Those who visited the Belgian Pavilion at the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale or the 2011 OMA show at the Barbican in London - two key Rotor-curated shows - might have an inkling as to what to expect at the Oslo Architecture Triennale this year. In-depth archival research, focus on materials and themes of reuse have slowly but surely been developing into some of the Belgian collective's key strengths. And they all unfailingly feature in this sustainability-driven festival.
Selected to curate the fifth edition of 'the Nordic region's biggest architecture festival' (together with independent French publication Criticat), Rotor chose a theme that feels as familiar as ambiguous. 'Our mission was to reach out to a large audience. How to attract an audience that is not necessarily used to going to architectural exhibitions?' asks Rotor member Maarten Gielen, who reiterated the goal to create something tight and consistent around the main topic.
Sustainability is a matter that's been close to Rotor's heart for years. 'The idea was born as early as our involvement with the OMA exhibition,' says Gielen. 'We didn't have the means to do it then but we knew it was a powerful theme.' And it has always been one of Rotor's core interests. 'We ask ourselves the same question that every practice asks - how can we push things forward, how can we make a difference? Reuse of materials is, for us among other strategies, a very interesting one.'
The triennale's flagship show 'Behind the Green Door' is a result of the curators' meticulous year-long research into the question of sustainability, and in particular what it means to key international architects. The items on display - collected from the archives of practices around the globe - are varied but carefully arranged. A timeline on one side highlights key sustainability-themed projects from the late 1960s until today, while several smaller thematic groupings on the other hone in on specific topics, such as materials.
Exhibits span projects such as Foster + Partners' Masdar City in Abu Dhabi and 2011 Wallpaper* Award-winner Villa Vals by Search and CMA. Non-architectural offerings - such as Uniqlo's proposal for a lightweight clothing range for warmer-than-usual office environments that don't use intense air-conditioning - complete the picture.
Behind the Green Door is complemented by two further shows: one at the city's Sverre Fehn-designed Architecture Museum and a second at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO). The former, entitled 'Far-out Voices', creates a dialogue with the Rotor-created event, offering a historical backdrop through various expressions of sustainability in the US during the 1960s and 1970s, from Michael Reynolds' 'Earthships' to Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes. The latter, titled 'Custom Made', focuses on the Norwegian architectural psyche and the nation's ever evolving relationship with nature, featuring work by Eriksen Skajaa, Rintala Eggertsson and Norwegian design heavyweights Snøhetta.
Consciously aiming to distance itself from the exhibits and look into the notion of sustainability as 'outsiders', Rotor took on the role of historical investigator, delving into archives and texts pointing to the origins of sustainability. It's a term that derives - quite fittingly, as Rotor reminds us - from 'sustainable development', first defined by Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland in the 1987 Brundtland Commission report for the United Nations.
'This is a collection of projects that call themselves sustainable,' says Gielen. 'We are trying to work as historians, but in the present. And perhaps in 30 to 40 years, when the dust has settled, we will be able to see that there were, say, five different currents at that time.' Several talks, guided tours and collateral events will roll out throughout the three-month triennale, all elaborating on the main theme.