversations with. The hotel in no way spoils the stunning environment, you can barely see it and once immersed in your bird box, you are utterly dwarfed by nature, it’s the ultimate tonic to a fast machine driven life. Knut told me the area was called ‘the land of the low shoulders’ and he’s right. You leave the place with your shoulders where they should be i.e not wrapped round your ears!
And I don’t suppose I need to tell you that the walking here is incredible – they even have huts dotted around the mountains equivalent to the Scottish bothy.
This post is too long already so I will follow it with another Norwegian post next time but what I was meaning to say was that everywhere I travelled, I noticed people were outside a lot – this I think is the crux. The cafes had blankets so you could sit outdoors, the homes had outdoor spaces, terraces, balconies, the food we were served was grown or caught in front of us, the buildings, both old and new were imaginative and reflected the all important environment. Everything I saw seemed to be high quality and making use of local materials. I know it’s a wealthy county but things were built to last and crucially I sensed that there was still a real connection to the environment and outside world, a real respect for it. This is a country where jumpers suitable for polar conditions are made and still passed down the generations because they don’t fall apart, they last. Some places as we all know have lost this connection in favour of buy cheap and the throw away.
However, I really think this ethos is returning, I certainly see it here in Scotland. People are starting to look again for considered purchases and I’m meeting more and more makers and designers confident in selling their higher priced quality and ethical products. I think we are all slowly realising we don’t need quite as much stuff and are thinking more carefully about what we do buy. Certainly more and more people are taking to the hills in their free time and I’m sure it’s that connection to the great outdoors that is key to the way we think and behave.
So what do you think? Are you more careful about what you buy and from whom? Do you feel connected to the environment?
I know and understand I’m very fortunate to be able to make these choices and to visit beautiful places but if reconnecting to the great outdoors is key to a higher quality of life for all, that’s got to be a good thing and it’s a resource we all have on our doorsteps.