For the last years of his life, world-renowned artist Edvard Munch lived in a remote cabin in a forest outside of Oslo, where the solitude helped him produce hundreds of paintings and drawings. Since his death in 1944, the area was converted into an active artist colony and his estate, Ekely, has become a pilgrimage site for artists from around the world. However one particular artist is sparking controversy with plans to build an outlandish modern building – dubbed “A House to Die In” – on a nearby hill with the help of prolific architecture firm Snohetta.
Bjarne Melgaard is one of Norway’s most divisive artists, and his work is known for its sexual and drug-related themes. But his recent plan to build a home on what is considered a sacred site has caused waves of controversy in the art and architecture world. Many believe that the Munch site should be left as-is to conserve the artist’s legacy.
Although the issue is being fervently debated throughout Norway, perhaps the strongest opposition comes from the 44 artists currently living in the colony. “This is the only place where Munch lived and worked for 30 years,” said Halvard Haugerud, a painter who has called the colony home for over twenty years. “We just want to keep what’s left of Munch.”
Many artists and locals seem to be opposed to building anything on the site, but perhaps it is the actual design of “A House to Die In” that is sparking the biggest flames behind the debate. The bold asymmetrical form is raised off the ground, supported by several low-lying columns sculpted in the form of woodland creatures.
According to the artist and Snohetta, the home would be clad in a burnt wood and the interior features movable walls and a room that would be both a dining area and a swimming pool. Additional proposed features include a “drug room” suspended from the house’s walls and ceiling to create a feeling of a drug-induced disorientation. According to The New York Times, some proposals have been rejected flat-out by preservation authorities – including a tiger-shaped underground studio and a 40-foot tower.
Mr. Melgaard stands by his design and believes that the project would add a modern touch to the site, which has already been altered by the artist colony itself, “I believe this talk about the legacy of Munch is ridiculous.” In an interview with The New York Times, he says that the inspiration for the home comes from Scandinavian-influenced ideas around durability. “Nothing continues forever, so I was interested in the notion that you can have a house to die in, where you say, ‘It’s my end station,’ ” he said.
The state of the project is currently up in the air, with Norway’s top authority for architectural preservation, the Directorate for Cultural Heritage, expected to make a decision within the next few weeks. If the project is approved by the Directorate, it will then be submitted to a local building authority and the City Council for final approval.
Images via Snohetta and ICA, London