Monday, 7 September 2009

Notable architects: Hans D. F. Linstow (1787-1851)

Hans Ditlev Franciscus (or Frants) von Linstow was one of the first architects of consequence working in Norway after independence in 1814. He is best known for the Royal Palace in Oslo, but sadly got to build little else.
Linstow was Danish by birth and came to Norway in 1812, when the country was still part of the Danish Kingdom. With the secession in 1814, Linstow decided to make Norway his new homeland and he became a member of the royal court during the short reign of King Christian Frederik before Norway entered a union with Sweden.
Linstow was an officer and a jurist by education, but had attended lectures on architecture at the Academy of Art in Copenhagen. He had been one of the founders of Norwegian National Academy of Craft and Art Industry in 1818, but had little experience as an architect. On the other hand there were few architects in Norway at all.
It was apparently King Carl XIV Johan himself who chose Linstow as the architect for the Royal Palace in Christiania (as Oslo was then called). He was appointed in 1823 and the foundation stone for his grand H-shaped project with an elevated centre section (second photo) was laid by the King in 1825. When the terrain had been modified and the foundation walls built two years later, nearly all the money granted by the poor country’s Parliament had been spent and no further money was forthcoming.
Meanwhile Linstow had to make a living elsewhere, which he did partly through selling vegetables. Only after six years was more money granted and Linstow could continue with a reduced and much altered project. In 1845, when it was nearly completed, it was found to be too simple and extra funds were granted to improve it. The result was the Royal Palace as we know it (first photo), completed in 1849.
Linstow himself was not entirely satisfied with the final result, but despite its modest size its artistic quality is fully on par with other royal palaces in Europe. His architectonical inspiration has often been said to be mainly the Dane C. F. Hansen and the Prussian Karl Friedrich Schinkel. Before drawing up the plans for the Palace’s interiors he went on an educational tour of Denmark and Germany in 1836-1837, a tour which certainly left its marks on the Palace. Recently some influence from Sweden has also been pointed out.
The long and difficult process of building the Royal Palace meant that Linstow was stuck with it for 25 years and thereby not able to embark on any other grand projects. He saw many other commissions which he had wanted be given to his assistant-turned-rival Christian Heinrich Grosch, whom Linstow developed a deeply felt bitterness towards. Among the commissions “lost” to Grosch were Christiania Theater and the University – in the latter case it was Linstow who insisted that Grosch’s drawings should be sent to Schinkel in Berlin, who greatly altered and improved them.
Besides the Royal Palace Linstow’s greatest work is Karl Johans gate, the main street of the Norwegian capital. Linstow planned it as a monumental processional route leading from the Eger Square to the Palace and at approximately 2/3 of the street he planned a monumental square framed with public buildings such as university, parliament and a museum. His plan, published in 1838, was carried out only partly – Grosch’s and Schinkel’s three buildings for the University were erected on the northern side, whereas the southern side of the square and indeed the street was turned into a public park (third picture). Yet Linstow counts as the man who planned the new centre of the capital and gave it its most beloved street.
By the Palace Square Linstow had planned a small house for the King’s Guard in a style matching the Royal Palace, but a simpler, temporary building (seen in the fourth photo) eventually became permanent. The Guard House is itself a good example of Linstow’s wood architecture and counts as the country’s first building in what in Norway was called “Swiss style”, which turned out to be both popular and enduring. Linstow’s original design for a guard house was later used for a building in Park Street behind the Palace (fifth picture) – it now houses a car dealer.
Whereas he had originally planned a parliament building as part of the rectangular square including the University and other public buildings, Linstow later changed his mind and in 1841 came up with a plan for a parliament which would be situated on its own opposite the University (sixth photo). Next to it would be a building for the ministries followed by the Supreme Court’s building, which would create an axis of the three powers of state along the street leading to the Palace. The idea was rejected by the majority of the committee for a parliament building, with only Linstow voting for his own plan.
Linstow twice made suggestions for reconstructions of Oslo’s Cathedral. His second proposal, from about 1840 (seventh picture), shows a Byzantine influence, but was not carried out. Neither was his earlier, more restrained neoclassical plan. Outside the capital some 80 rural churches were built according to plans and patterns worked out by Linstow, but often with variations made by the local builders, who were generally quite conservative and retrospective in their preferences.
Near the Swedish town Kristinehamn is the manor Krontorp (eighth photo), which traditionally has been attributed to Linstow, although the attribution is uncertain. The manor house was built 1825-1828 as a place for King Carl Johan to stay when he made the long journey from Stockholm to Christiania and has some similarities with Linstow’s original design for the Royal Palace.
His story has something of the tragedy of unfulfilled genius. Unlike Grosch he did not get the change to put his wider mark on the capital and unlike Grosch he wrote ferociously about architecture, but his textbook on the topic was never published and is now lost. He probably never felt he received the recognition he deserved. In June 1851 the students of the capital threw a party to celebrate Linstow and his work. This must have felt like a welcome, if late, recognition. On his way home Linstow was killed in a carriage accident. He was buried at Christ Churchyard, but his grave disappeared when that part of the cemetery was turned into a park and public playground a century later.

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