On a recent trip to Norway, I was lucky to spend time both in Oslo and in the mountains hiking around Lake Møsvatn, South of Hardangervidda National Park. While en route by car from Rauland to the Southern coastal town of Kristiansand, the beauty of the landscape was profound. As we wound our way through the mountains towards the coast, we passed dramatic peaks descending steeply into deep blue lakes. Giant boulders dotted the landscape where they had rolled from nearby cliffs. We were left wondering when the next one might come down.
As happens on long road trips, “nature called” on occasion and we needed a pit stop. We pulled into a rest area and took turns using the most memorable road side washroom we had ever seen. Beautifully built of wood with carved columns, it even had a traditional sod roof blooming with wildflowers.
After admiring the washroom, we pressed on and I began to look more closely at the Norwegian countryside. In many of the small towns we passed through, the hillsides were dotted with immaculately maintained log homes with lush sod roofs and the occasional vivid red barn. Every home was so similar that it was hard to pick out anything unique about any of them, yet the overall effect was unforgettable. The beauty was in the larger composition of the landscape – blue lakes, green hills, black cabins and red barns are the result of long standing building techniques that respond to the climate and traditions of the Norwegian culture. Apparently, logs used to be dipped in tar to strengthen the wood and the black colour helps to retain heat during cold winters. The sod roofs provide insulation and the materials were always readily available and inexpensive.
I have often thought that good design should be in some way unique – a departure from what has been done before – but this landscape reminded me that a design can be memorable even if there is no particular departure or new innovation. This is a landscape upheld by tradition and uniformity. Notably, this traditional landscape is also a great example of an important measure of success in 20th century modernist design – form follows function. Everything is artfully executed for its intended purpose and no detail is overlooked. The effect is beauty – from the broader landscape right down to the rest stop bathroom.