During a virtual launch event held earlier this morning, Christian Pagh, an urbanist, author, and educator serving as director and chief curator of the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2022, announced the provocative overarching theme for the eighth edition of the international architecture festival: Mission Neighbourhood – (Re)forming communities.
In announcing the theme—one no doubt ripe with opportunities as communities emerge from the pandemic with new perspectives and reevaluated priorities—and its working title, Pagh was joined in conversation via Zoom by Hanna Harris, chief design officer for the City of Helsinki; Dan Hill, director of strategic design for Vinnova, a Swedish governmental agency that funds research and development projects; Rasmus Reinvang, Oslo’s Vice Mayor for Urban Development; and Camilla van Deurs, city architect for the City of Copenhagen.
Exploring the complex inner workings of neighborhoods and how they can both be formed in the future and reformed in the present day, the Oslo Architecture Triennale (OAT) officially kicked off with this morning’s presentation program. Over the next 18 months, Pagh will lead a period of research, cross-city collaboration, and partnership-building. An international open call soliciting visions for specific development areas in the Norwegian capital city will also be announced this fall. This will all lead to the formal opening of OAT, which will be held September 21-to–25, 2022, with programming taking place across several select (yet to be announced) Oslo neighborhoods over the span of about ten weeks.
The curatorial statement describes what will transpire over the next year-and-a-half as an open laboratory for joint investigation, a “local, national and international platform where professionals and citizens meet to create more thriving, fair and inspiring neighbourhoods.”
As detailed to AN by Pagh, “lab activities” planned for the next 18 months include initiating research work and an exhibition exploring Oslo’s neighborhoods in collaboration with Norway’s National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design; establishing a Nordic Network of Neighbourhood Culture in partnership with design institutions and the chief municipal architects of cities across Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland; organizing forums and debates; publishing a “neighbourhood thinking catalogue” that includes best practice, inspiration from across the globe, and case studies, and, as mentioned, launching a series of open calls for both neighborhood-specific Triennale exhibitions and transformative design proposals for “testbed areas” of Oslo to be explored with development partners.
“This is just the beginning,” Pagh told AN. “We don’t have all the answers we’re looking for—and we’re really eager to get input from different collaborators.” He explained that in addition to the initiatives structured by OAT and outlined in the theme announcement, the curatorial team is seeking “input and inspiration from the global community of creative thinkers.”
“We can learn from each other because we’re similar but also have different types of living,” he added of the vast potential for international collaboration within the aforementioned Nordic Network of Neighbourhood Culture. All participating parties will potentially converge this fall for a summit held this fall in Oslo.
(You can read an extensive curatorial interview with Pagh on the 2022 festival here.)
With previous themes including Behind the Green Door – Architecture and the Desire for Sustainability (2013) and Enough: The Architecture of Degrowth (2019), OAT was first established in 2000 by Norske arkitekters landsforbund (the National Association of Norwegian Architects). Pagh, a founding partner and culture director of the Copenhagen-based cross-disciplinary strategic design office Urgent.Agency, who now serves as a special advisor with the practice, replaces Hanna Dencik Petersson in the head curatorial role. Petersson had already served two three-year terms. Pagh’s appointment commenced at the beginning of the year, and he is joined by program manager Alexandra Cruz and communications manager Eva Engeset.
The Danish-born Pagh, a student of philosophy and modern culture who has worked with clients including BIG, the City of Copenhagen, Volkswagen, and Microsoft in his role at Urgent.Agency, is still a bit new to the neighborhood himself, you could say. Not, of course, to the explorations proposed by Mission Neighbourhood —he’s built a career within the intersection of architecture, property development, urban planning, and culture—but to the city of Oslo, where the “self-made designer and urban planner,” as he describes himself, moved in 2008 with his wife, the architect and artist Frida Hultberg, and their young son. Their neighborhood is Grünerløkka, a former riverfront industrial district in Oslo’s East End.
It’s rather fortuitous that Pagh and his family landed in Grünerløkka, a self-contained village of a neighborhood defined by its bohemian vibes and bustling street life that often draws comparisons to Greenwich Village. Speaking to AN, Pagh evoked Jane Jacobs, beloved resident of that New York City neighborhood, as someone who has forever changed how we think about neighborhoods.
“It’s unbeatable in terms of its power of understanding what a neighborhood is all about—a totally rich, unfolding network of relations,” said Pagh of Jacobs’ seminal The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
As for the pandemic, the curatorial team describes it as a shared global event that’s not only prompted a “reset of life-work boundaries” but also “clarified the importance of neighbourhood, as well as significant inequalities when it comes to access to neighbourhood qualities.” As the curatorial statement reads: “The Triennale aims to add insight, ideas and proposals for action that can help build more quality neighbourhoods for the many.”
“There’s a feeling of dependency and a longing—a longing of being with other people physically,” said Pagh. “There’s all this talk about the digital revolution and how everything will be online. And I think the pandemic reminded us that, yes, we can do many things online. But we still miss real life, real streets, real people.”
With physical offices at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO), OAT is a nonprofit organization (since 2009) comprised of six constituting member organizations (DOGA, the National Museum, the National Association of Norwegian Architects, the Oslo Association of Architects, AHO, and the Oslo Business Region). That also includes eight associated members such as the City of Oslo’s Agency for Planning and Building Services and the Norwegian Association of Landscape Architects. Public and private benefactors include, among others, the Municipality of Oslo, the Norwegian Ministry of Culture, Nordic — Office of Architecture, and Snøhetta.
The Architect’s Newspaper is a media sponsor of the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2022.