This Bizarre 'Floating' Artist House Has Some Furious – and Here's Why

Rendering courtesy of Snøhetta
Rendering courtesy of Snøhetta
Photo of Amber C. Snider
Home & Design Editor20 February 2018

The controversial Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard has commissioned Snøhetta, one of world’s most prominent architecture firms, to transform his triangular hand-sketched drawings into an bizarrely cerebral house on a forested patch of land in Oslo. But it’s not just any house. And it’s not just any patch of woods. It’s “A House To Die In”.

Melgaard has a notoriously outlandish reputation. For context, let’s name a few times his work made headlines (for all the wrong reasons). For one performance piece called AIDS Roulette, he allegedly gathered six gay men, one of whom was HIV positive, and had unprotected intercourse at random—you know, roulette style. Another time he was accused of pedophilia for an exhibition entitled Gym Queens Deserve to Die at Oslo’s Munch Museum, which led to a criminal investigation. Most recently, he “disrupted” New York Fashion Week by giving away nearly 500,000 worth of clothes (including sweatshirts bearing the phrases “KILL A CHILD” and “I hate Rihanna”).

He’s known for his erratic behavior, obsessive drug use, and, as it turns out, he really wants Edvard Munch’s old land for his new digs. (You know, the artist who painted The Scream?) It’s a complete surprise then that the firm behind some of the world’s most visited and famous sites, including the reconstruction of Times Square and the September 11 Museum, is behind the design for Melgaard’s private abode.

Renderings courtesy of Snøhetta

Snøhetta got on board with the project shortly after 2011, designing 3D models of the sculptural residence using Melgaard’s hand-sketched drawings. The surrealist project was originally conceived, however, with property developers Olav and Frederik Selvaag, who have a “long tradition of supporting Norwegian artists.” They also happened to own Kikkut, the site of Edvard Munch’s former villa and atelier. The brothers suggested Kikkut as a “good location for the Melgaard house,” which is located on the west side of Oslo, and saw the project as a “good opportunity to realize an ambitious art project on behalf of an artist they have followed for a long time.”

But many in the art world are concerned not only about the placement of the house, but the fact that Melgaard himself will be living there. The property is already in close proximity to an art colony named Ekely, but nothing has been built on the land since Munch’s former home was demolished in 1989. The New York Times called the design a “crystalline UFO,” but the structure will actually be clad with a black burned oak, inspired by Japanese building traditions, that will decay and erode naturally, changing its coloration and character over time.

Renderings courtesy of Snøhetta

The entire structure will be held up by white animal sculptures and suspended over a “shallow water pond” to create the illusion of a floating building, says Snøhetta. “The ambition is to imagine what hides ‘behind’ the drawings, to interpret which three-dimensional forms could be found behind the physical piece of paper. With digital tools, the 3D models are shaped like a sculpture. The exercise of successfully translating art into architecture has officially begun,” the firm said in a statement.

The structure’s unusual geometric façade will hide a multi-use domestic interior space, where a dining room also contains a swimming pool, and a spa also functions as a workspace. The blending or merging of these interior spaces are, according to Snøhetta, a “direct symbol of how conventions are prevented from influencing the building’s usage or design.” The disjunction of interior and exterior norms mirrors Melgaard’s irreverence for convention. It’s also the first time the artist’s work is expressed as an architectural space.

As for the haunting name (it is called a “House To Die In” after all) Melgaard told the NYT the following: “Nothing continues forever, so I was interested in the notion that you can have a house to die in, where you say, ‘It’s my end station.’ ” Inspired by “the homes of drug lords, like the poppy palaces of Afghan opium barons,” it seems Norway’s enfant terrible (aka resident bad boy) may get his wish – that is, if it’s approved by both the Directorate for Cultural Heritage and City Council in Norway.

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