Bekkelaget harbour bath is a euphony of green playscapes, bathing facilities, hilltops, and small woods just a short distance by bike from the city centre of Oslo. The project has amended the problematic coexistence of residential neighbourhoods with the adjacent, busy harbour activity by establishing a rich and openly accessible park between them. This was made possible through collaborative planning processes, public participation, and sound design choices.
The municipality of Oslo seized a historic opportunity when launching the concept of the “Fjord City” in the early 2000’s. The program entails that the harbour industry will make way for modern urban development, with new residential areas, offices and public spaces, opening the city up towards the fjord.
While The Fjord City ends geographically just north of Bekkelaget harbour bath, the vision of restoring public access to the city’s waterfront continued further. Initially, the plan for Bekkelaget was to simply establish a visual buffer zone between the residents and the harbour industry. However, after an extensive participatory process, empowering nearby residents to take part in shaping their local environment, the size and ambitions for the park began to grow. People’s wishes for open, green recreational areas, sports facilities, a parkour gym, and BMX-track were all included in the design. Soon, the buffer zone grew to become a big public park, its main attraction being an eye-catching diving platform; painted in Oslo Harbour’s distinctive orange palette. The stepped pier and platform encourage its visitors to dip their feet in the water or opt for a refreshing dive in the fjord – no matter the weather or season.
Overall, the site design is simple, green and clean. Undesirable shrubs and invasive species have been identified and removed. Extra care has been given to preserve existing trees; endangered plants have been mapped and preserved. Planted oak and preserved pine trees help to connect the green horizon from the isles in front with the park and hillside behind it: A long, green stream towards the sea.
New activities have been added to natural surfaces wherever possible. Where terrain adaptions were necessary, purposeful materials have been locally sourced; transporting masses from a nearby railroad construction to shape the terrain. An old power transformation box has been built into the terrain and its roof is now a surface for acrobatics in the parkour area.
The material choices are largely based on the reuse of local materials, supplemented with bespoke furniture made from railway segments and steelwork. Dividing the harbour from the park is a distinct and brutalist sheet pile wall, clad with railroad sleepers in eucalyptus – good to lean your back against. Lower retaining walls of local granite divide the green space and form long, horizontal surfaces for seating. A winding gravel path connects the seaside attractions with places to sit back and relax; a hilltop has been furnished with steps and a fire pan for outdoor barbeque and fjord gazing.
For decades, large parts of Oslo’s coastline have been dedicated to the harbour industry. By providing access to these areas, the lost connections between the city and the waterfront can be re-established. Offering an array of free of charge, low threshold activities, this urban renewal process contributes to a democratization of the city’s waterfront. Bekkelaget harbour bath has something for everybody, whether you are seeking a physical challenge, meeting up with friends, or simply enjoying a break from city life while inhaling the salty breeze from the fjord.
Bekkelaget harbour bath has quickly become a cherished place for its neighbours and visitors. The design was shortlisted to the Oslo City Architecture Award 2020, the Norwegian Landscape Architecture Award 2020 and was awarded the DOGA Award for outstanding Design and architecture 2020.
The jury of the Norwegian Design and Architecture Association writes:
Bekkelaget harbour bath is a leading example of a successful interdisciplinary and participatory design process. Sustainable design choices have been made especially concerning the efforts made to preserve biodiversity, and through the reuse of materials from local industry. We also want to applaud the project’s social dimension, noting how the park accommodates a wide range of different activities and provides good meeting places. Bekkelaget harbour bath has gained its own distinct identity, with a gentle nod to characteristic elements associated with Oslo harbour and the city’s harbour promenade.
Bekkelaget harbour bath is awarded the DOGA-Award for outstanding Design and Architecture because it is a leading example of how urban renewal projects should be executed. The project group’s interdisciplinary approach and open communication combined with a successful participatory process with the people residing in the nearby area further substantiated our decision.
Architecture offices involved in the design: Parkour design by Mikkel Rugaard Studio, participatory processes in collaboration with Léva Urban Design
Project location: Nedre Bekkelaget, Oslo, Norway
Design year: 2016
Year Built: 2019