Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Left unbuilt: Linstow’s Parliament, Oslo

The architect Hans D. F. Linstow (1787-1851) is best known for the Royal Palace in Oslo, which was built between 1825 and 1848. At that time the Palace was quite far away from the town centre and in 1838 Linstow published his great city plan for connecting the Palace to the old town. Its focal point was a grand street running in a straight line from the Palace to Eger Square – at first it was called Slottsveien, today we know it as Karl Johans gate.
Along this grand avenue Linstow projected a stately rectangular square. Around one half of the square would be three buildings for the University, around the other a parliament building, a technological school and an art museum. In 1838 Linstow also made a design for a parliament building, with a semi-circular plenary hall projecting from the building’s rear side.
The following year Linstow was appointed to a five-man commission to deal with these issues. The University buildings (by Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Christian Heinrich Grosch) were now being built on the north side of the square Linstow had suggested, and when the commission reported in 1841 the majority wanted to follow Linstow’s idea from 1838 – on the south side they envisioned the Parliament in the middle and buildings for ministries on either side.
Linstow alone made up the commission’s minority and now wanted to scrap the southern half of the square. His new idea was that the Parliament Building should lie alone facing the University, which would give it added gravitas. Next to it, further down the street, Linstow suggested a government building followed by a building for the Supreme Court – thus all the three powers of state would be lined up after each other in rising order of seniority as one travelled towards the Palace at the top of the street.
Linstow added drawings for all three buildings and those for the Parliament are reproduced here. The architect imagined a rather simple building with a partly rusticated façade, a portico of eight Doric columns carrying a tympanum and a sculptural relief above the main entrance. The art historian Bjørn Sverre Pedersen, who was the first to present Linstow’s drawings, thought the main façade was inspired by Leo von Klenze’s Glyptothek in Munich (in the fourth photo) but there are, as one can see, obvious differences. The portico is however very similar to the portico of Christian Frederik Hansen’s Cathedral in Copenhagen (fifth picture).
Pedersen compared the floor plan of Linstow’s projected Parliament to Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Schauspielhaus in Berlin and the plenary hall to the theatre salon in Schinkel’s Schauspielhaus in Hamburg. For the plenary hall Linstow opted for the shape of a Greek rather than a Roman theatre, perhaps in recognition of democracy’s Greek roots.
No Parliament was built in Oslo in Linstow’s lifetime. Meanwhile Parliament met elsewhere and it was only in 1866 that the Parliament Building (sixth photo) was inaugurated. Placed further down Karl Johans gate and built by the Swedish architect Emil Victor Langlet in Lombard-Romanesque historicism it is a far cry from Linstow’s Hellenistic ideals.

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