Text: Karina Sletten and Justyna Marciniak,
friends of Vestbredden living- and workers collective and artists at OAT 2019
Illustration: Johnny Huynh
Precisely when the need for alternatives is urgent, the most creative housing solutions are attacked. Therefore a committed group from the house occupants in Vestbredden living- and workers collective and their allies are working to showcase a small archive and fanzine at the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019.
During the exhibition we want to showcase a piece that will describe how the collective and its surrounding area have been working with de-growth, alternative solutions, and autonomous spaces for the past two decades.
The need for social spaces is important for city-development, and one way this can be offered is through autonomous housing. Autonomous houses have a rich history as being spaces for people with little or no income, as being spaces for recreation, exploration and finding alternative and creative solutions to housing problems. Vestbredden is only one among thousands that have existed in history, and will continue to exist in history. One of the most famous examples of autonomous housing is from Great Britain just after the war:
“When soldiers returned home after World War II, the English housing stock was in a complete shambles; no new houses had been built for six years and some areas were bombed out. [...] All over the UK, people began to squat”. 1
A more recent example of this kind of physical and social space is the refugee and migrant housing squat in Athens, Greece – Notara 26. Since its inception in 2015, several thousand people have found shelter there. Autonomous houses offer both social spaces as well as they are sustainable. Therefore it is time that the work house-occupants do is celebrated instead of criminalized.
The attack on autonomy
This year marks the 20th anniversary for the autonomous housing-project Vestbredden Vel Vel living- and workers collective in Hausmannsgate 40. Though still active, the house was put in a difficult position in 2016 when the building and its surrounding area was sold after the city council made plans to utilize the area as a space where the community could grow, intending on maintaining the building in Hausmannsgate 42. The property was sold to the private real estate and urban planning company Urbanium.
This has resulted in an ongoing arbitration between the house-occupants and the company Urbanium. The issue being that Urbanium was entitled the property by the city council if they turned the space into an ecological urban building, something that Vestbredden and the surrounding area have been working with for decades and something that has constantly been demolished or evicted by the municipality. The collective prepared for a court-case on the 1st of April, at finally it was decided that the collective Vestbredden would get a 10 year lease from the urban planning company.
Though the contract has been signed and the collective has been guaranteed 10 years continued existence there are still other ramifications to the area surrounding the development. To see it in a broader sense, this sale not only affects the people living in the squat. The sale has an effect on the people living in low-income spaces, for people working and living close to the places purchased by city planners who work for profit, as well as having cultural and architectural impacts on the different districts of Oslo.
The current development of Haus-kvartalet has created a strange look in architectural sense. Culture-houses built on top of each other may make things easier for tourists, but for artists working with different forms of art this type of building and form of presentation of art, might not be the best way to display the art that is to be exhibited. Furthermore, the social environment that has existed in the block for the past twenty years suffer more threats after the new construction of the area is to be built. Centering the culture-houses creates dense constructions for cultural consumption, making the entrance and allocation of rooms for artists increasingly competitive. Rather than being a space for people with little or no money this area will soon rather be another profitable space that will look more like an expensive mall than a house for culture and art.
Recuperation and the death and life of cities
The question of social spaces arises when Urbanium are describing their plans for Brenneriveien 1 and Hausmannsgate 42. They claim they aim to create a city-ecological space for people, a social space with communal kitchens and plants. Since the sale of the lot, they have mentioned neither that this specific area has worked with these activities since their inception in 1999, nor have there been any celebration of the people who have taken care of the house for twenty years. Social spaces cannot be built like physical spaces. They need to be created by someone. The new plans talk about the Haus-kvartalet as a community-based ecologic house, as if no-one had been working with it before, is at best ignorant.
Vegetarianism, homegrown food, DIY, carpentry – everything that now has new meaning to companies, trendsetters and those who capitalize on these trends, has in fact always been part of occupants’ daily life without the price tag that comes with it now.
We also need to address the issue of social spaces for people in crisis that sometimes fall in between the system, something that perhaps is less trendy, but vital for a social space that actually takes care of people. Vestbredden has been a rescue for those who have needed an immediate place to sleep, with a guest-room built to house up to six people, made for those who needed somewhere to have their things stored or a home when no other could be found. The importance of this social gesture has an enormous effect for those who have nowhere else to go.
To highlight another issue that is relevant for many other districts in Oslo, as well as the one in Haus-kvartalet, we want to bring up an observation architect critic Jane Jacobs write about in her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She says that rarely the people who use the city-rooms that are altered, have any real impact on how the alterations are made.2 If you ask the people who frequent the culture quarter of Brenneriveien and Hausmannsgate, they would want to keep the squat as it is. This may be the biggest issue resolving in this specific case: people rarely have much impact on the choices of how our city is built.
Degrowth and OAT
When archiving for the Oslo Architecture Triennale-project, we have found the original documents for the visions of Haus-kvartalet aptly called “Hauskvartalets samfunnsvisjon”. In the documents five pages long, ecological city development, perma-culture and increasing sanitary projects in the immediate area are heavily mentioned. The text has no author – it is a text-composition made by ideological people focused on the local community. A quote from the text about the area that we find moving and ever important:
“Grunnleggende ideer bak Hausmania er at det er en menneskerett å ha en trygg bolig, og å få muligheten til å uttrykke seg kunstnerisk. Et prosjekt i følge denne visjonen bygger på tanken om at ansvar og makt bør ligge mest mulig hos det lokale samfunn. Dette blir spesielt viktig for å motivere og stimulere ungdom, de som arbeider med kulturlivet og de gruppene som på ulike måter ofte faller utenfor dagens kommersielle arbeids- og bomønster. Prosjektet Hausmania føyer seg slik sett fint inn under parolen “tenke globalt og handle lokalt”. [...] Videreutvikling av prosjektet Hausmania, og det mangfoldige livet som er skapt og fortsatt skapes der vil nå i stor grad avhenge av statens og kommunens vilje til å prioritere tiltak for de “uvanlige” brukergrupper som det i dag skapes få tilbud for, fremfor rent kommersielle hensyn.”3
This quote proves that the buildings H34, 40 and 42 have been an ecological city development since its inception. That the municipality sold it to increase their climate consciousness is and was an ignorant decision. The area still has the tenants of Vestbredden, they are no longer occupants, but have a contract with Urbanium. Yet Hausmania still exists and the municipality need to listen to the people whom have been working with these issues.
When we exhibit at the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019, we will be able to speak of the house´s history, it's tenants, it´s friends and events that have happened in the house and to its tenants during these past 20 years.
Working towards degrowth is working with many intersections, such as economy, ecology, capital and class-issues. An advocate for de-growth, Serge Latouche has written Farewell to Growth, a book that explains how working toward degrowth is not the same as to work toward negative growth. Latouche is critical to growth in several aspects and speaks of its intersections that were previously mentioned. He claims
«that we must abandon the goal of exponential growth, as that goal is promoted by nothing other than a quest for profits on the part of the owners of capital and has disastrous implications for the environment, and therefore for humanity». 4
He writes about the means of production, how we consume and what we ask ourselves when consuming. Are we doing what we do for health and vital enrichment or to simply have more in order to have more? Our cities are engorged with buildings and designed park-areas and plazas made to be visually consumed and the profit (and the visual pleasure) rarely goes in favor to the people visiting these places – something that have been nationally debated with the construction of the new Munch museum.
Being a part of the Oslo Architecture Triennale is significant for us as we have the possibility to uncompromisingly tell how we as occupants, friends and low-income self-empowered people have turned a vacant house into a space many people have a personal and emotional connection to. In the exhibition we will be able to describe how working with degrowth is a more suitable option instead of building anew. We believe that the piece we will exhibit will ultimately show how working with degrowth not only happens as forms of sustaining houses, but also through sharing: community gardens, sharing of clothes, fixing bikes, and learning how to maintain different electrical equipment. This could be described as a circular economy in a small scale. To do this in a big scale we would need to start seeing our city as a natural environment with many resources. Buildings that are abandoned have many resources that could be used again.
To do this work is demanding, it takes energy and ambition from the people involved, as stated earlier, autonomous houses should be celebrated and legalized instead of criminalized.
By being able to show the house as not only a project of living space, but as a community space – we will uncompromisingly tell the story of Vestbredden Vel Vel living and workers collective.
Denne artikkelen ble opprinnelig publisert i papirmagasinet +KOTEs 10. utgave, som hadde heimkunnskap som tema. Den kommende utgaven plukker opp tråden der Karina Sletten and Justyna Marciniak slapp den, og vil i samarbeid med årets Oslo arkitekturtriennale ha degrowth og fremtiden som tema. Velkommen til lansering den 8. oktober.
1. Needle Collective. 2014. Squatting in England: Heritage and Prospects. Available via:
https://en.squat.net/2014/05/20/squatting-in-england-heritage-prospects/ , nedlastet: 20.03.19.
2. Jacobs, Jane.  1993. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Random House, p. 21.
3. Excerpt from the original documents “Hausmannskvartalet, en samfunnsvisjon” on visions for Hausmannsgate 34, 40 and 42 and Brenneriveien 1. Believed to be from 2000. Will be possible to see at OAT 2019.
4. Latouche, Serge. 2009. Farewell to Growth, Polity Press, p. 8.