State visit to Portugal: Exhibition - Opening speech
Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear friends of architecture,
“…an idea can be a complete architectural idea, but still be without a specific shape or configuration. The exact same architectural idea would for instance have different configurations on different sites.”
These are the words of the Norwegian architects Jan Olav Jensen and Børre Skodvin. I am both honoured and proud to present their work here at the Faculty of Architecture in Lisbon. Honoured, because Portugal’s rich cultural and historical heritage has made Portuguese architecture a point of reference for many international experts. Proud, because contemporary architecture is a field in which several of my countrymen, including Jan Olav Jensen and Børre Skodvin, have achieved international recognition. As have, of course, their celebrated Portuguese colleagues Álvaro Siza, Fernando Tavora, Tomas Taveira and Eduardo Souto de Moura, among others.
The Norwegian building tradition includes few monumental buildings. For a long time, we seemed to be hiding in the architectural shadow of our neighbouring countries. This has changed. Let me give you two recent examples of these changes.
Some weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the opening of our new Opera House in Oslo, an outstanding piece of architecture designed by Snøhetta – a firm of young Norwegian architects who became an international name overnight after winning the competition for the new Library in Alexandria.
A few weeks earlier, I attended the reopening of the Norwegian Museum of Architecture in its new premises. The Norwegian architect Sverre Fehn was in charge of the reconstruction of the building, which dates from 1830, and the design of a new exhibition pavilion. Awarded the Pritzker Prize five years after Álvoro Siza, Sverre Fehn is generally considered Norway’s most influential contemporary architect.
Greater recognition increases confidence and boldness. Today we see a new generation of Norwegian architects taking up Sverre Fehn’s legacy. Among the foremost of these are Jan Olav Jensen and Børre Skodvin. They established their firm in 1995, and have since left a distinct mark on the Norwegian architectural scene. Their projects range from private homes to parking facilities, from churches to service facilities for the National Tourists Routes project. This project will be presented in more detail by Professor Ellefsen, head of the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, during the seminar that will follow.
However, if I were to highlight one particular project, this would be the Tautra convent, which is particularly dear to me. I got acquainted with the Cistercian nuns when they still lived in a small farmhouse next to the ruins of the old monastery from 1200. They wanted to build their own convent and in 2003 I had the pleasure of laying the cornerstone of the new monastery. Situated on a small island near Trondheim, this starkly beautiful new building complex is home to a community of 18 Cistercian nuns, and in May last year I attended the consecration of the church. I have thus been able to follow at close hand the building of a truly exceptional piece of architecture.
Álvaro Siza has underlined the importance of quality even in objects that are simple or repetitive. When Jensen & Skodvin won the Norwegian award for timber architecture a few years ago, it was precisely their ability to provide quality in commissions where “the extraordinary would normally be unexpected” that was emphasised.
Connected as we are today by the internet, creative minds all over the world can work in the same studio. Architects are finding markets and inspiration abroad as well as at home. Although Portugal and Norway are situated at opposite ends of Europe, I hope this exhibition and the subsequent seminar will inspire and increase collaboration between students and architects of our two countries.
I would like to thank the Faculty of Architecture of the Technical University of Lisbon for so generously hosting us today. It is a great pleasure to declare this exhibition open.