Porsgrunn Maritime Museum
By Ulf Meyer
The new saw-toothed Maritime Museum in the small Norwegian port town of Porsgrunn by Danish architects COBE and TRANSFORM manages to fit into its surroundings, by mirroring the shapes of the town’s characteristic gabled roofs, while at the same time appearing contemporary with its abstract shape and aluminum facades.
The fate of Porsgrunn, a seaside town about a 100 km southwest of the capital Oslo with some 35.000 inhabitants, is no unique case. Like many old port cities all over Europe, it has an abundance of abandoned ship yards, remnants of an industry long gone – and architects and politicians alike are eager to reinvigorate these post-industrial areas and turn them into thriving new hotspots for the creative industries, start-up businesses and chic residences for young inhabitants.
An essential part of the extensive, ongoing urban renewal of the Porsgrunn Harbor is the city’s new landmark Maritime Museum and Science Exploratorium, which tells the story both of the town’s dock yards and maritime industry that once employed thousands of the local inhabitants – and of modern science, mainly geared towards school children. The spectacular cultural venue was designed by two Danish architectural offices: Copenhagen-based COBE and Aarhus-basedTRANSFORM. They had won the first prize in an architectural design competition in 2009 organized by the client, the larger Telemark Museum.
Located right by the river and surrounded by small, characteristic wooden houses, the new museum building displays a high level of sensitivity towards its surroundings – yet it manages to stand out at the same time as a contemporary building. Porsgrunn is an industrial town that traditionally regarded the river as its backside. The architects reversed this pattern and turned the backside into a front.
The new museum’s shape is geometrically complex, consisting of eleven smaller square volumes, amounting to 2,000 m2 of space. Each volume has a different roof slant, which creates a varied roof structure. The distinctive roof is composed of tilted volumes creating a dynamic figure with roofs pitched in all directions, mirroring the surrounding roofscape. The architects aimed to strengthen the neighborhood’s urban and architectural characteristics while simultaneously creating a new and contrasting addition. The building’s expressive zig-zaging roofs are a reference to the area’s buildings and their pitched roof profiles, while at times, the saw-tooth shapes at the bottom give the building its appearance of a strange metal animal on long thin legs.
The aluminum facades made of diamond-shaped shingles resemble fish scales and hold the building together visually. It beautifully reflects light and colors from the surrounding town and Norwegian mountainscape, picking up reflections from the water and sky. Thus the color of the façade varies depending on the weather and season. The aluminum is re-used and comes from a famous local aluminum factory.
Inside, a grand staircase leads visitors up to the exhibition hall on the first floor.The exhibit itself is in a windowless black box, square in plan. None of the geometric excitements survives here. Offices, a shop and the sailor’s club room are to be found at the ground floor with a café opening up towards the water. Through a hallway, the prismatic building is connected to Porsgrunn’s Road and Traffic Center next door.
The new and unique museum shows consideration for its surroundings, but also contributes with something new and different. TRANSFORM and COBE have successfully collaborated before – including the Culture House and Library in Copenhagen’s North-West.