"We should get empowered by the Triennale, so we can do things differently"

Christian Pagh has been appointed new director of the Oslo Architecture Triennale.

OAT JK Portrait 8356 CP

Christian Pagh is the Oslo Architecture Triennale's new Director and Chief Curator as of January 2021. Photo: Jan Khür.

Christian Pagh has been appointed new director of the Oslo Architecture Triennale. He will bring the Triennale closer to the urban development processes in Oslo, and make it more experimental in its own city.

Published 01.01.21

Congratulations as new director of Oslo Architecture Triennale, Christian Pagh! You come from a position as partner and cultural director in the strategic design office Urgent.Agency, and have worked with architects, public planning authorities, museums, property developers and many others who build our surroundings. What is the most important thing you bring to OAT?

– First I must say that I’m happy to have been given this opportunity. Oslo Architecture Triennale is an important platform for architecture, planning and placemaking. I moved to Oslo from Copenhagen three years ago now, so I still see the city from the outside, while I’m getting my bearings in its places and neighbourhoods, qualities and challenges. Similarly, I’m in a borderline area professionally speaking. I’ve worked a lot with urban planning and placemaking with architects, in addition to having worked in academia, with local authorities, and in the private sector. I believe this multitude of perspectives will be a strength.

What is the first thing you will do in the new job when you take it up in the New Year?

– I’ve promised the OAT board to have 100 conversations in the course of the spring – in Oslo, in Norway, and beyond. Through the conversations I hope to sharpen my visions about what the Triennale can become, and get to know what matters to the professional field and the wider community. To my mind the Triennale must continue to be part of the international discourse about architecture, and at the same time move closer to the current development taking place in Oslo and Norway. A lot is happening, for better or worse, and in my view the Triennale must relate to this concretely, constructively and – not least – creatively.

You moved to Oslo from Copenhagen in 2018, and in a contribution to Klassekampen spoke critically of the housing development in Oslo, where among other things you asserted that Oslo lacks urban space visions and qualities. What do you think are the most important themes in architecture and urban development now and in the time to come?

– Our collective reaction to climate change is our biggest challenge. This includes how we go about both the technical, social and economical aspects of architectural production and the city at large. These themes have successfully been addressed by the Triennale, and we should build on that. Sustainability also has a lot to do with architectural quality and design that inspires by beauty, by materiality, by its human touch. Quality is seen as a diffuse concept, but we tend to know it when it’s there - and when it is not. When it comes to Oslo, I think we need a stronger focus on quality and community thinking in many of the newer developed areas. We need to talk about how the new parts of Oslo, being built now, can get the character we know from the older neighbourhoods of Oslo - in their own way.

OAT is both a networking platform and a dissemination platform. What is good architectural dissemination to you?

– Dissemination is really about learning, about connecting the dots in new ways. I am interested in the relationship between the general – for example the idea of good urban planning – and the specific – a building or place. I believe strongly in examples, in looking more closely at specific buildings or neighbourhoods – and at the same time consider the political, economic and cultural framework that in many ways form what and how we build. We have to grasp this if we are to create better conditions for good architecture. What can we learn from looking at a place like the relatively new area of Oslo, Løren? What does it say about our culture and our priorities? And how could we imagine it otherwise?

One of the goals of OAT is to contribute to an increased awareness and knowledge of architecture among a wider audience. How do you think we best involve the general public in dialogue about architecture?

– We need to talk about the concrete places that matter to people – the everyday of neighbourhoods and the places we live in, love and hate. One of the things that is so fascinating about architecture is its physical and tangible nature, and we should use that when we meet our audiences. Another thing is format: I’m very fond of a quote from Mark Twain, who wrote to a friend “I apologize for sending such a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one.” Being brief and precise is great - and demanding!

OAT is as mentioned also a professional platform – an association that gathers a number of Norway’s architectural and urban development institutions. What is the value of such a professional platform?

– The cultural theorist Charles Landry says that building a living, vibrant city is something that must be done by working together. Many different perspectives and disciplines must be brought into play. To strengthen the capacity for both professional and interdisciplinary development, it is important to have platforms that gather people from different professions and backgrounds. For example, can we bring forth new knowledge and new solutions by connecting hands-on urban development with research, or cultural understanding with economic competencies? If we are to create more sustainable places – and that must be an ambition – we must get even better at learning from one another and across disciplines and sectors.

The number of architectural festivals in the world has increased. There are festivals in among other cities Venice, Chicago, London, Copenhagen, Lisbon, Istanbul, Tallinn, Tbilisi, Seoul and Shenzhen. The flourishing of festivals has led to a discussion of the role played by the architectural festival. Why do we need the Oslo Architecture Triennale?

– Even if there are good parties in other places, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t throw your own party. But the question is perhaps rather “Why does Oslo need a triennial?”. The architecture festivals are special meeting places where we can together lift our gazes and think our way out of where we stand in everyday life. That is a strength. At the same time biennials and triennials are changing. There is an interesting tendency for the festivals to intervene increasingly in their own contexts. How can Oslo Architecture Triennale take more responsibility, become more locally rooted and more concretely experimental in its own city? These are interesting questions to discuss, looking ahead.

Oslo is both the arena and a case study for OAT. What role do you think an architectural festival should have in relation to its host city?

– I think it’s interesting to think of the Triennale as a kind of laboratory for the issues that preoccupy Oslo. Can we connect local challenges in Oslo with experience and knowledge that are not usually activated? At this time of corona, we see even more clearly how place-bound we actually are. The Triennale can and should have local necessity, but still draw inspiration from relevant projects and people from around the world.

You have not started the job yet, but can you say anything more about what we can expect of the next Triennale in 2022?

– In the Nordic countries we have historically considered the public good, both in general and in the development of cities and places. As a Nordic event, we should build further on this foundation and explore what the next version of this ability to think in community terms can be. We must explore how we can actually act differently – in order to address the enormous task we face in bringing about a just, green transition. We must not be passivized by the size of the challenge. One ambition for me will be to remind ourselves that we are able and capable of taking action - as individuals and as a collective. We should get empowered by the Triennale so we can do things differently and better tomorrow.

Christian Pagh takes up the post as new director of Oslo Architecture Triennale on 1 January 2021.

Common Clearings

Christian Pagh has led a number of projects in Urgent.Agency, among others the roof installation «Common Clearings» at Center of Contemporary Art in Linz, Austria.