Sunday, September 24, 2006

Norwegian Farmhouse Architecture

I'm working my way through guidebooks from Rough Guide for Norway and Sweden (and Scandinavia, apparently they have glumped them together for at least one book) and I'm discovering some very interesting bits of trivia.

Many tourist sites recreate the "Norwegian Farmhouse" experience, by either building from scratch, or moving to the location, the various farm buildings and houses from a rural farm. And, or course, many farms exist in the rural areas of Norway. One of the common characteristics of these farms is that they are made up of many smaller buildings -- a main house, a storehouse or two, a small barn, a hay barn, hen coop, a horse stall, a shed for farm implements, another store house, perhaps a boat house or smoking shed. The cluster of small buildings is apparently a quintissential Norwegian farmyard trait.

Why so many buildings? Well, traditional architecture is cog-jointed logs (like Lincoln Logs, really) that are notched and joined at the corners, making square or rectangular buildings. Of course, they were limited in size to the length of the logs being used -- one log per side, of whatever length they could garner useable wood. Buildings were not large -- and it was obviously much easier to build many smaller buildings than manage the joins in a larger building.

Which is the reason (in a convoluted way) that Norway has the interesting and unqiue Stave Churches -- 29 remain in Norway. In order to make buildings larger than a single span of a log, timbers are placed vertically into the ground (entirely different than the log-bonding that Norwegian farmers used to make outbuildings) with upright beams at the corners (the staves) The walls are upright planks set into sills on the top and bottom, much like panels in a door. The sills are joined pieces of wood that can be much longer than a single piece of timber, and can be built into any shape that can be defined by corner staves.

Of course, Stave Churches have many other unique characteristics, including fantastical carvings, paintings, and other decorations, but they arrived in Norwegian Architectuure because of a limitation in the traditional building style used by local farmers. Logs were too short to build an impressive church, so they had to improvise.

More on Norwegian Architecture here.

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