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December 29, 2009

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Norway harks back to simple life

RENEWABLE timber from Norway and bamboo from China have been used to give nature's touch to the Norway Pavilion, in the form of model trees. Yang Jian talks to the designers.

Designers have stamped their vision of future architecture into the pavilions at World Expo 2010 Shanghai. They've twisted the pavilions into exotic shapes and used hi-tech compound materials.

Their designs feature eco-friendly and energy-saving tricks, and they've worked hard to incorporate green and cultural ideas into the structure to make people think of the "Better City, Better Life" Expo theme and their national images at first glance.

But for Reinhard Kropf and Siv Helene Stangeland, the couple who designed the Norway Pavilion at the Expo, the standards of good architecture are simple.

"A good building is about how well it tackles the relationship between city and nature and the main task of an architect is to bring nature into the city," Kropf said.

The Norway Pavilion, designed by the young couple, is the only wooden structure at the Expo site. It is composed of 15 model trees, ranging from 5 meters tall to 15 meters. They will be arranged to present a clear interpretation of Norway's varied landscapes of forests, fjords, mountains and coastline.

The model trees will be covered by a semi-transparent roof and when the sun shines through the roof, it will create the effect of shade or blue skies.

"We do not want to make the pavilion a container of an exhibition, but the pavilion itself to be an exhibition," said Kropf.

"Touring across the pavilion, visitors will finish a journey across the landscape of northern Europe, which will be a 'powerful sensory experience'," said Arild Blixrud, Norway's acting commissioner general for the Expo.

"Timber is the construction material of the future. It is environmental friendly and can be recycled without many carbon emissions," said Stangeland.

Norway has many forests and timber is a favored building material in the country. Many homes in the country are made of wood, as is the couple's own home.

To protect the forest, the Norwegian Expo group planted a new tree for each one cut down for the pavilion.

The wooden structure will not be fire-resistant, but it will be quite safe for visitors during Expo. Even during an accident, fire will be guided to the "branches" of the trees and develop very slowly so that visitors have enough time to escape, said Kropf.

Moreover, trees have strong symbolic meanings in both Chinese and Norwegian cultures. The building uses trees to demonstrate the common elements of the two cultures, Kropf said.

The designers have also attached bamboo from China onto the surface of each "tree."

The pine wood is taken from Norway and the bamboo symbolizes Chinese culture, as the couple says.

The natural concept also echoes the theme of the Norway Pavilion - "Powered by Nature."

People may be unable to have a deep understanding of the theme if they never have never set foot in Norway.

The discovery of oil in the 1960s brought great fortune to the country. The woods provided construction materials and many waterfalls on the mountainous Scandinavian land make it easy to build hydropower stations to provide sufficient and cheap electricity to its people.

Even the design of the Norway Pavilion was inspired by nature.

The idea suddenly came to the architects' minds when they were walking along the sea to take a rest after days and nights reflecting on the Expo project.

The couple dashed to their home and made an original model of a tree. They still keep the sketch model.

Now all 15 trees have been installed at the Norway Pavilion at the Expo site. It took about six hours to erect a single tree, but Kropf said his focus now is on how to use the pavilion after the 184 days of Expo.

The pavilion will be reassembled into single trees after the Expo. Each tree can be easily put together to form outdoor cinemas, libraries or canteens. The trees will also be decorated with leaves to make it more like a real tree.

Many companies and organizations in Shanghai and Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, have showed their interest in receiving a "tree" after the 2010 event.

Another challenge was how to combine natural resources with new technology, Stangeland said. The pavilion will use solar energy and have a water purification system. They will be a part of the exhibition at the Expo.

Kropf and Stangeland met during their studies at the Oslo school of Architecture and Design. They founded the Helen & Hard designing company in 1996 right after they graduated.

Their studio is in Stavanger on the west coast of Norway, a beautiful and quiet city. The studio is on the middle of a hillside.

The studio is about 100 square meters with a small conference room on the second floor. About 20 designers are working there and all of them are very young.

However, the small design company has won many national and global awards, including the Annual National Award for Good Building and Environmental Design in Norway in 2009 for a villa hotel on the Preikestolen Mountain.

The studio has more work on its books, ranging from residential houses to public buildings and installations.

Among their works, "nature" is an important theme. Many of their buildings are made of wood.

"Green technology is a refreshing element to the building and a way to make the city better," said Stangeland.

The couple design almost every project together, taking their work home too.

"We quite enjoy the lifestyle," Kropf said.

The Expo project has made the couple famous in Norway and has brought their studio a lot more projects, but Kropf and Stangeland still look calm and modest.

It seems they have stamped their natural attitudes on not only their architectural designs but their lives as well.


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