"The Korsmo House - a Scandinavian icon" by Elisabeth Tostrup
(Artifice Books on Architecture, 2014)
19 Apr 2017 | Anna Shelley
Oslo landmark Planetveien 12 by Arne Korsmo (1900-1968) is a building that has been well studied in Scandinavian countries. Although known of and widely appreciated elsewhere, the relative dearth of English language scholarship regarding the Korsmo House has proven a restriction to wider appreciation. The 2014 publication of an English translation of Elisabeth Tostrup's book on the subject is therefore warmly welcomed.
Pleasingly, the approach is highly commendable, bridging personal, historical and architectural interests. This is achieved through a largely successful narrative structure, comprising three main sections: an introduction to the house interiors, exteriors, and wider setting; a view of the house as built and inhabited in 1955; and a wide-ranging exploration of relationships, pivotal experiences, and theories that influenced Korsmo in his designs.
The source material is rich, often gleaned from Korsmo's former wife and the building's long-term occupant, the Norwegian enameller Grete Pritz Kittelsen.
"And the glass walls at home – when the light falls in here in all types of weather and is accompanied by the views of nature outside, that creates experiences of beauty, constant new effects that really fascinate me." Grete Pritz Kittelsen
With Kittelsen at the helm and no.12 as the focus, Tostrup navigates a careful recontextualisation of Korsmo's world in the 1950s. Long-standing Norwegian relationships and new connections and experiences are all duly noted. Emphasis is rightly placed on Kittelsen as an informal and formal influence, both generally and with particular bearing on the design and construction of Planetveien 12 as a live-work experimental home for the couple. The collaboration between Korsmo and the architect Christian Norberg-Schulz here and elsewhere is also highlighted to strong effect. This approach serves effectively to counter wider criticisms of Korsmo's international outlook, for this decade at least.
The book is well-illustrated by ample historic and recent visual sources. Photographs run concurrently with the text, including historic images of the house, Korsmo and Kittelsen as well as photographs taken by Tostrup herself over the last decade. Further jewels include a series of 1950s drawings showing general arrangements and key details, such as the retractable living room staircase, and an appended full set of updated survey drawings.
Hinted at above, Tostrup has personal connections with the house: she is both a second cousin of Kittelsen, as well as a student of Korsmo in the 1960s. This familial connection, combined with Kittelsen's hospitable nature, enabled the author to spend extended periods at the house, experiencing this private residence in a range of seasons and light conditions, as was so appreciated by her cousin.
While this closeness to her subject is extremely valuable, it also means that certain wider points can be circumvented. Contemporary criticisms were made of the Planetveien development in terms of the relative luxuriousness of space and materials, and these comments are noted but not fully examined. Not only did it have over twice the usual floor area then allowed for family homes, but it also failed to make proper use of standardised materials at a time of short supply. Although there is discussion of how the proposals made it through building control, there is otherwise a lack of interrogation of Korsmo's thinking on social issues, which may be of interest for further study.
Following Kittelsen's death in 2010, despite museum proposals, the house was sold and new statutory heritage protections were put in place to preserve not only the internal and external building fabric but also some furniture and other objects. With Planetveien 12 remaining in private hands for the foreseeable future it seems that access for most of us will remain elusive. However, through her fascinating study, Tostrup has propped open the door to the Korsmo House, and shined a light on the worlds of Korsmo, Kittelsen, and many others of this period.
Artifice Books is offering Docomomo.UK newsletter readers 25% off the RRP (£24.95) of Planetveien 12. Email to take advantage of this, mentioning the Docomomo newsletter offer.
First published in Docomomo.UK Newsletter 32