Reconstruction on Display: 'Arkitektenes høstutstilling 1947-1949' As Site for Disciplinary Formation

Master of Science in Architecture Studies (SMArchS) Thesis Prize
Advisor: Mark Jarzombek
Reader: Timothy Hyde

With the liberation of Norway in 1945—after a war that left large parts of the country in ruins, had displaced tenfold thousands of people, and put a halt to civilian building projects—Norwegian architects faced an unparalleled demand for their services. As societal stabilization commenced, members of the Norwegian Association of Architects (NAL) were consumed by the following question: what would—and should—be the architect’s role in postwar society? 

To publicly articulate a satisfying answer, NAL organized a series of architectural exhibitions in the years 1947–1949. Physically touring the length of the country and actively disseminated in various media outlets, the three editions of The Architects’ Fall Exhibition (Arkitektenes høstutstilling ) gave a broad audience access to the discursive field. While each exhibition dealt with the postwar rebuilding of Norway, the image presented of the architect evolved with every edition. Confronted with a pressing need for rapid reconstruction, and a scarcity of material and human resources, the architectural profession clamored to assert their vital role in the national rebuilding. 

Yet in order to move forward, certain things were deliberately excluded from the public discourse. During the immediate postwar years, NAL was engaged in a riveting—and confidential—extrajudicial process against members accused of having collaborated with the Nazis. Power subtly shifted as new voices assumed important roles in NAL and state institutions, and with the rise of a new and more diverse generation of architects. 

The exhibition series was not only a response to wartime destruction, but fueled by NAL’s anxieties about the architect’s societal role. Architectural exhibitions were seen as important tools for propaganda, and as potent sites for the formulation of professional identity. The thesis argues that NAL, aided by the short but energetic life of The Architects’ Fall Exhibition, implicitly launched a revived and more specialized profession.