Bjarne Thinn Syvertsen and modern architecture

Only after his drawing archive came to light did it become possible to get an overview of architect Bjarne Thinn Syvertsen's (1895-1962) extensive production and realize his significance in Norwegian architecture.

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During the years he ran an architectural practice in Drammen (1926-62), he designed over 1000 projects: Detached houses with furnishings, business estates, factory premises, petrol stations, apartment blocks, summer houses, schools and nursing homes. He rebuilt (modernized) a number of houses and developed zoning plans. His production affected not only Drammen, but the district around all the way up to Eiker and Modum, down in Vestfold all the way to Larvik, inwards towards Oslo and had offshoots all the way to Molde and Haugesund. The exhibition presents a number of Thinn Syvertsen's most important projects with a focus on his villas. The original drawings on display also show the breadth of his production, the types of buildings he worked with, the working methods and the planning process. Several of his best houses have been photographed for the occasion, and models have also been made on the basis of the drawings. Bjarne Thinn Syvertsen belonged to the group of Norwegian architects who introduced and established the architecture of modernism in Norway during the interwar period. That he is today little known outside Drammen, is probably due to several factors: He stood out as the almost only Norwegian architect with an extensive professional background from America, of which five years with central architects in California. Most Norwegian architects at this time were oriented towards Europe and European role models. As a warm advocate for American housing ideals and the family as the foundation of society, it was the detached house that first and foremost captured his interest and, to a lesser extent, large apartment block projects that have subsequently attracted the most attention. Thinn Syvertsen was never central in the capital environment and thus fell outside the interest of historians. Finally, his pragmatic sense of the technical, practical and economic implementation of the construction project can be emphasized: Instead of profiling himself in competitions for prestigious projects in the capital and participating in excursions to other countries, he worked tirelessly in his office and on construction sites to adapt houses to wishes and need. The exhibition is arranged thematically and typologically by showing houses of a related form or approach to role models and sources of inspiration together. The pattern of Bjarne Thinn Syvertsen's work is intended to place the architect in the top tier of Norwegian architecture, where he belongs. The drawings are grouped around the individual houses which for the occasion have been newly photographed. Most of the footage was made by Jim Bengston. Other photos are taken by the book's authors and taken from Jo. Sellægs archive. The book with the same title as the exhibition gives a broader presentation of the architect and his contemporaries. The book will later be available in an English edition.

American Experiences In the first decades of the 20th century, the Los Angeles area and California occupied a central place in the architecture of early modernism. The area was sought after for its climate and natural conditions and attracted many people. These conditions created a thriving business community. Important architects of the time sought assignments here, Americans such as Irving Gill and the great Frank Lloyd Wright, and European avant-garde architects such as Rudolf Schindler and Richard Neutra (from Vienna). Here, flat roofs, slippery walls and window bands became widespread. At the same time, a strong Japanese influence was evident in architecture and interior design. But the picture was even more complex: In the large architectural firms where Thinn Syvertsen was employed as a draftsman, firms such as Marston, Van Pelt & Maybury and finally with Wallace Neff, modern materials and construction methods were combined with exterior and interior based on romantic historical models. Rich Hollywood stars and businessmen booked villas that seemed to belong around the Mediterranean. They often built in a style that had characterized California before emigrating westward in the 19th century: the Spanish-Mexican mission stations and mansions and the derelict villages of the Navajo Indians. This "revival" style was often called "spanish mission". Homeowners secured both tradition and historical legitimacy in homes that were also adapted to modern comfort and lifestyle. In the USA, Thinn Syvertsen also learned a high level of precision in drawing and engineering. With the American bungalow as a model for a family house, Bjarne Thinn Syvertsen and his American wife Sylvia Woollett moved back to Norway in 1926 and opened a practice in Drammen.

Modernism and functionalism Modernism means that human choices are governed by a belief in the future, that better, more useful solutions will develop through technological and societal advances. Faith in progress had long characterized the minds, but in the 1920s and 30s it became almost an obsession. For people with resources, there was at the time a strong need to free themselves from the compulsions of tradition, to cultivate leisure, outdoor life and health; sunbathing and sea bathing were the result of new unforced forms of intercourse. The modern nuclear family came to the center. Loneliness was now also valued as a good thing many sought to realize by building and living outside the cities. The private car became both the means and the symbol of individual expression, freedom of movement and speed. Modern architecture of the time flagged functionalism, also in Norway. Conceived during the Stockholm Exhibition in 1930, the terms "functional" and functionalism are loaded with meaning almost as needed, because no one wanted the dysfunctional. The modernists themselves claimed that their architecture constituted the last, final stage of history. The time was focused on organizing practical, sensible housing and buildings for the community, houses that utilized new, mass-produced materials and were adapted to the needs of modern life. But in an effort to break down the historical styles, the modern sharp-edged design language with a flat roof and smooth walls became in itself a symbol of modern life. Now, modern solutions and the use of materials were also well combined with buildings that had an external character that reflected tradition. Many of Thinn Syvertsen's houses fall outside the easily recognizable external form of functionalism, but were in their internal structure no less modern for that reason.

The drawings: From project to finished house The exhibited drawings fall into different categories, there are sketches for alternative solutions, perspective sketches intended to "sell" a project, and most importantly, the finished drawing material from which it was built. Here are both sketches and drawings that came to fruition. But the 1930s were marked by unemployment, crises, strikes and lack of money, and many of Thinn Syvertsen's projects never got further than the drawing board. Initially, the projects were often optimistic, so the plans are simplified and reduced, the customer staggered between flat roofs and salt roofs, between brick walls and reinforced concrete decks lined up against the cheaper solution with table-covered trusses, before a clear signal was given for construction. Drawings and correspondence tell us that the clients greatly influenced the buildings' layout and appearance. By making constantly new sketches, the architect tried to capture the customer's ever-changing needs, a fruitful, difficult, but probably also frustrating process. The drafts for Villa Fadum, Drammens and one of the country's first residential houses with flat roofs (!), Show three proposals, two in brick and one with the upper floor in half-timbering. One of the proposals has a low vaulted roof with an arch out to the covered balcony. The experience from California's "mission revival" is breaking through. The next version is in sharp-edged modernist style with a flat roof reminiscent of contemporary German "Bauhaus" or "neues bauen" houses, or as much California's proto-modernist Irving Gill and his early modernist houses as Thinn Syvertsen knew very well. The third draft, which was chosen, has half-timbering on the upper floor, but a flat roof. Here, the shape and detail are adapted to the wood as a material, and the house has a lighter design than the versions in masonry. Roof extensions with visible rafters have a clear reference to American and English role models. Initial solutions are also shown for the villas Rømcke, Wessel, Bøhm and Lehmkuhl. The completed construction drawings with facades, floor plans, sections through the construction and detailed forms of interior design and calculation of reinforced concrete structures, could amount to up to 15 appendices for a single house. In addition, customers also ordered detailed drawings for wrought iron railings, gate posts and the like. A thick construction description was included where the architect specified in detail all work processes. It is quite clear that Thinn Syvertsen introduced a hitherto unknown quality level for drawings and other background material, and the high quality level undoubtedly helped to secure the architect's position as the leading architect in Drammen and adjacent districts for three decades.

Bjarne Thinn Syvertsen's residential house The architect's first choice was undoubtedly modernist brick houses with flat roofs and windows in some places in bands, but he did not insist on form or choice of material. Because whether he designed houses in a modern or traditional style (where he drew inspiration from older house types with small-paned windows and high vaulted or salt roofs), modern floor plans and construction principles were always at the bottom. The villas are more similar in structure than the exterior suggests. You could almost say that the residential houses are built on the same "platform": First came the cast basement with modern facilities: central heating, heating, electric water heater, drying room (because he omitted the drying loft), practical stalls for storage and in some cases garage (!) . Ground floor room as a minimum entrance hall, stairs, living room, dining room, kitchen and pantry. The architect's own home in Wintherbakken 7 shows how reluctant the architect was to compromise under this minimum size. To make room for a dining room, the architect in his own house used wall-mounted folding chairs and a loose table top that was slotted into a slot in the basement. Wealthy clients also wanted a smoking room / library and a covered porch on the outside in a staged transition to the garden. The room plan varies according to the client's preferences between an "open" solution, where the rooms flow together and where sliding doors can create quiet cubicles, and a more divided solution with isolated rooms around a hall or entrance. Electric kitchens were a matter of course in all the residential houses. Cabinet fittings in the kitchen, pantry, wardrobes and bedrooms were studied practically with smooth veneer surfaces. The architect also preferred the laundry room next to the kitchen, so that the efficient housewife could look after the children and wash at the same time! - but it was not always he got through for this. Ground floor room from three to five bedrooms along one hallway. A larger bedroom for the parents preferably had a balcony and a private bathroom. A small bedroom at the bottom was set aside for the maid, who in larger houses also had her own stairs and kitchen entrance. Thinn Syvertsen loved quirks such as closed shafts for dirty laundry from bedrooms down to the laundry room and built-in ventilation ducts in the walls. His favorite was the flat ceiling and attic in the basement. The flat roof should preferably slope inwards with internal drainage. The architect also did not mind sloping roofs with long roof projections, which were inspired by American bungalows. Throughout his life, Thinn Syvertsen was interested in modern materials and prefabricated insulation and wall panels, and he followed closely the development and testing of new materials and techniques. This is an important aspect of modernism - the belief in new, better and cheaper solutions. The villas drew features from both American residential buildings and German functionalism, as it arose around the school "Bauhaus". Many of his solutions are close to Walter Gropius' architecture. Thinn Syvertsen probably found role models in illustrated magazines such as "Der Baumeister", which he subscribed to. Among the many cabins and summer houses he designed in the archipelago and in the mountains, the archipelago cabins were often made as very modernist houses with flat roofs or pulpit roofs. The mountain cabins, on the other hand, were always inspired by traditional Norwegian log houses.

The models The exhibited models are made for the exhibition by ArchitekturModelle Erik Schmidt, Weimar, Germany and show both houses that were built and houses that never reached beyond the sketch stage. The models are on a scale of 1:25. The small models (1: 200) illustrate how accurately and sensitively the architect placed his houses in the terrain. The model of the large Villa Lehmkuhl in Oslo is made after a sketch the architect came up with in 1930, after several introductory versions. The solution draws important features from Wallace Neff's large villas in California, the office where Thinn Syvertsen was employed in recent years in California. (He brought to Norway drawings from the office, which are on display). When the building was to be realized, only the western half was built, and the shape was clearly adapted to German functionalism at the same time. When the client could afford to complete the rest of the villa a few years later, he used Arnstein Arneberg as architect, and the villa is published as one of Arneberg's main works. He also provided the older part with sloping ceilings and shutters. The model by Villa Danielsen presents one of Drammen's best American-influenced bungalows located in Bragernesåsen as if it were a local Hollywood Hills. The model of the architect's own house, Wintherbakken 7, shows the house as it was preserved for the rebuilding in 2007-08. The model of Villa Friis shows a house that never became more than an idea on paper. With its round spiral shape, the villa would give Drammen a functionalist "icon".

Business farms, factories, apartment blocks, schools and nursing homes Thinn Syvertsen designed several business farms in the 1930s, but few of these were realized in the problematic 1930s. His most important farm was Rostockgården on the square, which reflects the capital's modern business building. During the design, the architect obtained proposals from architect Mies van der Rohe in Berlin (His letter is on display). Thinn Syversten often reused solutions he had come up with in later buildings as well. Rostockgården's facade appears in the solid proposal for "Kino Star" in Konnerudgaten. Until about 1952, the office was the city's leader. Many more than before saw themselves able to book their own homes, but the housing shortage also required large public construction projects. The architect was not a supporter of apartment buildings outside the city. The slatted housing blocks he made, in Konnerudgaten 10-12, are more an organization of housing, plans and infrastructure on defined urban plots, than block buildings. There are not a few factory buildings, warehouses and office buildings the architect has built. Vestfossen school is both typical of the time and characteristic. A trademark was the roof solution with flat roof projections with a ventilating slot below which is retracted in relation to the wall life. The solution gives a cold, ventilated flat roof. Examples of this solution are Modum old people's home and Fylkeshuset in Drammen (1939).

Einar Sørensen

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