Ski Jump Architecture, Design: Rebecca Wober

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Architectural Launches

Architecture Discussion by Rebecca Wober – 16 Mar 2010

The art of Ski Jump Design + new architecture practice Alsop Sparch

Rebecca Wober
Rebecca Wober

So the new Holmenkollen ski slope in Oslo is complete. Just under two years ago an international competition was held for the slope enticing entries from 27 countries and JDS was selected. This will be the 18th time in history that a new ski slope at this spot has been heralded: it has been reinvented a laborious 18 times since the original slope was built in 1892. Such an enterprise brings to mind the eternal question posed by the archetypal flame passing from candle to candle. In this case we learn that the pursuit of greater and greater feats cannot be extinguished. Stay in Oslo for longer than a few days and you will probably find that Holmenkollen, a solitary ski slope on a forested hill above the capital, with its own train station, has real sense of place for Norwegians. Ski jumping and ski flying originated in Norway and the slope is visible for miles around pulling in more than a million visitors a year.

Holmenkollen Ski Jump, Oslo, Norway : JDS Architects
Holmenkollen Ski Jump
photograph © JDS

I was lucky enough to visit the slope in construction in November last year, encouraged by my hosts in Oslo, proud of their living heritage. Yes, the mere form of this ski jump itself has the wow factor, a virtuosic cantilever soaring out of a womb-like spectator arena. Paradoxically it is of course the static launch-point that reaches up dynamically in to the sky, whilst the accelerating curve propels the ski jumper downwards and out into the blue. This is a project that is bold and unashamedly of its time, stylistically strong and far greater in magnitude than anything that has gone before. From the visitor centre exhibition I remember a sort of graph plotting the sizes of the progressive slopes since the modest beginnings 1892, the curve accelerated steeply with the current jump, where will it end? It seems that the only limit on how far a human can fly is how he or she is projected from the ground.

Holmenkollen Ski Jump
photograph © JDS

Some years ago I watched a collection of Werner Herzog short films including “The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner”, a thoroughly fascinating documentary apparently about ski jumping. The subject of the film is a young Swiss carpenter, lanky; serious; taciturn. An astronomically gifted ski jumper he careers down the slopes and lands beyond the confines of the natural arena every time, totally annihilating all competition. The film speaks to me of natural aptitude, skill, and hard work. The fact that the slope itself is partly doing the work at Holmenkollen leads me to view it as a human prop, a vast prosthetic to the land. Surely Steiner was jumping from natural alpine slopes, not man made launching pads? But nature still conditions us: skiing is in the blood for the Scandinavians so this great step by JDS architects seems almost organic, a natural progression in scale and aesthetic.

Alsop Sparch : New Architecture Studio – Alsop Architects + Sparch
Shanghai Chandelier
photo : Johnson Xu

In stark contrast this week’s news also throws up the story that Alsop Sparch has been launched, another reinvention of the Alsop brand. My reading of this new union of the two practices is about globalization. We live in a world where Archial has seen the advantage in combining the UK based Alsop Architects studio in London with the network of Sparch offices in Asia and the Middle East to deliver projects as diverse as a mixed use high rise in Ho Chi Minh City and a pavilion for a Yorkshire cricket club. Given the current balance of global prosperity perhaps offices in China, Malaysia, Singapore and Abu Dhabi will fuel offices elsewhere. In stark contrast to the thoroughly Nordic Holmenkollen, Alsop Sparch consummates links between the UK and Asia effectively pooling creativity across the globe.

Rebecca Wober
Architect,
Studio DuB, Edinburgh

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