Norwegian Architecture

Lately we’ve been looking at Norwegian interior design principles from several angles, but it’s about time we examined what makes Norway’s exterior design just as distinctive.

More than a thousand years ago, nomadic hunters in what is now Norway first built simple huts with sticks and animal hides against the cold, heavy winds, rain and coastal salt-water spray. As villages developed, these simple dwellings grew dramatically in size and sophistication to include tall posts and large roofs, housing multiple families and even animals. As societies rose and fell over centuries, architectural characteristics reflected the often turbulent times, from the Vikings’ use of notched logs, to the Romans’ introduction of stone, to European, Gothic, Danish, French, Swedish, Swiss and German architectural influences. These iconic structures enrich deep ties to a fascinating history.

Stave Churches

A quirky yet memorable holdout from as far back as the Middle Ages, stave churches are named for the stout wooden posts that support their opulent, layered roofs. Built on a framework of timber with extensive wood carving, they were often designed with pre-Christian Viking themes, animals and dragons, and built to last. Some 2000 may have existed, but only 28 remain. The oldest stave church is Urnes, built around 1130. It has earned a spot on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Red Barns

Cultural landmarks for centuries that often stand unused or repurposed today, red barns were a prominent Norwegian staple of the landscape between 1850 and 1950. Red paint was the most affordable color and was therefore popular, though other colors sometimes appeared, signifying wealth – like the odd farmer who managed a successful fishing operation on the side. Once the most-used building on a property, red barns housed animals, feed, equipment, grain storage and more, adapting to accommodate new technology like tractors and silos as they arrived. Today, Norway’s barns are repurposed for lodging, markets, venues, studios, museums, cafes and more.

National Fortresses

Norway’s 17 national fortresses, some of which date back to the Middle Ages, host millions of annual visitors and serve as venues for a range of cultural events. First created as defensive structures, many have been rebuilt throughout the ages. Rosenkrantz Tower at Bergen is a rare example of post-Black-Death, Renaissance-era architecture.

Mountain Lodges

Tourism is vital to Norway, and since the early 2000s, a construction boom has included a rethinking of the mountain lodge tradition. Gone are the dark, dank, log-and-grass huts of yesteryear. Today’s lodges encourage hiking and a deep connection with nature, offering varying levels of available services. Newer self-service, modern cabins are popular with international guests and serve as gateways to trail networks. They feature spectacular views with floor-to-ceiling windows, common areas, outdoor showers, outhouses and small cabins for sleeping and privacy.

Since the 1920s, sleek, modern simplicity has been a hallmark of the Norwegian design aesthetic, but looking back, these definitive building styles have made a lasting impact on Norwegian exterior design and are still widely recognized examples of Norway’s unique architecture today.