Lars Backer – Architect. A Pioneer of Norwegian Modernism
1 April 2016–14 August 2016
The National Museum – Architecture
With his designs for Skansen Restaurant, Ekeberg Restaurant and the Horn Building, the architect Lars Backer brought the International Style in architecture to Norway. Many people had felt that a new era was imminent, and now it had arrived.
Lars Backer “embraced his own time at an early age”, wrote Herman Munthe-Kaas in his obituary for his colleague. The newspaper Aftenposten claimed that Backer more than anyone else embodied the expression: “He was a man for the new age.” To put this claim in context, this exhibition about Lars Backer also tells us about the prelude to the arrival of the modern style of architecture in Norway.
A diverse exhibition
As a student, Lars Backer prepared surveys of historical buildings and became thoroughly familiar with historical architectural trends. Before embracing the International Style, he designed neoclassical buildings. The exhibition provides a rich portrayal of Lars Backer and his time. Curated from a cross-disciplinary perspective, the items on display include drawings by Lars Backer, furniture, objects and historical photographs, as well as paintings by J.C. Dahl, Harriet Backer and Per Krohg. Lars Backer’s father, Herman Major Backer, was also an important architect, and the exhibition starts by presenting works by H.M. Backer and ends with displays focusing on Lars Backer’s three epoch-making Functionalist buildings.
A time of transition
The mid-1920s were a time of transition in Norway. Neoclassicism was still the predominant architectural style: power stations, banks, housing developments, sports facilities, museums and cinemas all bore the hallmarks of Ancient Greek and Roman architecture. Lars Backer contributed to this movement with his Frogner Cinema, the beautiful Villa Larsen, and a university project executed in the neoclassical style. At the same time Backer, along with his contemporaries, was writing about the need for a new kind of architecture. In Norway the breakthrough came in 1927 with the completion of Skansen Restaurant.
The breakthrough of Functionalism
In Norwegian and Nordic architecture, the year 1930 marked a watershed. A major exhibition in Stockholm that summer presenting a vision of architecture in the future aroused great public enthusiasm. In Scandinavia, the new style was nicknamed “Funkis” (an abbreviation of the word “Funktionalism”). The year 1930 was also the year that Lars Backer died at the age of just 38 of a streptococcal infection. His three last buildings contributed to paving the way for the new architecture in Norway. The first two, Skansen Restaurant and Ekeberg Restaurant, encountered fierce criticism. In contrast, the Horn Building, which was completed in 1930, was well received. The new architecture was victorious.
Lars Backer, «Skansen», 1927
Movie production by: Sindre Johnsen