The social context and politics of large scale urban architecture: Investigating the design of Barcode, Oslo. 

Bengt Andersen and Per Gunnar Røe, 2016.


The well-known and much investigated rise of urban entrepreneurial policies has fuelled a transformation of urban spaces and landscapes, and has led to changes in the social composition of city centres. This is the case for Oslo, Norway’s capital, where increasingly urban policies are designed to attract transnational companies and those in the creative class. A key strategy to achieve this has been to transform the city’s waterfront through spectacular architecture and urban design, as has taken place in other European cities. Transnational and local architects have been commissioned to design the Barcode, one of the most striking waterfront projects.

This article investigates the role of architecture and architects in this process, because architects can be seen as influential generators of urban spaces and agents for social change, and because there is remarkably little published empirical research on this specific role of architects. It is argued that although there was an overall planning goal that the projects along the waterfront of Oslo should contribute to social sustainability, with the implication that planners and architects possessed information about the local urban context and used this knowledge, in practice this was not the case. It is demonstrated that the architects paid little attention to the social, cultural and economic contexts in their design process. Rather, the architects emphasized the creation of an exciting urban space and, in particular, designed spectacular architecture that would contribute to the merits of the firms involved. It is further argued that because of this the Barcode project will not contribute to the making of a just city.


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