Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fantastic Norway

I’d like to inaugurate my new blog by showcasing a young architecture firm from Oslo called Fantastic Norway. Their designs (the vast majority unbuilt) show a refreshing level of restraint in their crisp geometry and self-contained polygonal volumes – qualities that are all too rare in an architectural environment saturated with explosive Daniel Libeskind buildings that look like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever (collar included) and other Frank Gehry-wannabe designs. But the real talent of Fantastic Norway lies in its ingenious marketing and networking strategies. Indeed, it seems that the studio has more stuff in its online store than it has in its portfolio of completed projects.

The remarkable geometric similarities between Daniel Libeskind's addition to the Royal Ontario Museum and John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever

Cabin Vardehaugen in Fosen, Norway by Fantastic Norway Architects

The firm got started a few years ago with two guys and a bright red camping trailer, laying the groundwork for a whole mythology now being exploited in the witty graphics of their logo-festooned online merchandise. The energetic young principals of the new firm envisioned their early practice as a studio on wheels, one that was as flexible as it was idealistic. Together they would travel and seek out work rather than waiting for clients to come to them, their trailer doubling as an eye-catching roadside advertisement all the while. Ingrained in this model was their core goal of restoring the architect’s role as an approachable resource and collaborator in the community – a people’s architect looking to share his thoughts with anyone who’ll listen.

Fantastic Norway's mobile studio

Fantastic Norway has even managed to navigate its way into the crowded contemporary art scene, an avenue that has allowed them to gain an impressive amount of publicity for a firm that is essentially still in its infant years. For one of their pieces, “Walking Berlin,” the architects dressed up as their own design for a resort complex in Norway and paraded through the streets of Berlin. As always, the architects managed to play humorously with the idea of a mobile architecture while simultaneously drawing attention to their own unique brand of design. Before that, they even made it to the 2008 Venice Biennale, where, of course, they brought their trailer and exhibited their multimedia guide, “Make it Fantastic,” a manifesto on how to be an engaging and “socially aware” architect.

"Walking Berlin" by Fantastic Norway Architects

Perhaps poking fun at the idea of the celebrity “starchitect,” Fantastic Norway now sells fan T-shirts and even flip flops that proudly display images of the firm’s emblematic red trailer. There’s even a downloadable template that you can print out and fold into a miniature version of the Fantastic Norway trailer so that you, too, can start your own fantastic studio.

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