Category Archives: Norway

s u m m e r h o u s e

[ 19:27 monday 10 august – hytta wichstrøm, førenes, norway ]

i’m in a sublimely beautiful place. a house made from pine and glass perched on a wind-smoothed outrcop of rock with forest all around and a sheltered bay below. the coast is folded into intricate bays and inlets dotted with a thousand islands. the house was built in the early 1970s for the grandfather of my friends thor and stephanie. architecturally it comprises a series of joined single-pitch structures with wooden terraces at the front and back. the living areas are surrounded by an almost continuous band of floor to ceiling windows framed with a rectangular grid of pine. some of these glazed walls slide open to link the inside spaces with the terraces. meanwhile the house nestles in the irregular structure of the rock outcrop, a section of which pushes up through the rear terrace. the overall effect is a blurring of inside and outside, a sense of the house as an extension of its surrounding landscape. the building’s geometric forms and its harmony with the environment carry echoes of traditional japanese architecture.

the forest here is predominantly oak and pine. almost everywhere i walk there’s a dense undergrowth of blueberry bushes at the apogee of fruiting. it’s almost impossible to resist the temptation to stop every minute or two and gorge oneself. more than once i’ve returned to the house with a guilty look and purple stains all over the lower part of my face. even more exquisite are the wild raspberries, harder to find but equally at the pinnacle of ripeness, super-sweet miniature originals of the cultivated versions found in gardens and supermarkets.

here at the southern tip of norway civilisation feels reassuringly distant. the nearest shop is in lillesand, a couple of miles away as the crow flies but much further by road or sea. getting to and from the outside world is most easily accomplished via a dinghy with an outboard that’s moored at a jetty below the house. to get here i made the four and a half hour train journey from oslo southward through the forests and lakes to kristiansand, followed by a forty-five minute bus trip to lillesand, then finally a twenty-minute skim between islands in the dinghy. as we neared the quay thor stopped the engine, leapt out into the shallow water and returned with a dozen wild oysters. the largest of them was as big as an ostrich egg. we ate them with chopped red onion in vinegar.

yesterday afternoon thor and stephanie took me out fishing. it’s the first time i’ve used a proper rod rather than a primitive line wound around a piece of wood. over a period of three hours i caught two cod and thor caught three more. all were duly baked for supper. today we took the boat to a tiny island with a lighthouse. the whole island was bare rock with broad stripes of grey, pink and black like a 1980s minimalist interior, worn into smooth curves by centuries of wind and sea. the only flora were wild pansies and daisies nestling in sheltered folds in the rock. the inter-tidal rock was coated with mussels and barnacles. we swam in the rolling swell which was bracingly cold. afterwards i sat in the warm breeze watching the horizon and felt myself dissolving into the rock and the rush of waves.

: c :

n y t t a a r

[ 15:52 saturday 3 january 2015 – lyngen, norway ]

i’m sitting at a great oval table with a computer-fabricated viking longship suspended above me. the building is a spectacular updating of a mediaeval great hall, an immense open space with a steeply pitched roof held up by the huge trunks of eight pine trees . the roof and walls are clad in pine planks. the floor is stone with a fireplace in its centre surmounted by a copper hood and steel flue which runs to the roof.

the hall sits on the west side of lyngenfjord, norway’s largest fjord. the small town of lyngseidet with its three thousand inhabitants lies six miles to the north. on either side of the fjord jagged mountains rise sheer from the water to a height of six thousand feet. beyond the mouth of the fjord are the grey wastes of the arctic ocean. at a latitude of sixty-nine degrees north this is the fringe of the human-inhabited world, deep inside the arctic circle.

this far north the sun doesn’t rise for two months during mid-winter. the landscape is bathed in a mysterious blue twilight for four hours each day from ten in the morning until two in the afternoon. the rest of the time it is darkness. each day during the precious hours of light i go walking beside the fjord with my rolleiflex. the rest of the time i am here in the hall chatting, reading and writing. last night i had my first glimpse of the northern lights, sending bands of electric green swirling and flickering across the velvet sky.

as 2014 neared its end i felt a growing hunger to escape from the world. so much has happened and so many new doors are opening. i needed to get away from everything, clear my head and ready my focus for the year ahead.

typically my first thought was to seek out a small island. i started looking at the cape verde group and preparing plans. but my friend jens dyvik, a designer and fabricator based in oslo, suggested a trip up here and it seemed perfect. my friend martin dittus from london was also able to join us.

the reason for jens’ suggestion was not just the spectacular location. the hall where i’m sitting was the world’s first “fablab”, a workshop with a strong community ethos providing a variety of computer-controlled fabrication devices for contemporary craft workers. there are now more than three hundred fablabs around the world but this is where the movement began in 2003. its founder haakon karlsen is a remarkable man who has pioneered everything from the most efficient technique for artificial insemination to wireless systems that track sheep roaming free in the mountains. it’s been an inspiration learning about his philosophy and experiences.

jens specialises in systems of community design and production. he publishes the files for his designs without restriction so they can be freely reused and adapted by other people around the world. he spent two years visiting fablabs in twenty countries and working on projects with them as he went. he’d made two prior visits to lyngen to meet haakon and was eager to make a third trip. it’s been fascinating to be a bystander as they take a laser scan of an iron-age brooch and fabricate a mould so they can cast replicas; or as they cut text into a raw pine plank with a computer-controlled milling machine to create a sign for the sheep farm where the fablab is based. it’s the first time i’ve seen experts working with these tools at close quarters. the path from an idea to a beautifully-crafted physical object is astonishingly fluid and immediate.

jens, martin and i joined a dozen of haaken’s family and friends to see in the new year with a vast norwegian feast of fish, meat and salads in the hall. at midnight we went outside in the snow with glasses of champagne to watch fireworks going off all around the fjord.

2014 has mostly been a wonderful year for me. the trampery opened two new buildings. the first was fish island labs, a centre for digital arts created with the barbican centre in an edwardian stable block beside the river lea. the second was the trampery old street, where we transformed an abandoned 1960s building in  central shoreditch. old street was the culmination of three and a half years’ struggle and probably the most difficult thing i’ve ever undertaken. i ended up taking responsibility for the entire interior, down to the selection of every light switch and tap, so it was also the biggest design project i’ve done. sulaiman sibai made a beautiful film about the creation of the building. with poetic timing the trampery old street opened five years to the day after the doors opened at the trampery’s very first site at dereham place.

it was also an exciting year for trampoline systems. craig and i rebooted the company in 2011 with a new focus to develop innovative techniques for analysing business data. 2014 was really the year this approach came of age. in the spring we were appointed by the european commission to undertake a two year initiative analysing the startup economy across the whole continent. then in the autumn we won a project from the mayor of london’s office to undertake the most detailed ever analysis of the science and technology sector in greater london. in between we completed projects analysing the employment and revenue created by the uk’s venture capital industry and tracking all the country’s high-growth firms.

having been such a woeful correspondent over the past three years the backlog of untold stories is too intimidating for me to even think about trying to chip away at it. the most i can attempt is to fill in a couple of the larger pieces.

after six years living upstairs from a glass foundry in dalston, in september 2013 the glassmaker sold the whole building for redevelopment and i was obliged to move out. i’d loved being there despite the constant filth percolating up from below, the leaky roof and the impossibility of heating the place in winter. in particular i loved the immense roof terrace where i cultivated a wild garden complete with summer house. the prospect of moving was horrifying. first because of the sheer quantity of stuff i’d accumulated through inheritance, ebay purchases and picking stuff up on the street. second because it seemed highly unlikely i’d ever find another place that suited me so well.

the search was every bit as depressing as i feared. but at the last minute i came across something so peculiar  it made my jaw drop. it was a 1940s lock-keeper’s cottage in hackney wick, converted into a television studio in the 90s, sandwiched between the river and the canal, without any road leading to it, surrounded by lawn and mature trees. in an extra bizarre twist the house was the closest dwelling to the olympic stadium. i raced over to see it and fell in love right away. the owners lived next door and were understandably picky about who moved in so i had an anxious few days while they considered my suitability. thankfully they concluded they could put up with me as a neighbour.

moving my belongings from dalston to hackney wick required three days, three vans and a team of four burly lithuanians. the lack of road access meant every item, including my piano and spinet, had to be carried across the canal on a footbridge then wheeled up the towpath to the house. it was one of the most appalling experiences of my life but at last it was done.

after fifteen months living at old ford lock cottage i’m still intoxicated by the miraculous improbability of it. the house is like a sanctuary, a pocket of rural tranquility cheek by jowl with london’s most creatively energetic district. often the loudest sound i can hear is the wind rustling in the trees, birdsong or the rush of water from the lock sluices. yet i can walk out of the house and within ten minutes be watching experimental theatre or bouncing around at a rave.

the house is spread over three floors with dining room and kitchen at ground level, the main living space on the first floor and a spiral staircase leading up to a bedroom and dressing room on the second floor. the building was beautifully refurbished by my landlord with a variety of reclaimed materials. in contrast to dalston the windows are double glazed, the walls are insulated, the roof is waterproof and  everything in the house works.

as summer approached i constructed a south-facing deck in front of the house where i have breakfast as often as conditions permit. i also acquired a five-man inflatable dinghy (with electric outboard) and a one-man kayak to escape up the canal alone or with friends whenever the mood takes me. they have been well used.

2014 was a year of hectic travels with trips to warsaw, paris, brussels, cannes, toronto, san francisco, copenhagen, austin, salzburg, oslo, geneva, chamonix, stromboli, pizzo callabro, jeddah and finally lyngen. it’s been a bit exhausting fitting all this in alongside my labours in london but the succession of encounters with different people and places has been magnificently energising.

i’ve left the biggest development of these years until last. specifically it consisted of meeting a beautiful young architect called mattia at a club in dalston in september 2011. he was dancing in a world of his own, as if the rest of the crowded club didn’t exist. i was immediately smitten. we spent the next three years together.

i never expected to find a partner who shared my guilty adoration of brutalist architecture and 1970s urban planning. we worked together on a series of trampery interiors, bickering like a pair of old women. these were supremely happy years for me. it was hard when our relationship came to an end in september but i remain grateful for every moment of it.

here’s to 2015. for everyone reading these words i send my wishes for courage, truth and joy in the year ahead.

: c :

f o t o s : lyngenfjord, new year 2015

thirty-one images from midwinter at the edge of the arctic ocean. hiking with jens and martin beside lyngenfjord in the sunless indigo twilight. an emporium of components and relics in haakon’s technology-filled viking hall. a trawler torn in half by the might of a winter storm. my sincere gratitude to haakon for his hospitality and inspiration.

related post: n y t t a r

camera: rolleiflex 6008i
lens: rollei distagon el 1:4 50mm
film: fujichrome provia 400x
scanner: nikon coolscan 8000ed