The Adaptation of Alleyways Part 5: Bergen / Dream Alone, Wake Together

Bergen is ethereal. It seems to be this little paradise that has thrived under incredible conditions. *Note that the above photo is of an island within the fjords and is not Bergen.

A place steeped in history. A place with a midnight sun. A place where sleep seems ever fleeting. Bergen is a place that knows no time. If dropped in randomly, I would have a hard time identifying whether it were eight in the morning or eight at night. Bergen rains a lot, is expensive as hell, and requires its citizens to be highly adaptable. So who can bear to live in this place? A different breed; and though they all dream alone (whenever the sun permits them to), they all wake together in this most wondrous, timeless place. 

Skostredet was many things. Many of these many things were fascinating. 

What Makes Skostredet So Successful?

1. Art - This is an artist's alleyway. Artist studios lined the space. Walls without art were less common than wills with art. This made the alleyway a kind of linear gallery, but one that was democratic in allowing the users & inhabitants to continue to develop its identity. 

2. Size - Because this 'alleyway' used to be a usable street, but was then developed in a way so that no vehicular traffic were allowed, I might be stretching the game out for myself with the example. But(!) I still believe that its adaptation from a simple vehicular sidestreet to an alleyway haven for local artists is certainly something to take note of. With the ambiguity of alleyways being questioned frequently, I figured that more than anything the principles must prevail. One of the principles of Skostredet that is working is its width. There is plenty of room for artists to stretch out, place examples in the street, and engage passerbyers as a result. 

3. Dichotomy/Multi-Use - This place upon first glance makes no sense at all. There is a famous high end fashion designer next to a second hand thrift store. A beatnik cafe next to an old school American diner. A grungy photography studio next to a fine oil painting gallery. Graffiti all over a decaying industrial building next to a beautiful chapel. I am not sure if it is by an act of Odin, but it all works beautifully together. People coexist, the space is beautiful in an authentic sense, and it is impossible to be bored while walking through Skostredet. 

4. Ownership - This point goes hand in hand with point three above. Though these are widely variant types of businesses, there is a collective interest and ownership of the space. Every store owner I spoke to made a point about how proud they were to be in the alleyway. This area is less heralded than others in others in Bergen, but that does not mean that the locals don't have great pride in what is created there. 

5. Cutouts - Again, we are seeing that allowing for some 'breathing room' within the alleyway is incredibly beneficial. By not simply making the space a long narrow passage, you are encouraging users to break off and stay for a while. This is displayed expertly by the raised turf grass area, as well as the additional seating patios in front of many of the businesses. 

One of the most influential precedents in why I wanted to come to Scandinavia was Bryggen in Bergen. Bryggen is a hark back to the olden days in Bergen, when many of the buildings were built out of wood. Due to many fires, only portions of Bryggen still remain from the original structures of 1702. What caught my attention to Bryggen so much, were the beautiful and quirky wooden alleyways. With a material that is highly uncommon, adjacent architecture that wistfully asserts itself in and out, and colors that liven up the space, it is no wonder that Bryggen is now on the register for World Heritage sites.  


*Video walkthrough to follow! Still uploading to Vimeo. Until then...enjoy this Iowa cow in Norway. 

News and Notes

  • One of the people on Skostredet renting out a studio space was an older photographer. His space was completely gutted, minus a camera on a tripod, a spotlight, and a wall of photos. He was a guy who has had a difficult time making it, due to health problems and issues of the past, but was now doing a photography project that he took great pride in. It involved photographing people that walked through Skostredet against the same brick background. As he would desaturate and unify the photos, it became increasingly difficult to differentiate much between people...until the photographer was able to ramble off each and every person's story. He was very proud to say that the local newspaper would be interviewing the following day.
  • I got a tip from a person whom I met in Oslo's father about where the best alleyways in town were. He did not disappoint. If it weren't for the incredible Skostredet and Bryggen, a place called Rosegrenden likely would have cracked the blog. The people of Bergen refer to alleyways as 'smau' or 'smug', and are simply proud of their small street culture. 
  • Yesterday was my first day in Paris...holy geesh. It is so massive, and so beautiful. I'm one part overwhelmed (especially after quaint little Bergen) and one part fascinated beyond compare. This place is real, and it is more than just the Eiffel Tower. *The alleyways/passages rock too!
  • I am currently listening to....Young Dreams. A sunny band like this is necessary in the rainy Bergen. Locals of the west coast port town, these guys can't help but get stuck in your head (day and night).