Located at the epicentre of Oslo’s waterfront, Inger Munch’s Pier is a culture-lead regeneration project which creates a new island setting for the City’s latest major public art commission, The Mother by British Artist Tracey Emin. Together, the monumental 9m bronze sculpture of a female figure kneeling in a meadow and the Pier landscape create an extraordinary new landmark along the banks of the Oslofjord. A transformative space, connecting waterside communities, invigorating urban, cultural, and natural regeneration. Where once industry dominated, there are now flourishing public spaces: swimming spots, boardwalks, fishing areas, places to sit, biodiverse ecologies and an oasis for urban bees. A place for life, nature and art.

The project ethos was to ‘design with nature’, through cross-sector and trans-disciplinary practice, focused on the climate crisis, soil biodiversity, sustainable drainage, urban nature and good city making.

Historically, Oslo was an industrial port city dominated by the ship-building industry which divided the urban centre from the beautiful Oslofjord setting. When industry began to decline, the city found itself on the verge of de-industrialisation and corresponding economic decay. For half a century the Oslo Ministry of Environment carried out an ambitious environmental restoration project to phase out industry and remediate the landscape. The Bjørvika peninsula at the mouth of the Akerselva river, once the most polluted river in Norway, is now a significant district in the ‘Fjord City’ urban renewal project, for world-class contemporary and modernist art, housing the largest collection by pre-eminent Norwegian artist Edvard Munch in estudio Herreros’ new 13-story Munch Museum adjacent to the Pier.

Inspired by the Oslofjord, in an area previously designated an ‘ecological desert’, the landscape concept was to create a Seedbed. A constructed landscape shaped by fluvial processes and allowed to naturally develop over time. Onto a piled concrete slab, carefully mixed soils and aggregates mimic natural conditions to create a biodiverse coastal meadow. Striated local limestone mirroring the underlying geology is integrated with locally collected meadow seed to create an authentic and evocative manmade landscape. Due to its scale, the sculpture alters the microclimate, creating niches of shelter and varying growth patterns to facilitate natural regeneration.

To create the Island structure, 60 piles, 50-meters long, were driven into the Oslofjord, replacing an existing degraded historic timber pier. The piling operation was complex, working exceptionally close to a subterranean motorway tunnel. Taking inspiration from the unique coastal ecology; the landscape form mimics the patterns of ebbing and flowing water. Fully accessible surfaces were designed to evoke the appearance of water drawing back and revealing river gravels. Locally sourced aggregates were mixed with salvaged rocks from the site demolitions and bedrock geology creating a naturalistic meadow edge and giving the impression of the meadow spontaneously emerging from the Pier, while protecting it from the predicted half-million strong annual visitors. Bespoke furniture designed with a simple robust modular form alludes to driftwood washed ashore.

The island structure is permeable with integrated natural attenuation, designed to accommodate rising water levels during storm surges. The varying soil depths attenuate stormwater runoff creating a range of growing conditions across the meadow. The undulating conditions form a mosaic of wetter and dryer patches which nurture a wide range of plant species. The soil mosaic is interspersed with sandy patches to provide habitat for solitary burrowing bees, pollinating the new landscape. Local provenance seed and materials were a prerequisite to ensure resilience in the exposed conditions. To realise an authentic meadow, we worked closely with specialist Norwegian growers, who procured plug plants propagated from Oslofjord seed.

The Mother, evokes the spirit of a mature protector, depicted in a non-idealised female form, recalling the ubiquitous motives of women in Munch’s work. The Pier is a strong physical symbol of nature restoration at the new home of Munch, where The Mother, kneeling in her meadow ‘welcomes of all nature’. The intimate coexistence of the dynamic meadow and monumental bronze taking root in front of the new Munch Museum creates a poignant narrative of vulnerability and hope.

The landscape challenges perceptions of natural beauty and urban nature. It embraces time in a dynamic cycle, with a light touch, long-term management ethos; less ‘maintenance operations’, more ‘creative conservation’.

Other landscape architecture offices involved in the design of landscape: Holo&Holo

Location: Inger Munch’s Brygge, Edvard Munchs Plass 1, 0194, Oslo, Norway

Design year: 2018

Year Completed: 2022


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