Monday is the solemn opening of the 166th Storting. The architecture of the Storting Room elegantly lays the foundation for how we exercise democracy in Norway.
Director of the National Museum
This is a comment. It expresses the analysis and opinions of the writer.
On Monday September 13, Norway went to the polls again. 169 representatives from across the country have been elected to the Norwegian National Assembly. They will pass laws, state budgets, and control government, and they will do so within a carefully thought-out framework for this particular job.
Because in the Storting room nothing is left to chance. The architect Emil Victor Langlet (1824–1898) has delved into all the details in the room itself. And in the most prominent place, behind the chairman of the Storting, hangs the painting Eidsvold 1814 by Oscar Wergeland.
We have seen this room many times in the media, this is where our elected representatives vote on the proposals and lead the debates, but why is it actually built the way it is? Yes, it is as much about what a democracy should be as it is about how democratic office is run.
The winner was rejected
When the architectural competition for a new building to house the National Assembly was announced in 1856, there was much debate. In fact, so much so that the winning proposal, a venerable building by successful German architects Heinrich Ernst Schirmer and Wilhelm von Hanno, which was reviewed in the media for being medieval, ended up being rejected.
The debate was opened for the young Swedish architect Emil Victor Langlet to take the field and challenge the winning proposal. His proposal was much simpler and more popular and quickly gained a following when it was submitted in February 1857, several months after Schirmer and von Hanno’s proposal was named the winner of the architectural competition. Ultimately, the Langlet Building was approved in 1860, the foundation stone was laid the following year, and the Storting Building opened on March 5, 1866.
Close to people
Rather than a more closed and solemn building, the Langlet building stretches out towards the people with its circular hall and what may appear to be arms on the sides of the building. It is as if the building embraces the surroundings. The Storting hall is curved, with large windows, and from the rostrum the representatives look at both the people and the castles.
When representatives of the Storting sit in their seats today, almost daily they can hear people demonstrating on individual issues outside the building. Previously, it was the Storting Square that was most used for branding and demonstrations, but for many decades demonstrations have been held in Eidsvoll Square opposite the Storting, right behind the Storting representatives. This means that it is not so easy to forget that people have a voice, because it is heard almost daily in the room.
Holistic style blend
The Langlet building does not represent a clear direction in architecture, it is more of a mix of various styles. It wasn’t that unusual in the mid-19th century, where many styles and eras were borrowed at the same time. However, it has built its own distinctive character.
Langlet didn’t just design the building itself. The ornamentation on the ceiling and walls is also his doing. The same goes for the doors and many other details. The Storting in its original version is in many ways a one-man job.
The building is designed according to a system where all the rooms are categorically divided and the most important of everything in this building is the Storting room. Here, the architect has also designed all the furniture himself and everything is carefully thought out, designed and placed. The finely carved chairs, each with its own desk and small cabinets. The elegant round chandeliers that illuminate the hall are also original. Today, the hallway walls are painted red, but Langlet had them white as the ceiling.
The parties spread
The construction of the room means more than one might think. All the chairs are arranged like an amphitheater, which means that you sit in a large semicircle in front of the chair and the lectern. This is completely different from, for example, the English Parliament, where the parties sit on either side facing each other and the rostrum in the middle. What is more controversial, and it means that those who speak, stand with their backs in the middle of the hall and have to turn around.
At first, in fact, there was no lectern in the Storting room, the representatives spoke from their seats or between the rows of benches. It was not until 1890 that a lectern appeared down the hall, we can read in Peter Butenschøn’s magnificent book on the Storting.
The American House of Chambers in the United States Congress building has a design that is slightly more reminiscent of Norwegian. And if these two rooms are finally to be compared, it is a curious curiosity that the House of Representatives used the room in the congress building for the first time the same year that Langlet presented his proposal for the Storting building, that is, in 1857. .
However, the two rooms have significant differences, including the architect behind the congress building, Thomas U. Walter, the windowless room to protect representatives from outside noise, directly opposite the Storting room.
Free seat choice
Another thing is that there is freedom of choice of seats in the Chamber of Chambers, which is not the case in the Norwegian Storting. In Norway, representatives are located according to where they are elected. This means that the parties are coed and spread around the room. This means that they cannot be physically grouped together in match politics, and that the speaker must look around the room at all times to make eye contact with their own match mates or opponents.
The architecture of the Storting is thus conceived and used so that the representatives never forget by whom they are elected and for whom they work. You see and hear the outside world, you never have your back to anyone when you speak, and naturally you address the entire room when you are on the podium.
The painting remembers the task.
While the architecture of the building and the Storting Hall reminds representatives that they are there to serve the people and their voters, the artwork draws attention to another key task of the Storting’s changing assemblies: administering the Constitution.
Oscar Wergeland’s Eidsvold 1814 painting appeared in 1885. It shows Christian Magnus Falsen, often known as the father of the Constitution, reading in front of the Eidsvoll men what would be the last section of the Constitution.
In painting, the Eidsvoll men mainly focus their attention and attention on Falsen, with the exception of Wilhelm Frimann Koren Christie. He turns around in his chair and looks at us. It’s like Christie, often referred to as the defender of the Constitution, thus focusing on the Storting politicians. Remind them that they have been elected to administer the Constitution and to be the legislature of the country, a responsibility of which they must always be aware.
Take care of yourself close
Behind the Eidsvoll men, a large window overlooks a field where a farmer plows the fields, one of the windows is also open. On a sketch for the painting, the curtains were drawn, but Wergeland chose to open up to the outside world. And just like in the painting, the curtains are always drawn in the hall of the Storting. In both art and architecture, we find a closeness between elected representatives and the outside world. Take care, future MPs, and good luck!
- The Storting. Løvebakken’s house for 150 years. Peter Butenschøn. Forlaget Press, 2016.
- The Storting Art Collection. Evid Torkjelsson. The Storting Administration, 2020.