60 612 Sp(C)lash, let’s go swimming! - Envisioning Architectures of Water within Greater Oslo


Passed foundation level courses/ Bachelor, open to architecture master students and landscape master students.

Recommended prerequisite knowledge

CAD and Adobe Suite, GIS. Hand drawing. Interest in the intersections of landscape, architecture and urbanism and interdisciplinary work. Interest in actively engaging representation as a tool of design.

Course content

Oslo is a city of waters, situated within a territory of abundant water resources and histories, with reservoirs and rivers constituting vital arteries between Marka forest and the fjord seas. Green and blue - still, one may wonder, where are its architectures and landscapes of water?

Consciously, the question of the whereabouts of water architectures points to a discrepancy of current building practices and an ecologically and socially sound landscape-oriented formation of the city, or in other words, as formulated by Vittorio Gregotti in 1966, between architecture and the logic of the territory . The aim of the studio is to envision the future of the urban as a negotiated articulation of this incongruity. It will discuss the role of architecture and landscape within the relationship between the scales and frames of the ordinary and everyday, and the geographical and social territory, aiming for proposals to be part of the bigger picture to intensify meaning and quality of the very territory. This is an urgent need while the effects of climate change are becoming more present in everyday life as flooding . Here the architects and landscape architects have the capacity to inform the projects by ecological systems, social contexts, scientific information and mediate and develop a better interaction in the relation between the surroundings and the built up environment.

Oslo’s urban development is shaped by diverging forces, a part of them understanding the form of territory simply as a backdrop. A strand of this story is that Oslo’s waters have been pushed to the invisible realm of sunken infrastructure, at its time for good reasons, them being a carrier of pollutants during industrialization and later, with tap water, becoming a granted but black-boxed service of modern serviced living. Although today the municipality strives for the opening of its streams and rivulets, the underlying hydrological system is more likely to surface in unwanted accidents. Accelerated by climate change with its redistribution of water as heavy rains, an aging mixed-water sewage system and the increasing impermeable surfaces of urban growth, the city creates its own environmental problems. But not only, examining water flows casts a light on the social territory with its embedded policies of access and fragmentation. Sp(c)lash will be a mapping of flows and friction, collecting reports of “clashes”, and thus identifying the neutral points of intervention within the territory in question.

Through the looking glass.
To skill ourselves in reading territories and landscapes the studio will travel to another, unfamiliar, urban territory and mirror the developed concepts onto the Oslo territory.

The studio will imagine Greater Oslo as a territory constructed around its water flows and cycles. It searches for the utopian within and speculates on a radical counter image to what the city is today. How would the metropolitan area be structured, if the physical geography of water, its social use and adaptation to climate change had been the steering principle in its development and its architectures? This is an utopian endeavour - in its wider sense: both critical and forward-looking. From a reading of the territory as a whole, some architectures and developments will be dismissed and re-invented, others will emerge. As architects we will act as creative formalizers with the role of introducing figurative goals into the management of flows.

Let’s go swimming!
What seems to be an attitude of naivety, can be employed as an instrument promoting everyday life as a critical cultural practice. In foregrounding commonplace desires, the ordinary and the colloquial, design emerges without an obligation to architecture as it is usually known. Freed from spectacle, architectural locality may act as an agent of shifting balance between urban space and nature.

With the aim of re-positioning water flows towards a more fundamental role in projects and planning, and exploring how their routing can both be a structuring and a productive element within a socially conceived territory, the studio will explicitly envision architectures and a series of figures that act within, mark and organize the wider field of territorial flows while “giving meaning to the whole environment through its stronger characterization and definition”.

Learning outcomes

a. Knowledge:
The design research studio will provide students with the integrated and conceptual categories to address the complex, multi-layered and interrelated issues of urban, ecological and social sustainability from the intersecting perspective of urbanism, architecture and landscape design. A focus will be a hydrological perspective on design, the management of flows within a socially and economically biased context and the anchoring of architectural interventions within the scale of watersheds.

b. Skills:
Concretely, students will develop skills in the critical transformation of already built out urban areas under high development pressure from a landscape and hydrological perspective.
Students will train technical skills in representation as a critical tool, ranging from GIS to hand drawing and collage. Students will acquire methodological skills from the creation of interpretative maps and projective cartography, to precedent analysis and transfer, strategic scenario development, as well as proposition of concrete designs out of the strategic approach. This involves a multi-scalar ability to move fluently between the territorial, urban and architectural scales.

c. General competence:
The studio’s underlying thesis will encourage the rethinking of urban, social and environmental challenges as opportunities to develop liveable and just spaces. Students will develop an adequate professional vocabulary and communication skills.

Working and learning activities

The studio elaborates on multi-scalar design methods and approaches to support context-responsive, socially and ecologically committed urbanism and architecture in relation to already existing urban structures.

Individual and group work of the studio is organized around five phases:

“Atlas of Sp(C)lashes” - Mapping of, the one hand, different urban layers such as geology, hydrology, climatology, as well as urban structure, density, growth pattern, and social and economical structure on the territorial scale with GIS and, on the other hand, everyday usages and landscape reading through field work.

“Through the looking glass” - Research: Familiarization with precedent projects, notions of democratic space and productive water management techniques through input lectures and student presentations on tool boxes; off-site (travel requiring) workshop, comparative projecting.

“Hydropolis” - Scenario: Development of strategic transformation scenarios on an urban and territorial scale, based on urban precedents.

“Let’s go swimming” - Pilot project: Elaboration of the design strategies into individual architectural, public space and landscape proposals.

Communication: Visualization and “telling” the proposals to communicate to a broad audience. Production of a studio booklet that can serve as a tool to advance the discussion on water urbanism.

Work effort.
The building of a body of collective knowledge and the exchange of ideas are essential to the studio. All students are expected to work in the studio, not off-campus. Studio days are Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
All students will have a desk-crit of research or design-work at least once a week. New work to discuss is expected for each desk-crit.
Each phase of the studio work will conclude with a presentation or review. Presence and presenting at 80% of the presentation dates is mandatory to pass the course.

The studio is planning on building a topographical physical model of Greater Oslo; we will need the workshop for a week and technical support.

Professor in charge

Sabine Müller

Additional information

The studio is as a part of the Institute of Urbanism and Landscape’s strategy to promote a research and knowledge area on water and urbanism, which includes researchers Giambattista Zaccariotti and Elisabeth Sjödahl.

The studio will be correlated with the Landscape and Urbanism elective course. It is strongly recommended to attend this course.

The present research on water and urbanism will give inputs to the course and the elaborated works are intended to inform the ongoing research.

During the excursion week, the studio will travel abroad, to Mexico or Columbia for a workshop studying similar issues in a different social, climatic and geographical context. Due to incurring costs, participation is not mandatory, but highly recommended.


Assessment Date Duration Grade scale Oral examination
Vurderingsmappe Individual Pass / Fail

The work will be evaluated through oral and graphic presentations as well as digital hand-ins (moodle) at the end of each of the different studio phases. Final grade will be based on an assessment of all the hand-ins (portfolio assessment). Presence and presenting at 80% of the presentation dates is mandatory to pass the course.

Reading lists / teaching materials

A studio apparatus will be available at the library.

Sarté, Bry and Morana Stipisic. 2016. Water infrastructure Equitable Development of Resilient Systems. New York: Columbia GSAPP.

Gandy, Matthew. 2014. The fabric of space: water, modernity, and the urban imagination. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press.

Graham, Stephen, and Simon Marvin. 2001. Splintering urbanism: networked infrastructures, technological mobilities and the urban condition. London: Routledge

Gregotti, Vittorio.1985.Territory and architecture, in: Architectural Design Profile 59 no.5-6, pp28-34.

Gregotti, Vittorio.1993. Architecture, Environment, Nature, in Ockmann, Joan, 1993: Architecture Culture, New York, Rizzoli

Fainstein, Susan S. 2010. The just city. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Hals, Harald. 1929. Fra Christiania til Stor-Oslo: et forslag til generalplan for Oslo. Oslo: Aschehoug.

Hough, Michael. 2006. Cities and natural process: a basis for sustainability. London [u.a.]: Routledge.

Marsh, William M., and Jeff Dozier. 1981. Landscape, an introduction to physical geography. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley.

McGrath, Brian. 2013. Urban design ecologies. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley.

Mollison, B. C. 1988. Permaculture: a designer's manual. Tyalgum, Australia: Tagari Publications.

Saarinen, Eliel. 1943. The city, its growth, its decay, its future. New York: Reinhold Pub. Corp.

Spirn, Anne Whiston. 1998. The language of landscape. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press.

Stichting OASE (Netherlands). 2009. On territories = Over territoria. Rotterdam: NAi Uitgevers.

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