In a recent exhibition at Betts Project in London, Manthey Kula exhibited drawings. The Norwegian practice was founded in 2004 by Beate Hølmebakk and Per Tamsen and is known for its site-specific architecture. The studio’s practice takes on distinctively sculptural and expressionistic qualities that pay special attention to site, form, and narrative. Using elements from their completed projects, each drawing in the exhibition was taken as a post-potential, a new stage in the design process that opens up to expressive explorations of form and architecture. These paper works are cut, juxtaposed, and layered, and their abstracted natures help to create new starting points and possibilities. However, as the drawings transform into fields for measured and achievable ideas, the site-specificity, sculptural, and expressionist qualities of Manthey Kula’s built practice can also be seen in a different light, raising questions that extend beyond the walls of the gallery. We explored these ideas in an email conversation with Hølmebakk, which is featured below alongside a selection of the practice’s projects and drawings from the exhibition.
Akkarvik. Courtesy Betts Project
–NESS: Could you tell us a little bit about your background, specifically how you became interested in drawing?
Beate Hølmebakk: I am an architect, educated mainly in Oslo, Norway. I always saw myself as a poor drawer and I could, and still cannot, make beautiful spatial sketches. In my third year at architecture school, I discovered the expressive possibilities of “technical” drawings: plans and sections and endless varieties of hardline techniques.
–N: The drawings shown in Postludes explore the post-potential of architectural drawing. How might this question of temporality also extend to your practice and your built projects?
BH: I think that a formal idea does not expire. It can be dealt with as built form or in different ways of representation. In our built work we are interested in expressive, lasting forms and material that maintain their qualities despite wear and age.
–N: As your practice focuses on site-specificity, what experiences or ideas emerge when designing a project? How does drawing relate to or interact with this site-specificity?
BH: It is very much about intuition: Being on the site, understanding its qualities and then responding intuitively to it.
Myrbærholmen Fishing Bridges, 2019. Ink, paper collage 29.7 x 29.7 cm. Courtesy Betts Project
–N: What does landscape mean to you?
BH: It means a lot and it has to do with time. In his Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, Georges Perec writes “I would like there to exist places that are stable, unmoving, intangible, untouched and almost untouchable, unchanging, deep-rooted; places that might be points of reference, of departure, of origin…” This is what the landscape is to me.
–N: Does the action of drawing become a tool of exploring landscape? Does it work as a research tool?
BH: Sadly, not really, and I admire Alberto Ponis for his ability to draw nature. To me, drawing is more about making something new than understanding something existing.
Skreda. Courtesy Betts Project
–N: Landscape as a concept refers to a general idea that can exceed each local situation. But in your approach, you focus your interests on the differences between each project and its location. How do you manage this balance between the general and the particular when working with landscape problematics?
BH: I think this is an interesting question, and I think this is what intrigues me about architecture: Its potential for being specific and general. At its best architecture is unique in its form, structure, and its relationship to place yet it has a deeper universal relevance to man.
–N: Which materials do you chose? Local materials? Is there any relation between context, available resources, and aesthetic materiality in your projects?
BH: I do hope so.
–N: How does the idea of materiality appear in your projects? Is it something developed from the beginning or is it incorporated once it is related to the proposed context?
BH: Materiality is closely connected with structure. Having an idea about form requires having an idea about structure. This, and what I mentioned above about time, is probably what guides us in our choice of materials.
Hølmebakk studied architecture at the Oslo School of Architecture (AHO) under Sverre Fehn and Christian Norberg-Schulz, and as a visiting student at the Cooper Union under John Hejduk. Since 2007 Hølmebakk has been a professor at AHO. She has had several international teaching positions and lectures frequently outside of Norway. Among other venues, she has lectured at the Barbican (UK), the Cass (UK), Kingston University (UK), Harvard GSD (US), Cornell University (US), Hong Kong University (HK), and Politecnico di Milano (IT).
Atlanterhavsvegen (The Atlantic road) is one of Norway’s 18 national Tourist Routes. The road was established in 1989 in order to connect the islands of fishing communities in the western part of the country. One of the bridges turned out to be a very good fishing spot, however, people fishing from the road presented a safety problem. Fishing from the rocks was equally risky as the climate is rough and the sea could be dangerous. In order to provide a secure ground for both fishers and tourists enjoying the view over the Atlantic Ocean, it was decided to establish pedestrian bridges on each side of the existing bridge so that it is possible to fish in both inward and outward currents.
The geometry of the new walkways emphasizes the curvature of the Atlantic road that meanders between the islets of the rough coast. A cut in the rocks provide parking spaces for both locals and tourists trying their luck with the fish. Ramps, stairs, walkways, and waiting area are prefabricated in galvanized steel and mounted on the existing bridge structure. The railings of the bridge were designed to improve fishing for the disabled.
PROJECT TEAM: Per Tamsen and Beate Hølmebakk / DATES: 2008-2010 (Planning), 2010 (Built) / ADDRESS: Averøy, Møre og Romsdal, Norway / STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Norconsult AS / CONSTRUCTION: Vedlikehold-Service Drammen AS / CLIENT: National Tourist Routes in Norway / AREA: Ca 1 300 m2 / PHOTOS AND IMAGES: Courtesy Manthey Kula
The project is located at the shoreline of Jæren, transforming an existing viewpoint and rest stop located where the road is at its closest point to the sea. Traces of man-made configurations of stone along the shoreline can be dated back to Neolithic times. By creating a constellation of stones in various sizes and shapes, a boundary between the traffic and the nature conservation area is made, bringing the stones that are characteristic of the landscape to the rest area.
PROJECT TEAM: Beate Hølmebakk, Per Tamsen, and Jonathan Værnes / LOCATION: Jæren, Rogaland / STATUS: Ongoing / CLIENT: The Norwegian Public Roads Administration / AREA: 400 m2 / IMAGES AND DRAWINGS: Courtesy Manthey Kula
The Roadside Restroom at Akkarvikodden is built in connection with an existing rest stop designed by landscape architect Inge Dahlmann/Landskapsfabrikken. The commission given to Manthey Kula was to design a toilet facility that could replace an existing structure that had been lifted off its foundations by the strong winds from the Atlantic Ocean.
Lofoten is located at the 67th and 68th parallels north of the Arctic Circle in North Norway. The site for the project is extraordinary. The road runs on a narrow plateau between the mountains and the sea. Were the rest stop is located, the plateau widens out and one enters a space between the mountains where the view to the horizon is very powerful.
The design had two aims: one rational, the other irrational. One was to make the small building very heavy so it would not be lifted off ground. The other was to make interiors that shut the scenery out. The first objective was of course very pragmatic, a direct response to the history of the building’s predecessor. The other objective was more obscure, stemming from the experience of the place: the mountains and the sea and the ever-present coastal climate is very intense. The restrooms were conceived as a pause from the impressions of the surrounding nature, offering an experience of different sensuous qualities.
The restroom is open only during the summer season thus the building did not have to be insulated. Initially, it was planned in concrete. However, after having seen the work of some local mechanical industries, the design was changed to a body of steel. The structure of the small building is not unlike the structure of a ship: welded steel plates locally reinforced with steel flanges—each part specially designed for its specific use, each part is necessary.
The wall and roof elements are made of 10 mm corten steel plates. The foundation and the two walls that support the stainless-steel sanitary equipment are in situ concrete. The glass panes are 12 and 20 mm thick. Doors and hinges are hand made in stainless steel.
To prevent the rust from discoloring the clothes of the visitors, parts of the walls are lined with clear glass panels that are fastened to the steel flanges. In the smallest restroom, one glass panel is mounted in the ceiling. In this panel, one can see the reflection of the horizon.
PROJECT TEAM: Per Tamsen and Beate Hølmebakk / DATES: 2007-2009 (planning), 2009 (Built) LOCATION: Akkarvikodden, 8390 Reine in Lofoten, Norway / STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Siv. Ing. Finn-Erik Nilsen AS / CONSTRUCTION: Lofot Entreprenør AS / STEELWORK: Lofoten Sveiseindustri AS / CLIENT: National Tourist Routes in Norway / AREA: 37 m2 / PHOTOS: Paul Warchol
The project is a complete transformation of an existing rest stop which was established in the 1980s. The old rest area was organized in and between an artificial terrain of nature-like mounds and boulders which obscured the view to the Lofoten seascape, the place was dominated by an oversized traffic area.
The new project aims to establish an inviting floor where travelers can find pleasure in searching for seating and enjoy the beautiful view across the water. The platform is subordinate to the landscape. Its convex geometry places the visitors in an exposed but secure position in the center of the large open space.
The new project consists of the platform which is constructed of steel sheets spanning between concrete foundations. These foundations form floors for the furniture, ramps, and stairs. The furniture consists of benches, tables, and railings all structurally interdependent, all made from bent standard flat steel bolted or welded together to form stable elements. There are thirty different surfaces to sit on and near to. Each piece has a different pattern in solid colors painted on the steel surface, covered with a cast of clear polyurethane. This material is warmer to touch than steel and highly reflective, mirroring the ever-changing sky.
The painted pattern indicates the construction of the furniture. Each piece is only directly connected to two legs and the third supporting leg is placed outside the piece itself as part of the adjoining handrail. In this way, a triangular pattern is established. The slope between the road and the rest area, with its strict geometric form, is high enough to reduce noise from the passing cars and low enough to not completely obscure the view. The slope is planted with Salix myrsinifolia ssp. Borealis, a small tree indigenous to the northern parts of Norway. The traffic area is reduced in comparison to the initial situation. It is the curvature of this area that has contributed to the main geometry of the project.
PROJECT TEAM: Beate Hølmebakk and Per Tamsen, responsible architects, With Magnus Høyem, Nina Fjose and Frida Johansen / DATES: 2014-2016 (Planning), 2017-19 (Built) / LOCATION: Flesveien, 8370 Leknes, Norway / STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Siv. Ing. Finn-Erik Nilsen as, Dr. techn. Kristoffer Apeland as, Snorre Larsen / CONSTRUCTION: Magnussen & Sønn as / STEEL: Finneid Sveis as / POLYURETHANE: Norsk PU Coating as / CLIENT: National Tourist Routes in Norway / AREA: 6,000 m2 / IMAGES: Courtesy Manthey Kula