Bjørvika: All About the Landscape

By Annika Barlinn Kjelstad.


In the city center of Oslo, a new district with the name Bjørvika is emerging from an old industrial area. This part of the city has been given a new function as a cultural district, central buildings of culture are positioned here such as the Opera house, the Munch museum, and the National library. The district also has a strong emphasis on its relation to nature. The Aker river run through the district and is part of making water a central theme of the area. How is the district of Bjørvika relating to the Aker river, and in what way can this relationship speak to what LAF (The Landscape Architecture Foundation) has called a new positioning on landscape architecture as an important component to solve the climate crisis?

The philosopher and artist Koert van Mensvoort argues that the way we relate to nature is changing (van Mensvoort, 2006). However, he claims we still hold on to a romantic notion of nature as something untouched, even though this idea has little fundament in reality. For instance, in Bjørvika a district has been altered through human control. Through a historic point of view the human being has been interrogating this area for a long time. The relation to the Aker river can function as such an example. Ever since the 1500s, the river has been used as part of the Oslo’s industrial production (bjørvikautviklingen, 2005). The areas relationship to nature in Bjørvika has therefore changed. Previously functioning as means for production, it is now set to function for the population’s need for recreation and cultural education (Hans, 2017).

According to Feng Hans’ article in the “the new landscape declaration” the role of the landscape architect is to show us the relationship humans have and should have to the landscape (Hans, 2017). The landscape architect one could argue exists in a field that battles the ideal and the actual relation human beings have to nature. Meaning that the landscape architect must in one way respect an areas original history and look at the way nature organically has been present. While at the same time allowing for a further urbanization that creates a sustainable relationship with nature. One could here argue that the landscape architecture is the lens in which we perceive our nature. In a world where interaction with nature is ever less naturally present in our work, and leisure time. In this new reality, the role of the landscape architect is to underline the relation between humans and nature and present it in an urban environment, however how human altered this relation might be (Shannon, 2017).

When looking at the Aker river as an example van Mensvoort might argue that the way developers are looking at the river is a romantic one. This can be seen in the way bjørvikautviklingen put emphasis on leaving the river untouched, and simply let nature do nature (bjørvikautviklingen, 2005). They are through this promoting the notion that to respect nature means to leave it untouched. This is an idea that in reality does not correspond with the way human beings actually do relate to nature today. At the same time the developers view towards the Aker river show a strong emphasis on improving the conditions for the fish through human interrogation (bjørvikautviklingen, 2005). These two ideas one can argue is represented at the same time in Bjørvika. In one way trying to relate organically to the nature that is already there, while at the same time altering it to fit for human use. This is a paradoxical relationship that according to van Mensvoort is part of defining the river as an area of culture, rather than an area of nature because it is managed through human control (van Mensvoort, 2006).

The urgency of human beings to realize that their relation to nature is an unhealthy one is a pressing issue of landscape architecture today (landscape architecture foundation, 2017). One can argue that landscape architecture role at its core is to suggest a more sustainable way for human beings to relate to nature. There is a demand to create something that on the surface seems like nature, but that through being under our control is an expression of culture (van Mensvoort, 2006). The strong presence of landscape architecture today is in one way part of an evolution towards a more sustainable relationship with nature. It can also as previously mentioned function as a way where nature gets altered to only improve the life of human beings. However, the presence of nature is an important ideology that can make us realize and give value to a nature that is ever more being redefined and disappearing under human control. Landscape architecture can however only function as a tool for a more sustainable future, if there is a stronger focus on humans as existing in nature, rather than just nature existing in an urban environment. The separation between the two does seem to allow for a consisting tension. The form of nature in our urban environments is something one must defend. The landscape architect can here function as natures best advocate negotiating for it having something to offer us in our urban environments. This is how the Aker river defends its value. Offering us a unique nature experience in the middle of Bjørvika.


Bjørvika infrastruktur A/S, “Byrumsprogram: Akerselva”, Oslo: 2005.

The Landscape Architecture Foundation, 2017, “The Landscape Deceleration”, A Vireo book: Los Angeles.

van Mensvoort, Koert. 2006. “Real Nature is Not Green”. Nextnature, 06.11.2006. (Accessed 23.09.18)