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New Lease of Life for Historic Bergen Buildings

8 March 2022

When Bergen Cultural Heritage Management needed new headquarters, they could have gone for new and shiny. Instead, they chose to practise exactly what they preach.


Written by Henning Prytz Poulsen / Pressenytt

In bustling Skostredet in the town of Bergen, Norway, stood three rather old buildings. Over the centuries, they had housed workshops, bookbinders, and a Blacksmith's, amongst things. Now they were worse for wear, obsolete and irrelevant. By most standards they would never be considered even remote candidates to house any of the city’s agencies or organizations.


At the same time, Bergen Cultural Heritage Management (“Byantikvaren i Bergen”) were  searching for a location for their headquarters. Several options were available, but once the idea of modernizing and combining the three old buildings in Skostredet took hold, it would not let go. An agreement was struck with Pallas, the owner of the three structures, for a bold and visionary building project.


The idea was to keep the identity of the buildings intact: no mean feat considering the sorry state of the structures and the interior. Still, the new offices also needed to meet all the standards associated with a modern, state-of-the-art office building and workplace, including universal design.


The facades facing the street are unchanged.


In most architectural projects, form follows function. Here, it was to be the other way around. Finding an architect who could work with this kind of premises was paramount. The formidable task was given to Elfrida Bull Bene, an architect studio that can boast of several successful conversions of historic buildings, like the rehabilitation of Ole Landmark’s 1946 functionalistic masterpiece Forum kino.


The external façades of the buildings were to remain as they were, as far as it was possible. An annexe was built at the back. It replaced a similar structure that was demolished back in the 1980s. This new structure follows the footprint of the old one, and houses an elevator and the main stairs. An open alleyway alongside the buildings turned out to be beyond salvaging. A new alleyway that also serves to tie the stories of the three buildings together, replaced it.


New annexe and alleyway structures follow the footprint of the original buildings.

Inside the buildings, the original interior not only remains, but is also highlighted. Massive wooden beams, the skeleton of the building, are visible in every room, the dark, tactile timber ties everything together and reminds occupants and visitors of the long history of the buildings.


Step inside the cosy top floor library.


The rough edges of yesteryear workshops and production facilities have been kept, as a historic nod to the heritage of the structures. New internal stairs have an industrial appearance, and the same goes for the large sliding doors that separate different office spaces. 


Original wooden beams frame in modern stairs inside Skostredet 3-5. 


Plaster is shunned completely. Instead, office walls are clad with wooden plank coated with eco-friendly paint.


The result has been hailed as a masterpiece far and wide. In 2021 it was given perhaps the most prestigious of all design and architecture awards in the country, the DOGA Honorary Award for Design and Architecture. The jury stated that the project is complex yet subtle, innovative yet respectful to its roots.


The new headquarters of the Bergen Cultural Heritage Management is named “Byantikvarens laboratorium”, or “The Laboratory”. It is a befitting name. The role of the organization is to help preserve and protect the historic and cultural heritage of the city. “The Laboratory” is preservation and revitalisation in the flesh. It serves as proof that its occupants practise what they preach.


Copyrights for all the pictures: © Trond Isaksen / Riksantikvaren

New Lease of Life for Historic Bergen Buildings
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