Moments of relaxation at the new Munch Museum in Oslo
On October 22, 2021, the doors to the new Edvard Munch Museum by the waterfront in Bjørvika in Oslo were finally opened. The museum will be a global destination for experiencing Edvard Munch's art and life – but also other art exhibitions and cultural experiences such as music, film, art talks, and various types of performances. With thousands of daily visitors, high demands were placed on the museum's seating furniture to be both extremely durable and robust, but at the same time comfortable and blend into the museum's interior.
The new museum is a very prestigious project for Oslo and an inviting meeting place that is characterized by openness. The vision is to expand the idea of what a museum can be, and offer the visitors completely new experiences and perspectives.
The 13-storey and 58-meter-high building was designed by the Spanish architectural firm Estudio Herreros and includes eleven exhibition halls. Herrero's design is based on the idea of a tower-shaped museum, where the main functions are organized vertically. With its impressive height and the distinctly leaning top section, the tower is a very visible landmark from all sides. It gives the Oslo skyline a new shape, but bows respectfully towards the surrounding city. The façade, which is clad in recycled, perforated aluminum panels with varying degrees of transparency, gives the museum an enigmatic and ever-changing presence that reflects the fantastic lighting conditions in Oslo that change during the day and the different seasons. In the old harbor area Bjørvika, the new Munch Museum is also accompanied by Snøhetta's opera building and the new library designed by architectural firm Lundhagem.
Many types of experiences
The museum's main hall has extraordinary acoustics and can accommodate up to 700 people while the hall on the 12th floor has a roof terrace with a unique view of the city and the fjord. In addition, there is a cinema in the foyer that can be used for more intimate gatherings. The museum has around 28,000 objects – of which 1,200 paintings and over 7,000 drawings and sketches – created by the extremely productive Edvard Munch in its collections and for the first time, these works will truly have the space they deserve.
The museum also wants to deepen and enrich the experience and insights further by inviting visitors to play and express themselves artistically and offers a range of tours and activities for both young and old.
Food is also a natural part of the experience. At the very top of the building is a first-class restaurant. In addition, there is a café on the ground level next to the fjord and a bar with a fantastic roof terrace. The kitchen is run by the restaurant group MUMA, known for restaurants like Taco Republica, Ben Reddik, and Mangelsgården.
What should seating in a museum fulfill?
Another essential part of a museum building is of course the interiors and the furniture. It is often a difficult balancing act where the design and the colors should add value, but without taking over the visual experience.
In 2017, a national design competition was announced, where the winner was given the prestigious assignment to create a furniture series for the museum. In fierce competition, designers Andreas Engesvik and Jonas Stokke were named winners. Soon after, Vestre won the tender for the production of the benches, and the work of developing the MUNCH series started.
– Munch is one of Norway's most famous artists, and the museum will attract people from all over the world. It is a perfect arena to promote what we call everyday democracy, meeting places where people can come together across differences and share thoughts, life experiences, and exchange ideas. We believe that getting to know each other is the best measure to prevent polarization and conflict and to create a united ”we”. The new Munch Museum coincides well with our vision of being able to bring people together. It is a joy and an incredible pride for all of us at Vestre to see and experience the finished result, says Thomas Sund, vice CEO at Vestre.
Designer Jonas Stokke explains that one of the most important aspects in the planning stage was for him and Engesvik to understand what the task ahead was.
– We discussed a lot back and forth and were challenged by the museum as a concept, and asked ourselves how a museum for Munch differs from, for example, a Goya or Picasso museum? We felt great reverence for the assignment and to develop a very good product, so we devoted a lot of time to the project.
The project was initially focused on designing a single bench, but as the benches with and without a backrest took shape, the designers saw how the design could be expanded to also encompass chairs and café tables.
The MUNCH series now consists of benches and lounge chairs as well as a café table and chair. The chairs and café tables can be found in the restaurant and the bar on the top floor of the museum and the café on the ground floor, while the benches and lounge chairs are scattered throughout the museum. When Andreas Engesvik and Jonas Stokke designed the first MUNCH benches, they decided that it was important that the museum's visitors should be able to sit down, lean back, and take a break from the tour.
– The museum is also built so that you can move upwards, directly to a special department, without going through all the halls. We wanted to make room for a break exactly where the visitors come out of one department and are on their way to move on to the next one, Jonas Stokke says.
Relaxing moments instead of short breaks
So, instead of following the tradition of making long narrow benches that encourage rather short breaks, the designers chose to create comfortable sofa benches that invite a moment of relaxation and contemplation.
– Even if it is a museum, things do not have to be uncomfortable. You can quickly draw some narrow flat wooden benches with thin leather cushions. But we wanted visitors to be able to take a break and really rest. And then you are going to need ergonomics in the back and a shaped seat, Jonas Stokke says.
The benches and the chairs are made up of layers of resilient steel mesh draped over a simple steel frame and are available with or without molded cushions made of wool textile. All three elements each have properties that complete the furniture's function and design: the weight of the frame helps to make the furniture stable, the steel mesh adapts to the body for maximum ergonomics and the cushions contribute with comfort and a warm and tactile feel.
Since much of the museum's interior is quite spartan, the designers wanted the furniture to act as a counterpart. Therefore, the work of finding the right colors and materials was also of great importance. The designers started by looking at hundreds of Edvard Munch paintings, to develop colors that reflected their personal interpretations of Munch's paintings.
– The colors were another challenge that we solved by mixing our own colors that are unique to the museum. These colors were scanned in Norwegian paint producer Jotun's laboratory and were then converted into facade varnish. We named the three colors Skin, Hair, and Night, and they are exclusively made for the museum, Jonas Stokke explains.
The production phase also came with some challenges, as forming metal meshes is quite difficult. There were also processes that Vestre had not worked with before, so it became a learning process both for the producers and the designers.
– Working with metal mesh and textiles is new for Vestre, but with a fantastic production and design team, everything can be done. Andreas and Jonas are designers with long experience, and have shown great knowledge, so through dialogue, frequent meetings and testing during the development phase, we managed to solve the challenges, says Thomas Sund.
– Vestre has shown a unique willingness to try new things and dare to be challenged in new processes. There was a lot of trial and error. For example, we looked at different methods of solving how to bend the bowl-shaped seat, which does a lot for the comfort of the furniture. The metal mesh is flat at delivery and when you bend it in one direction it goes well, but when it has to be bent another way it becomes more difficult. We did many tests and discussed solutions with many subcontractors. Not least, those who worked with it at the factory became extremely important, says Jonas Stokke.
Will need to withstand extreme wear
It is no exaggeration to say that the furniture in the museum – unlike most furniture for indoor use – also needed to be highly durable and able to be used for a very long time. With around one million visitors annually, they will be exposed to extreme wear.
– Therefore, the entire furniture is welded together, without screws or other parts that can come loose. This makes them extremely robust, and with proper maintenance, they can be used for hundreds of years.
– Using Vestre's furniture indoors is not a new thing but the use within a museum suits Vestre well due to the high quality and guarantee we always deliver. The furniture can withstand immediate use and wear, which is crucial for a place that will have such great throughput and demands, says Thomas Sund.
The new Munch museum is now open and ready for everyone to enjoy!