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40 630 Universals IX - Civic Theater

Full course name in Norwegian Bokmål: 
Universals IX - Civic Theater
Course code: 
40 630
Level of study: 
Teaching semester: 
2020 Spring
Assessment semester: 
2020 Spring
Language of instruction: 
Maximum number of students: 
Person in charge
Espen Vatn
Required prerequisite knowledge

Passet base education

Course content

The ninth iteration of Universals will concern itself with the relationship of theatricality and literalism in architecture through the design of a small theatre building in Norway. As a way into an architecture that is imaginative, yet direct and rational, we will begin with a study of the national romantic modernism of Bjercke & Eliassen (1914-1960). 


Universals series


The studio series Universal Architecture seeks to develop projects with qualities which goes beyond the singular condition. The studio series seeks to develop projects which can address larger cultural issues and be meaningful in society, working from within the discipline of architecture. 


One can say Architecture emerged as a discipline in the Renaissance, the moment it established a critical relationship to the past. The studio aims to establish such critical relationships to the past, and precedents are an important part of the studio series. Every studio begins with a critical evaluation and understanding of a precedent, either as something to learn from or an opportunity to make an oppositional argument. The role of the precedents in the studios are not that of a celebratory, canonical linear study of preceding architecture, but the buildings studied are seen as cultural artefacts from the history of architecture.


The studio series rejects metaphoric architecture, and sees it as a discipline with history, theory, layered embedded intelligence in built artefacts and practical inherited knowledge with the capacity to provide universal qualities. 


Universal IX - Civic Theater - 

Brede seil over Nordsjø går


Brede seil over Nordsjø går;

høyt på skansen i morgnen står

Erling Skjalgsson fra Sole, —

speider over hav mot Danmark:

«Kommer ikke Olav Trygvason?»


From Olav Trygvason by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, 1861


This years iteration of Universals will focus on the theater as a type, and work on developing the relationship of the internal collective spaces and the theatre in the city with its adjoining public spaces. 


The design of a theatre will bring to the forefront a discussion about the relationship of form and content. What is an architecture can absorb such a wide array of changes and new imaginaries? Perhaps an architecture which serves as a frame that has tolerance for change and conversion is an answer. 


The studio will also be concerned with the theatrics and choreography of construction, thinking of the building of the building as a process which holds the potential to be significant in the final result. 


This is also relevant in a bigger societal discussion about architecture, where the neoliberal economy has broken down the relationship between form and content, as projects are planned and built with an unstable future where the twists and turns of global economy render an accurate projection of occupation difficult. In this world of speculation and rapid transformability, there is a potential for shifting the focus of architecture away from symbolic image making and into a literal domain: Building is just building and the structural frame, details, materials and manufacturing is the architecture which allows for contemporary life to unfold.


The sites will be defined by the individual students interest and research, but should be limited to Norway. 


Precedent studies


The starting point of the studio will be a collective research into Bjercke og Eliassen´s public works across Norway in breaking point between national romanticism and modernity. The work of Bjercke Eliassen may provide new insights into our search for universal qualities in architecture, in the gravitas, the heroism, and melancholy in their work. 




Throughout the semester participants can expect exercises with pin-ups every two or three weeks, working individually. Students are expected to work in the studio and to be active participants in the collaborative studio environment. Sharing knowledge, techniques, and ideas with your fellow students is incredibly important to your own creative development and to your success in this studio. 

Active participation in reviews, class meetings and lectures is an integral part of gaining a deeper knowledge of the subject matter and is strongly encouraged. 


Failure to attend and meet requirements at midterm and final review will lead to course failure, and is only excused with a doctors notice. 


There will be one project task throughout the semester. The final project delivery consists of complete drawing set, models, descriptive text and presentation. The final evaluation will be based on the overall quality of project and development throughout the semester. The students will also be evaluated on the quality of the models and the clarity and communication of the architectural drawings and argument. 

Learning outcome

After successful completion of the semester students can expect to have designed a small to medium sized building down to relative detail (1:20 / 1:10). Students can expect to work on and develop ideas on what a public building should and could be today, and manifest such ideas in the structure of the building. 

Working and learning activities



The questions the studio raises will be addresses from within the discipline of architecture by working with form, notation, material qualities and construction. 

We will work on structural systems, architectural elements, technical installations and address the civic dimension of the projects. In addition to the development of a design proposal, the studio will deal with the historical and literary dimension of architecture through a parallel study of selected texts and films and conversations with guests. 

Students will be encouraged to write throughout the entire semester to formulate precise theoretical positions. 


Syllabus with excerpts from these and other books: 


  • Lawrence Wallen and Thea Brejzek, The Model as Performance: Staging Space in Theatre and Architecture


  • Aldo Rossi, Architecture of the City


  • Mark Linder, Nothing Less Than Literal

Form of assessmentGroupingGrading scaleComment
Project assignmentIndividualPass / fail
Form of assessment:Project assignment
Grading scale:Pass / fail