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Something old, something new – Risvollan Borettslag Administration Building


When Norwegian housing cooperative  Risvollan Borettslag took the decision to build a new administration building, they contacted the architects of  Pir II. The management and administration of the housing cooperative had been located in the centre of Risvollan, a suburb of Trondheim, since its establishment in 1970, and now they wanted a new building to house all their functions: administration, reception, workshops, garages, wellness services for residents and even their own TV channel. All of these had to be made easily accessible for all residents and staff.Risvollan Borettslag is the largest independent housing cooperative in Norway with 1113 apartments in eight residential districts covering around 500 hectares in total. 

Risvollan’s apartments are centrally located approximately 5 kilometres south of the centre of Trondheim. The cooperative was originally founded as the result of an architectural competition organised by the city. The competition was won by local architects Brantenberg and Hiorthøy. The Risvollan residential area comprises row houses and other low buildings with an apartment tower in the centre. The design of the district was inspired by Italian architecture with its narrow and inviting piazzas.

The Risvollan residential area comprises mostly low cube-like buildings that are typical of 1970s architecture. The size and location of  the new administration building were largely determined by geotechnical considerations and the undulating terrain. The site is centrally located in Risvollan and offers good views to the residential areas, the city and fjord of Trondheim to the north, as well as to the green valleys and slopes on the other side.

The shape and dimensions of the new administration building correspond to the original low building style in Risvollan. Instead of having painted wood panels, the façade of the new building differs from the original buildings. The dominant esthetic element both inside and outside of the building is concrete. Concrete combines the two identities of the building; on the one hand, the building serves as the representative head office of the cooperative, but on the other it is also a functional space for workshops. In the original assignment, the architects were asked to reflect these two very separate functions in the design of the building. In other words, it had to be both rugged and sophisticated.

“We looked into different materials that we could use to influence the aesthetic nature and identity of the building and decided to go with graphic concrete for the façade. Using graphic concrete allowed us to liven up the area. At the same time we were able to create a unique identity for the new administration building, surrounded as it is by relatively similar-looking buildings, while sticking firmly to the desired design language. Combining graphic concrete with sandwich element structures was both a sensible construction method and a great way to give the building a unique character, both inside and out,” says Inger Johanne Rushfeldt, the architect who oversaw the project.

“At the start of the project we considered many different construction and façade alternatives. Ultimately we wanted to have the administration building stand out from the wood-clad residential buildings while at the same time connecting them with the new building and the rest of the cooperative centre, so this led us to select graphic concrete for the façade,” Rushfeldt continues.

Pir II designed a repeating pattern for the graphic concrete that combines the architects’ own local experience regarding the area and its functions with the customer’s instructions. The pattern represents abstract machinery in the workshops, as well as natural elements from the Risvollan area. At the same time it reflects the purpose and status of the building.

“It was important to us that the pattern did not present actual pictures. We wanted the pattern to be very clear and identifiable when viewed up close. Although the pattern appears to be once continuous surface, viewed up close one can make out very clear details. In total the pattern comprises three different 3,2 by 6,4-metre images that comply with the size of the concrete elements,” Rushfeldt explains.

“The biggest challenge for us was to find the right scale for the pattern, as well as the right contrast between the aggregate and cement, in order to achieve the desired look. To do this we made numerous full-scale test castings before the actual production of the concrete elements. The end result is very sharp, and the dimensions of the pattern are exactly as we planned. The contrast is perhaps not as strong as we expected, but on the other hand this too suggests the contrast between what is new and modern and what is timeless,” Rushfeldt summarises.

“The entire process went very smoothly, both with the concrete element supplier Spenncon and with Graphic Concrete. Everyone did their utmost to achieve the best possible result. This is very important to us. We were able to give constructive feedback in both directions and try various alternatives in order to find the optimal concrete mix and scale for the pattern,” Rushfeldt tells us.

Risvollan borettslag seems to be equally satisfied with their impressive new administration building, as the building was pictured on the front page of the local newspaper "Rislappen".

Architects from Pir II involved in the project: Inger Johanne Rushfeldt, Ola Hoem, Bodil Aalberg, Tonje Bostad, Jens Johannessen and Christine Gjermo. 

Project information
Location: Asbjørn Øverås veg 1, Trondheim, Norway
Architect:  Pir II
Prefabrication:  Spenncon AS
Constructor:  Risvollan Borettslag
Construction year: 2015
Product: Unique repeating pattern

More information
Reference by Pir II