Ask furniture shoppers to define Scandinavian design, and their answers will rightfully run abreast of Ikea or Artek. According to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, characterizing the region’s architecture is a trickier proposition. Why? Globalization has weakened architects’ connection to place. Visitors to the Humlebæk, Denmark–based institution’s current show "New Nordic: Architecture and Identity" are invited to consider whether contemporary Scandinavian architecture stands apart. Exhibition highlights such as the Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall & Conference Center, completed in Iceland last year by Henning Larsen Architects with a crystalline facade by artist Olafur Eliasson, reinforce that Nordic talents are a force to be reckoned with. But new works like Harpa or Norway’s Trollstigen lookout station—in which Reiulf Ramstad Architects separates a mountainside from sky with only a few folded planes of Cor-ten—also suggest the output can’t be classified under one banner like ‘flat-pack’ or ‘ergonomic.’
Indeed, the exhibition poses no firm diagnoses of its own, says assistant curator Mette Marie Kallehauge, who adds that the curatorial team instead went to lengths to immerse museum goers in the question. To that end, New Nordic includes video commissions by artist Elina Brotherus, filmmaker Pi Michael, and producer Wilfred Hauke in collaboration with ARTE. Even more consuming, the Louisiana asked architects from each of the five Nordic countries to build a house for guests to contemplate regional culture and the building arts. The results range from a barn-like structure, by Finland’s Lassila Hirvilammi, colored like rain-soaked bark, to a curving corrugated-metal shell standing on a carpet of lava rock by Reykjavik-based Studio Granda. "The installations express how the five architects think about their work in relation to a certain Nordic identity, and to their specific place in Scandinavia,” Kallehauge says. While the works may not be easily pinned down by a material palette or geometry, "New Nordic" does stress that Scandinavia’s social-welfare tradition strongly informs its architecture. Two sections of the exhibition are dedicated to various manifestations of the phenomenon, such as new programming of public buildings and people-friendly amenities in cities, which globalization would do well to transport elsewhere. New Nordic is on view through October 21.