The theme of “Productive Cities” evokes ideas of production, agriculture and industry within the context of urbanity. A common thread running through previous Europan proposals is the idea of mixing and merging living and production. However, one might wonder if the concept of “city” is even relevant in the context of Rødberg. With a modest population of close to 500, Rødberg is a typical example of a Norwegian small town. In these settlements, the concept of urbanity in a European tradition becomes ineffective. There is perhaps a need for another understanding of urbanity, rooted in local specificity and culture. Is there such a thing as a Norwegian city?
In order to understand Norwegian urbanity, we looked back to the time when planning and urbanism became a field in its own right in Norway. Architect and planner Sverre Pedersen is usually credited with pioneering these disciplines in Norway, especially with the establishment of the architecture and planning studies at the Norwegian Institute of Technology in 1911. Pedersen is relevant because he came from an international background, having studied in Sweden and Germany, having to adapt these ideas to a Norwegian context. It is in this translation we believe the key elements of a Norwegian urbanity can be found.
Having done planning work for more than 100 Norwegian towns, consulting on numerous others, being responsible for the rebuilding during the war as well as educating a generation of architects and planners, it is difficult to overestimate the influence of Sverre Pedersen on the Norwegian built environment. While he is generally known for establishing strong axes and wide plazas, his own writings tell a different story. Reading Pedersen’s unpublished texts, it is striking how concerned he was with themes such as topography, landscape and views. To Pedersen, it was essential that the urban was subordinate to the landscape, and that the task of the planner was to not spoil any natural features, but rather enhance them through tools such as terracing, framing and viewpoints. What stands out more than anything as the basis of Norwegian settlements is the idea of living in the landscape. Pedersen even goes as far as to say that the city should provide an intimate understanding of the surrounding territory.
How could Rødberg strengthen its urban character? If we consider the term urban in its Norwegian, Sverre Pedersen-inspired definition, the question rather becomes how Rødberg can strengthen its position as part of a landscape and how this landscape asserts its presence in the town. What landscape is Rødberg a part of?
I. The natural landscape: Located between several national parks, protected areas and monitored zones, Rødberg enjoys stunning views towards the natural scenery, with mountain reindeer roaming the plateaus.
II. The touristic landscape: With natural features as the main attractor, the area around Rødberg is known for a high density of cabins, as well as a strongly developed network of hiking- and ski trails, paths and slopes.
III. The productive landscape: Rødberg is situated in the Numedalen valley, a rich agricultural land with proud traditions. The rural landscape is about sustainably cultivating the land in order to feed its inhabitants. Farms line the Numedalslågen river, while sheep and goats graze the heights. Driving up the valley means following a patchwork of fields, contrasted by forest and water.
IV. The hydroelectric landscape: With its mighty water bodies, the region is the site of massive energy harvesting. This landscape is made visible through dams, pipelines and power stations scattered across the land
These four ecologies provided the basis for the strategy for Rødberg. The premise was that a strengthening of local identity needs to be rooted in a regional context of landscape management. The strategy therefore will be to reconnect Rødberg to each one of the four landscape systems, allowing them to become drivers for future development.