Steinkjer is one of the country’s most successful and best-preserved reconstruction cities and today the architecture of this funkis town is referred to as cultural-historical interesting.
Few Norwegian cities present a more accomplished functionalistic style than Steinkjer. But today’s stylish and well-preserved house facades have a dramatic prehistory. The bombing on April 21, 1940 destroyed over 80% of the buildings. The whole 1940s and 1950s was dedicated to the reconstruction of Steinkjer. Many believe that the reconstruction of the city was finally finished in 1965 with the completion of Steinkjer church. Steinkjer is one of the country’s most successful and best-preserved reconstruction cities and today the architecture is referred to as cultural-historical interesting.
What is a reconstructed city?
In the spring of 1940, a total of 23 cities and towns were destroyed during the war. The English language was given a new word after the bombing of Namsos: “to namsosize” – to completely eradicate – in Steinkjer 80% of the city was in ruins. Ten houses, the railway station, building which is now Nord University and the district of Sneppen, was saved from the bombs in 1940. Over 2,000 people lost their home, but no lives were lost. On April 21 the Germans bombed Steinkjer and on April 24 the Germans occupied the city.
The town of Steinkjer went from “stylish and beautiful” via “dull, ugly and gray” to “conservation-worthy cultural heritage”.
The empire-style wooden buildings disappeared with a city fire in 1900, and were replaced by splendid buildings with towers and spiers in characteristic Art Nouveau style. However, all the beautiful Art Nouveau buildings disappeared when Steinkjer was bombed by the occupying power in 1940. The city that grew outward in the 1950s was shaped by the functionalist style ideal of the time – the so-called “funkis”. And the city still bears the mark.
Norway was not a rich country, and the reconstruction of the 50s and 60s had to be sensible. We needed buildings that funtional and got an effective postwar architecture that was characterised by functionalism and modernism. It was not a time for ornaments, and the buildings erected are not “pretty” in the traditional sense. That’s why it’s interesting. Steinkjer has a story to tell. The city shows us how our ancestors thought at the time they built the land. Walking around Steinkjer is like walking around an unusual era in recent Norwegian history. Steinkjer has grown slowly and has therefore retained much of the influence it received in the 50s and 60s. Sverre Pedersen gave the city a simple and logical city plan with clear quarters that are still preserved.
Steinkjer works as a city because it has a clear centre where the main street Kongens gate runs like a long, common thread through the buildings and ties it together. While other Norwegian towns and small towns have, over the decades, seemingly randomly spread out over a large area, Steinkjer actually has a clear city centre. When you stand in the middle of Kongens gate, you know that you are in the middle of the city.
Responsibility for the regulatory work in the war-damaged cities and towns was given to a new government agency: “Brente Steders Regulering” (BSR).
The recovery work started immediately, and Professor Sverre Pedersen from NTH was engaged to prepare a new regulatory plan for Steinkjer. Pedersen knew the city from before. In 1925, among other things, he had prepared a draft zoning plan for Steinkjer and the surrounding area. On 1. July, 1940, Pedersen was also hired as head of Brente Steders Regulation. The reconstruction work was carried out with great enthusiasm in the early 1940s, but eventually the occupying power banned the reconstruction and partly counteracted the reconstruction work.
Already on 10. September, 1940, the recovery plans for Steinkjer were ready. But these were withdrawn at the request of the occupying power. Amendments were prepared and subject to further architectural treatment in the form of elaborate facade sketches and models. The new plans were finally approved by the Ministry on 28. October, 1942.
The zoning plans from the 1940s aimed to create a more open and clear main street in the city centre. The Kongens gate was built as the main street, both in terms of business and traffic: 24 meters wide, tree-lined sidewalks and two- and three-storey brick buldings in basic architecture.
Three main ideas were pervasive in the reconstruction of the city: Trafic flow, an open and spacious cityscape with nice fronts facing the river and a garden town.
The river is a dominant feature in Steinkjer’s cityscape. They wanted to take advantage of this, among other things by creating nice fronts towards the river. In the past, the river slopes were largely habited, with backyard buildings that were clearly visible from the bridge which didn’t look nice.
The pre-war South-side was characterised by trivial and schematic regulation following the fire in 1900, with small quarters and too many crossroads. TheNorth-side was self-grown, cramped and convoluted, without significant planning.
Along the river, promenade streets were planned, to emphasise the river as a dominant and illuminating feature of the cityscape. This was perhaps the most radical part of the zoning plan, which changed the importance of the river from a communication path to a visual and more aesthetic feature of Steinkjer.
Behind the building facades of the Kongens gates, a wooden house and garden town was established. This was a conscious ideological move for good quality of life and happy Steinkjer inhabitants. As it was again necessary to rebuild ruined towns and cities, it was again time to take into account the “regular man’s need for comfort and well-being”.
Familiarise yourself with the buildins in Steinkjer
Large parts of Steinkjer city centre are regulated for conservation through the Planning and Building Act. In the best possible way, the municipality wants to document and convey the historical background to, and the processes of change in, the reconstucted city.
Selected buildings are marked with origin information as part of highlighting the cultural monuments in the reconstructed city of Steinkjer. Steinkjer council, in collaboration with the National Antiquarian Museum, the Egge Museum and the Old Steinkjer Association, has set up blue signs that will highlight Steinkjer’s city history through the signage of a number of central buildings. Most belong to the Reconstruction Architecture, but Fylkesmannsgården and Sneppen also have their signs.
The signs provide information about the buildings’s original name, year of construction, builder, architect and original function. In addition, there is a separate website (in Norwegian) that provides access to additional information. The signs were set up in the autumn of 2017 – Spring 2018
Fun fact: Over 70 achitects were involved in the re-building of post-war Steinkjer.
The whole of 1940s and 1950s was spent re-buildin Steinkjer. Yes parts of the 1960s too. Many believe that reconstruction was complete in 1965, when Steinkjer church was taken into use.
Most interested of us have probably heard of the two Sverres – Pedersen and Olsen. Perhaps some have heard about Axel Guldahl, Hermann Semmelmann and Claus Hjelte. But there are many more. The National Center for Reconstruction Architecture, which has offices in Steinkjer City Hall and is headed by Robert Øfsti, has created an impressive catalog. There is a list of some 70 biographies for architects with links to Steinkjer and the addresses of several hundred houses in Steinkjer that they have designed. But the list is really more impressive for it also includes the other recovery cities. There are a lot of exciting architectural and architectural history in these lists if you are interested.