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Issue #26

Bricks come in endless variations and colour tones, and there are innumerable different designs that can be created with brick.

Kari Nissen Brodtkorb

Photo: Kari Nissen Brodtkorb
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Photo: Kari Nissen Brodtkorb
© Kari Nissen Brodtkorb



Born in 1942, Norwegian architect and committed feminist Kari Nissen Brodtkorb can look back on an extensive body of work. She has received numerous awards for her buildings, some of which have been on a large scale. In this interview, she discusses one of her recent projects and explains her deep attachment to brick as a material.

Ms Brodtkorb, what does your architecture stand for? What inspires you?
I have always adopted a humanistic approach in all my projects. It starts with considering the human scale of the construction, especially the interstitial spaces, which are often neglected. I often imagine buildings as the walls around an open space. For me, it is also a question of a living design, which reflects the local context, because the location is often as dynamic as the people. My motto is “motion and emotion” – my projects touch people. And people also like to touch my projects, because I really attach a lot of importance to the materials for surfaces. That’s why I particularly like brick. I have always tried to be cost-efficient when it comes to the structures of my projects, because that leaves more in the budget for high-quality materials.


One of your most recent projects is the pair of buildings called “Ternen” and “Sjostjernen”, which respectively mean “tern” and “starfish” in English. How did you specifically realise your architectural vision in these projects?
The two buildings are in the former harbour and industrial district of “Damsgaardssundet”, right by the fjord and with a stunning mountain backdrop, just a short walk from the centre of Bergen. The whole area has been transformed into a modern residential and working neighbourhood. The design gives the two buildings strength and dynamism, anchoring them firmly in the dramatic landscape of the wild fjord and steep mountains. In particular, the façade, with a 103° pitch on the water-facing side, gives the project its distinctive, vital appearance. Ternen and Sjostjernen were planned and constructed in two separate phases – Ternen was completed in 2010 and Sjostjernen in 2017. Despite slight differences in floor plans, they share a common aesthetic.

Building: Sjostjernen
© Jan M. Lillebø, Per Ivar Ødegaard, Kari Nissen Brodtkorb

The façade is clad in grey bricks and is broken up at various points. The colour red comes to fore at these locations. Where did you get this idea?
A few years ago, I was walking through the area, which hadn’t been redeveloped then, and I suddenly saw an old, derelict building. It was clad in grey, presumably with Eternit cement panels, and there was one place where the façade was ruptured, revealing a painted red surface underneath. That really inspired me. Brick is a material that is particularly suitable for the rugged coast with its salty air, and the grey colour also harmonises with the traditional houses in the area, which are often clad in slate.


You said that you particularly like brick as a material. Is that for purely practical reasons, because many of your buildings are close to open water and the salty air is hard on façades, or do you have a deeper connection to the material?
I had my first experience with brickwork in 1962, during my architecture studies, when I spent time working as an intern on various building sites, for example in Austria and Italy. I instantly fell in love with brick! It has always fascinated me that such huge buildings can be constructed from such small units. Bricks are very easy to handle and so tactile – a brick wall really invites you to touch it! Bricks come in endless variations and colour tones, and there are innumerable different designs that can be created with brick. I love the feel of the material and the three dimensional nature of walls – a relief that casts shadows. Without shadow, the form gets lost! My early experiences on building sites really shaped my later work.

Building: Sjostjernen
© Jan M. Lillebø, Per Ivar Ødegaard, Kari Nissen Brodtkorb
Building: Sjostjernen
© Jan M. Lillebø, Per Ivar Ødegaard, Kari Nissen Brodtkorb

You were also a professor at the University of Oslo for many years. Do you have anything you would like to say to young architecture students?
In the early 1990’s, I took on a professorship of architecture whilst continuing to work in my own architectural bureau. As a professor, one of the things that was most important to me was to demonstrate to students that there are also successful female architects who design big buildings. Back then, the architectural agencies and universities were much more male-dominated than they are today. Before I started my own bureau in 1985, which went on to employ up to twelve female architects, I myself was a partner in a bureau where all the other partners were men. Some of my female colleagues from back then have since taken over my bureau and now run it under a new name. But back to young people: Based on my personal history, I encourage everyone to get a lot of hands-on experience and also to spend time on building sites!

Quote from Client Ole Herbrand Kleppe (BOB)

In 2008, Norway’s biggest residential property development firm, Bergen og Omegn Boligbyggelag (BOB), started redeveloping the Damsgaardssundet district, which is now a lively area with more than 1,500 new homes and approximately 10,000 m2 of office and retail space. The main idea was to enhance the district with a variety of architectural styles, whilst simultaneously preserving its spirit and identity. Ternen and Sjostjernen are two key projects in this transformation. For the façades, Kari Nissen Brodtkorb selected Wienerberger Actua façades, which lend the projects a unique appearance. In 2010, Ternen was voted Bergen’s ‘building of the year’ for its striking architectural design. We think the result is fantastic. The distinctive shape of the buildings and the character they are given by the Actua façades make Ternen and Sjostjernen as well as the whole Damsgaardssundet district completely distinctive.

Koramic Actua 708 Grey Engobe

Koramic Actua Roof Tiles, Grey Engobe (708) – Norway