Oslo’s Munchmuseet reinvents the museum experience

Oslo’s Munchmuseet reinvents the museum experience

Oslo’s Munch Museum, designed by Spanish architecture firm Estudio Herreros, opens to the public, offering a twist to the usual museum experience

Juan Herreros’ enthusiasm when talking about his new project, Oslo’s Munchmuseet, is palpable. ‘It opened up a conversation about what a museum is,’ he says. ‘They used to be fundamentally places for exhibitions. There was some talk about them being social hubs, places of encounter, but it didn’t always translate into the architecture. Now, it is about how to bring all those different conversations and functions together in one building.’ The result, the Norwegian capital’s latest cultural draw and the new home to the collection of work by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, the Munch Museum is opening to the public, designed by the Spanish architect’s Madrid-based practice, Estudio Herreros.  

The launch was delayed due to the pandemic but the project finally opens its doors this week – and it is one of the most highly anticipated museums this side of Christmas in Europe. Yet, Herreros hastens to point out, with ‘about 40 per cent of its surface being dedicated to exhibitions, the displays are not the museum’s main role’. While this is certainly a place for tourists and art enthusiasts and specialists, it is far more than that. Inviting in local communities and visitors from afar, schools and scholars, specialists and non-specialists, young and old, the Munch Museum draws on the city around it in more ways than one. ‘It’s a vertical museum,’ says the architect. ‘And as people go up they discover new layers of the city.’ 

Munchmuseet: ‘a new model for a museum’

interior of exhibition areas at new Munch museum in Oslo

Its distinctive form is part of this approach. Neither a subtle, low-lying volume, nor a big flashy architectural gesture, the Munch Museum sits somewhere in-between, clearly contemporary yet working with its surroundings, both manmade and natural. ‘It’s responsive to the changes of the weather in a reactive way,’ says Herreros, explaining how the perforated, translucent aluminium façade reflects the climatic conditions around it – from stormy seas to colourful sunsets and grey, cloudy skies. With the right light, it merges into the background – or emerges, prominent and bold. 

Its location, in a new, central and lively, mixed-use neighbourhood of Oslo, means that it has a human scale and is surrounded by life and the city – as opposed to dominating within a wider site, as many grand museums often do. ‘It has two roles,’ Herreros explains. ‘There is the significance from the water, its pretty postcard aspect, and the urban, human scale from the city’s side. That’s why it bows a bit at the top. It is looking at the edge of the coastline and where the city meets the water. The building doesn’t renounce its public presence – it celebrates it. But it is also something you can feel is very close.’ 

restaurant on top of Munch museum

Inside, the space is designed to be extremely flexible. All the rooms are independent, so circulation remains separate, which means that if one room is closed off entirely, the building can still operate without any impact to its flow. It can be divided into sections with various parts acting independently. ‘We were inventing a new model for a museum with this verticality,’ says Herreros, ‘and this model of flexibility has been very successful with the pandemic, for example.’

With over 26,700 works in its collection and 11 galleries, there is, of course, plenty of scope for displaying the great artist’s work – which includes large-scale murals (such as, The Sun, completed in 1909, which stretches nearly 8m) and several versions of the iconic paintingThe Scream. In its 13 storeys, the museum features halls for temporary and permanent exhibitions, community, education and flexible spaces, as well as an outdoor terrace that allows visitors to take in the landscape and the cityscape beyond, and a restaurant located on the 13th floor. 

detail of facade transparency at Munch museum in Oslo

Sustainability was an important part of the design and planning too. The Munchmuseet was created as part of the city’s FutureBuilt programme (an ‘Oslo-wide initiative to halve greenhouse gas emissions across the city’, explain its creators) and recycled materials and energy-saving techniques were used where possible to help lower the scheme’s overall carbon footprint.

As to how, and whether, its subject, Edvard Munch, influenced the museum design? Not as such, is the answer by Herreros, although there are definitely parallels to be drawn between the two. ‘The building is kind of moving, changing, you cannot clearly count its floors and the colour changes [with the] weather,’ he says. ‘And for me, with Munch, the climate and atmospheric conditions were a big part of his art. Then, there are parallels around the responsibility of architects. Munch had roots in classical art, in the past, but he was also fighting conservatism, and I felt quite connected in that way, about fighting for progress through your work. And it is beautiful that at the end of his life he gave his work to the city, and he’s part of it.’ §

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