Thoughts About Future Library

By Ulrikke Myklebust Johansen.

In 2014, artist Katie Paterson, designer Lund Hagem, atelier Oslo and Bjørvika Byutvikling teamed up to plant a thousand spruce saplings in Nordmarka on the outskirts of Oslo. In 2114 these trees will be made into pulp and used as paper in the living artwork which is Future library [1].

As each year passes by one hundred writers from around the world will be invited to contribute with a text. The writings will be stored at the new Oslo city public library, Deichmanske Library, in a special room made by wood from the original forest [2]. There will be poems, essays or even novels by a selection of authors starting in 2014 with Margaret Atwood, [3] David Mitchell, Icelandic Sjön, Elif Shafak and recently Han Kang from South-Korea [4]. Every spring there will be hosted an event on-site at Nordmarka where the author presents her or his title of their text, before hosting a question & answer at Deichmanske Library. The authors are free to choose their own style and theme when writing and the texts must be in a simple format without pictures. There is just one twist about the project: the authors are the only one who will read their own work and the texts will remain unpublished until spring 2114 [5]. Some of our generation will probably live long enough to read the texts but many of us can only imagine what the authors want to tell our future generations.

Apart from the artistic and cultural value of Future library, my initial thought was that this is a great way of conserving the spruce saplings and the land on which they will grow. But by looking at the project from an environmentalist view it’s difficult to accept that so many trees will be made into paper when experts and scientists hope that protecting forests and planting trees can be a way of saving the planet [6.] The artwork also raises questions like how do we distinguish between nature and culture in what we today can call the human age? A clear line between culture and nature can be diffuse but we still think that when a bird builds a nest it’s nature and when a human builds a house it’s culture [7] One way of looking at the connection between nature and culture is that the forest containing the spruce saplings is a manufactured landscape with a purpose decided by human culture, in this case with a goal of eventually being made into paper for books. And “the more we control trees, animals and climate, the more they lose their natural character and enter into the realms of culture” [8].

Environment aside, we can look at Future library as part visual art, architecture, design and literature [9]. In combination with a manufactured landscape, a forest that humans cultivate but do not fully control. The artwork also might spark a hope that we will care for the co-existence between nature and cityscapes now and in the future. But most importantly giving our children and their children a choice in what to make the artwork and our place in nature. How we decide to look at Future library in fifty or ninety years from now, we cannot say for sure. Neither what will happen to it, be it natural catastrophes or man-made ones. Either way it’s worth a trip up to Nordmarka every spring to follow the process and ponder over what the authors want to tell future generations.


  1. Paterson, «The artwork».

  2. Le Feuvre, «The time of an artwork».

  3. Nordbø, «Margaret Atwood ga fra seg hemmelig bokmanus»

  4. Flood, «Han Kang to bury next book for almost 100 years in Norwegian forest».

  5. Le Feuvre, «The time of an artwork».

  6. Gibbens, «Forests are the forgotten climate solution».

  7. Van Mensvoort, «Real nature is not green».

  8. Ibid.

  9. Rød, «A new spring».


Flood, Alison. «Han Kang to bury next book for almost 100 years in Norwegian forest». The Guardian. 31.08.2018. norwegian-forest-future-library

Gibbens, Sarah. «Forests are the forgotten climate solution». National Geographic. 10. 09. 2018 summit-sustainability/

Le Feuvre, Lisa. «The time of an artwork». Future library. 2015.

Nordbø, Nina. «Margaret Atwood ga fra seg hemmelig bokmanus». NRK. 26. 05.2015. framtidsbiblioteket-1.12374325

Paterson, Katie. «The artwork». Future library. 2014.

Rød, Arve. «A new spring». Future library. 2014.

Van Mensvoort, Koen. «Real nature is not green». Next nature. 06. 11. 2006