The Nobel Foundation is the living proof that an institution doesn’t need a building to rise to prominence. Despite early ambitions, throughout its existence – more than a hundred years – The Nobel Foundation has thrived without its own building. Most of its components have survived in a state of improvisation, essentially ‘squatting’ in various part of the town, in ‘borrowed buildings’… In terms of its own necessity, a new, purpose built Nobel Center faces a considerable burden of proof.
“Ever since the inception of the Nobel Prize, a building where the Nobel Prize, the Nobel Laureates and their achievements can be presented to the general public has been envisioned…”
As an added challenge, the Nobel Center needs to be an open, public building showcasing the accomplishments of Nobel and its Laureates, yet one day a year, it must accommodate an exclusive, prescribed and prestigious ceremony and its audience. The Nobel Foundation is an institution, but most people only know of the Nobel Prize. Its most prominent manifestation – the award ceremony, taking place once a year on December 10th – is also the use of the Nobel Center which is most limited in time. Clearly a building for the Nobel Prize must highlight this event, but perhaps its most important task is actually to cater to – and even to flourish in – its absence.
On the Nobel Center’s pristine site in Blasieholmen, we propose a small “castle” which brings together in one place the fiefdoms of the Nobel Foundations that were separate. The program for the Nobel Center is accommodated by a pair of buildings, one which reflects the past, and one which projects the innovation that characterizes the achievements of the Laureates themselves. That which is inevitably the building’s most important space – the stage upon which the ceremony takes place – is situated in a central void, and the Ceremonial setting can appear, disappear and reappear as needed. Whenever not in use, the setting of the ceremony becomes part of the Nobel Center’s day to day affairs: a central shared space between (and thus a manifestation of) the buildings other functions: Museum, Event Space, Conference centre, work place… the building’s volumes still have the possibility of autonomy for privacy, focus, and day-to-day use, but when needed, can be united through the central shared void, and used simultaneously.
“The Nobel Center’s mission promotes creativity and new thinking, thereby contributing to finding solutions to the major challenges of our time and our future.”
As the Nobel Center is, first and foremost, the consolidation of the Nobel Foundation’s ongoing activities, the building should not compromise the efficiency which has already been established. To ensure this, the building is a hybrid of standard building typologies: each of the buildings primary components – museum, library, auditorium, offices, and conference center – are defined by their own optimal shape and, apart from being accessible from the building’s main entrance, are also accessible independently.
The southernmost volume – a pentagon in plan – houses the majority of the Exhibition program. On the ground floor there is a public restaurant, which has an outdoor space in an ideal location adjacent to the water. Both the exhibition and the restaurant’s outdoor spaces are in close proximity to the National Museum on the end of the peninsula, encouraging communication and possibly even the shared use of these facilities.
The round auditorium, located to ‘the back of the site’ contains 1000 seats. The central room of the building is equipped with 400 retractable seats. An acoustic curtain between the two allows for separate use on the days they will be used simultaneously. On the day of the Ceremony, this curtain is opened so the two auditoriums can be used as a single space with 1400 seats.
A cantilevered volume holds the conference rooms, with prime views of the water. The conference center’s cores are shared with the office, which inhabits the three top floors of the building, since the offices are the least public component of the building’s program.
On the Waterfront, where the site extends beyond the boundary of the key wall, a drawbridge-like element “pops out” in the week of the ceremony, creating a new (partially conditioned) space that could receive the guests on the cold Ceremony evening. This drawbridge-like element also allows the building to open itself to the city, enabling the city to become the backdrop to the ceremony. Conversely, the city is allowed ‘a view in’ from across the water as the building reveals it full depth, turning its most intimate occurrence into its most public manifestation.
The Customs House on the North part of the site is preserved to house the Archive, Library, Reading Room, and Education facilities. Partially climate controlled, it represents the archival collection of Alfred Nobel and the Laureates which are sensitive to light or over-exposure. Locating part of the program in the Customs House also allows for a further reduction in size of the main building. The Customs House facade will be restored to its historic state.
The building’s most specific function – the setting for the Nobel Ceremony – is also its most flexible component, taking the form of a 25m x 25m room in the centre of the building that can be allocated to each of the buildings functions, allowing the building to assume different configurations at different times and creating hybrid mixtures of activities. This central room accommodates a number of different configurations in its stationary position. These multiple configurations also allow the consolidation of the required program, resulting in a building much smaller than the total amount of square meters prescribed by the brief.
The stage itself also remains in place 365 days out of the year; although not always in use, it becomes a feature to be enjoyed by visitors.