A walking tour of Høyanger
Høyanger is highlighted as a great example of city planning and town development from the 1900s, with several cultural historical and architectural qualities. The town development did have its negative sides, as Høyanger was long known for being an industrial town with a great class divide, which was visible in the city planning and the housing.
Previous to 1916, the town was called “Høyangsfjord”, and was a small village with approx. 120 inhabitants, who mainly survived on agriculture. The people lived on the farms of Øren and Sæbø along the waterfront, Hjetland, an area slightly higher up in the valley, Håland, a plateau above the village, and Dale, situated approx. 3 km further into the valley.
Towards the end of the 1800s, commercial agents started to buy the rights to hydropower in Norway. By using the waterfalls for hydropower, one could produce electricity to power industrial production, which then could create great income. This also happened in Høyanger. After a few years of acquisitions, resales and planning, the evolution towards the rise of the industry began. In 1914 an application was sumbitted for a planning permission for industrial development in Høyangsfjord, and after a hearing at the Parliament and the Department, a permit was finally granted in 1915. In the license requirements, zoning was demanded and the business would have to grant the workers housing and medical supervision.
In the license requirements it was mentioned, among other demands, that the developer was obligated “… to provide the workforce with healthy and proper housing, land to build own homes with roads, water, plumbing- and electrical lighting systems, land for an assembly hall, a co-operative or other trading opportunities or similar…”
13 November 1915 the company A/S Høyangfaldene, Norsk Aluminium Company, was established. 28 February 1916 six Swedes and two Norwegians came rowing up the Høyangsfjord to get to the construction work. Now the physical development could begin. Approx. a month later, 21 March 1916, a meeting between the local authorities and the leaders of A/S Høyangfaldene Norsk Aluminium Company was held. One of the cases discussed was future use of land in Høyanger, which would lay out important conditions for the coming development of the industrial town. It was not only a power plant and a factory that was to be built; housing for the work force was also needed. The company called this a town site. At the meeting a new name for the industrial town was discussed, and the name “Høyanger” was soon legislated by the authorities.
The ideas that the company had for the housing development can be read in the minutes from the meeting: «… it was the company’s purpose to create its future buildings of any kind so beautiful and fulfilling sanitary requirements, …”. The company aimed to create a harmonic and regulated industrial society, creating a “southern Norway style town between the Western Norwegian mountains”.
Even if Høyangsfjord in 1915 was a thriving agricultural village, it can still be claimed that the company started with a clean slate when it came to development. They owned the Øren farm, parts of Hjetland and Sæbø. The license agreement required them to create most of the infrastructure and to nurture the new industrial society. To develop this, the architectural firm Morgenstierne and Eide was hired to create the zoning, finalized in May 1917 in the shape of a zoning map. Up until the 1950s, Høyanger was developed from this plan, and it utilized architects along the way to plan and construct the use of the zones and draw several of the houses.
It took time to build Høyanger from scratch. The first part of construction in 1916-17 started down by the fjord, and one can claim that the industrial town developed slowly further into the valley. The development did not go as expected, due to a national and international shortage of Oxide in the 1920s, which was a crucial part of aluminum production. The company had financial issues, and was saved by re-financing foreign capital in January 1923. After this the company was called A/S Norsk Aluminium Company, or NACo for short. Not until now the town development began properly, and what we now know as Høyanger started to take shape.
Høyanger was planned by architects with international experience and merits. The development of Høyanger was completed with the contemporary international and national trends for social housing and urban planning in mind. One of the methods of development was the garden city principle. This was an idea born during the rise of the industrial era in 19th century England, where cities of chaos and working class areas with social and environmental issues were highly present due to poverty and social deprivation. Instead, one now strived to build garden cities with better technical and environmental solutions. The new garden cities were to create a more social, healthy and humane life for the workers. The goal was to ensure the working class a chance of social progress through access to education, culture and democracy.
In 1920, there were 953 inhabitants in Høyanger, and by 1930 it had grown to 2218, a growth of 1265 people. This was a period plagued by a large housing shortage, as the development and construction of housing could not keep up with the population growth. Another trait of this time was the social divide, with the working class on one side and the factory leaders and middle-class on the other. Most of the local farmers and the shopkeepers of the town were part of the latter.
The class divide mirrored the town development. The famous and now diseased head of broadcasting in Norway and politician, Einar Førde, who grew up in Høyanger in the 40s and 50s, said that “In the Høyanger I grew up in, the social divide was a characteristic of the reality in the housing areas. One could easily, if you knew where people lived, know their profession.”
1 Byporten, «The Town Gate»
The first years after the industry arrived in Høyanger, there were no roads into the town, and most people arrived by boat. In 1934 the road to Nordeide was opened. With a new road due, it was only right that Høyanger got a town gate and in 1933 it was finalized. The town gate originally housed eight worker’s apartments, four in each house. The gate is designed by engineer Carl Frederick Borch Kloumann. In 1990, the local government took over the property, and 7 years later Høyanger Industrial Museum was opened in one half of the building.
2 The Community Centre, Town Square and The People’s House
On the grounds where the Community Centre stands today, the People’s House once stood, built in 1917. The building was the assembly hall for the local workers and their union, and housed a cinema. The old People’s House was demolished in 1970 to be replaced by a more modern assembly hall for the locals. The new building, called the Community Centre, represented a modern Høyanger, and was opened in 1971. It was designed by Norwegian architect Olav Skjerve. In Festsalen, the main hall, artworks by Knut Ruhmor decorates the walls, lighting up the space with colorful abstractions with symbolism from nature and life in the Høyanger community.
The town square was renovated in 2001, where the workers monument «Him, Her and Water» by Kristian Blystad is featured. On the other side of the street, the old music pavilion is located, originally built in 1932, but restored in 2014.
3 «Own Homes», Hans Hygens gate, Hagegata and Tingsurdgata
The «Own Homes» area of Høyanger stretches from Hagegata to Hans Hygens gate and Tingsurdgata, and was developed between 1925 and 1927. The «Own Homes» movement was growing in Norway at this time, with the main focus being to provide the working class with their own homes and gardens. In Høyanger, the “Own Homes” principle was a key part of the NACo strategy to build a harmonic and well-regulated industrial society. NACo bought land that they could lease to others, was involved with the building process, and gave economical support to the project and funding for architectural sketches. It was a large investment for the worker families to build houses, and they often had to rent out some of the rooms to fund their own housing. Up to 16 people could be living in a house of only 49 square meters.
The invitation to build «Own Home» houses was first distributed in 1923 i Høyanger. The participants were workers at the plant and part of the lower administration at NACo, and thus the business secured stabile employees, and the new home owners got modern up-to-date housing according to the times. The contract tied the home owner closely to the company, as they owned the house, while the company owned the land. NACo required the home owner to rent out to workers from the plant, and could not sell the house to people working outside the plant. This meant that the home owners could not sell to their own children if they were not employed at the plant.
One of the people involved with developing Høyanger from the beginning was Nils Høvik. He was the resident gardener at the company from 1917. He has written down some of his experiences whilst working at the company; “Høyanger from stone and cree, to the small garden of today”
HIM/Nils Høvik, “Høyanger frå urd og stein..”
The people of Høyanger also needed electricity, and naturally NACo provided this – of course in style. Situated in Hagegata, the transformer kiosk provided electricity to the “Own Homes” housing and to larger parts of downtown Høyanger. There are several other kiosks around Høyanger, the one in Hagegata the only one left that has a tower. The inside has been modernized, but the tower itself is no longer in use.
Høyanger has at several occasions been portrayed as a Garden City. This was a deliberate strategy that was continued through the development of the town. In the mid 1920s, when the housing development was at its busiest, 15 landscape gardeners were employed by NACo to cultivate the gardens of the town. The company gave plants and seeds to the garden owners in Høyanger, sparking a competition of who owned the nicest gardens in the “Own Homes” housing district.
An important deliberate thought behind the «Own Homes» development was that if the workers had good housing, they would not be disobedient or rebellious. The workers living in the houses were considered a stable work force. “Own Homes” houses were constructed several places in Høyanger, all designed by architects, and there have been different architects at different times during the development. The first houses, built in 1924-25 were designed by Nicolai Beer.
4 The School
NACo was not only the force behind the housing development, they were also involved in other parts of society. The original school in Høyanger was too small and the town needed a new one. Høyanger School consists of two school building; the oldest, now the primary school, is from 1923, and the lower secondary school, from 1932.
The school building from 1923 was built by Kyrkjebø Kommune (Municipality) with economical support and drawings from NACo. The building was drawn by architect Kloumann and cost at the time 250 000 kr.
The largest school building was built from drawings by architect Einar Alvsaker, and construction begun in 1932. The first part included the school gym. The original cost was 240 000 kr. The building was expanded in 1947-48 according to the original drawings.
Høyanger Youth Society was founded in 1893. When Høyanger began its industrial era in 1916, the plans for a club house could finally be realized. Summer 1918 the Youth Society got a piece of land as a gift by two of the farmers at Hjetland. The same year the foundation for the house was in place, and winter 1921-22 the house was ready to be used; a celebration party was held on the 4th of February 1922.
By tradition, the house was given a properly Norwegian name: Valhall. In Norse mythology Valhall was the place where the fallen met after a battle, a paradise without pain and earthly troubles. When the house was to be decorated, it was only natural to stick with the Norwegian theme. In 1927 the famous theatre painter Rudolf Krogh painted a mural with national motifs, featuring imagery from the Norwegian Viking era.
Valhall became the meeting place for not only the Youth Society, as the original inhabitants of Høyanger also used the house for meetings and events. Soon, the administration from the plant and others from the locality began using the house as well, and utilizing it for meetings, theatre performances and community games. Valhall was also rented out to parties and larger events. In the divided Høyanger society, Valhall long functioned as a meeting place for the bourgeois.
During WW2, 1940-45 in Høyanger, Valhall was periodically used as storage and housing for German soldiers. When peace came, the soldiers had broken and stolen the entire interior, including a valuable stage curtain, decorated by Rudolf Krogh. They had used it for insolating their shoes. Luckily, the mural had not been harmed during this time.
After the war, the amount of activities by the youth club and in Valhall went back to normal. From the mid 1960s the amount of members and activities in Valhall were starting to decline, and were replaced by new activities. In the 1960s and 1970s, Valhall was a popular place to host public dance parties. The later years it has functioned as a rehearsal space for the active rock community in Høyanger. Valhall is still in use today as an arena for weddings, confirmations, birthdays and other private occasions. In this way it lives on as a lively and active meeting place and a culture house for the Høyanger community.
6 Nedre Sæbø, Lower Sæbø
The housing development in Høyanger was not only orchestrated by NACo. At Sæbø, a private housing development was started in the 1920s. NACo’s regulation guidelines also covered this area, but the company had less influence on the development here.
The land here was bought from the farmers at Sæbø, and the Kommune (Municipality) was an important contributor through economical support and through establishing infrastructure like streets, water and sewage. This was a housing area know as “private housing”, and the houses are generally larger than those of the “Own Homes” district.
In this district both the workers and the administration from the plant owned houses.
Here it was also possible for those not employed at the plant to acquire own homes. Most of the house owners rented out rooms to others as an extra source of income. The private housing development ended the housing crisis that was present in Høyanger after World War II. Now there were houses being built further up at Upper Sæbø, at Hjetland, up the hill towards Håland and at Dale.
7 The Rose Garden
Høyanger was known as the garden city, where the plant owner NACo during their time was in charge of the city scape looking beautiful. They had gardeners constantly working to keep it looking good, but in the later years the plant owners mainly focused on the factory itself. Today Høyanger Municipality is in charge of running several of the smaller garden- and park areas of the town. The Rose Garden was founded in the 1990s, after the house that was originally situated there was demolished. Another important part of the city scape is the artworks, mainly sculptures that are placed around the town. In the Rose Garden we can find “Dancer” by Per Hurum from 1995.
8 Høyanger church
The arrival of the church came late to Høyanger. Originally Kyrkjebø was the local church for the town. As Høyanger grew, the need for a more local church grew as well, and in the original regulation plans, the church was drawn in. The first concrete plans came in 1923 from the administration of NACo, but it would take time until it was finally finalized. Up until it was finished, alternative means were used instead, and different locations in Høyanger was used. In 1929 the newly built chapel was inaugurated as a temporary church.
For a period of time there were debates on where the church should be located. In the original city plan, the church was drawn in further down at Sæbø. There were talks on building the church up in “Høgebakkane”. When the road to Håland was finished in 1929, the road up the church was constructed to be one meter wider than the rest of the road up to Håland, but the church was still not built here. In the 1930s the plans for a church situated where the current church is located, were developed, and in 1938 the foundation work for an octagon shaped church was begun. This came to a sudden stop as the war arrived.
After the war, the planning for the church re-started, but it was still going to take some time. On 11 September 1960 Høyanger Church was inaugurated. The church was a gift from NACo, and was designed by architect Arnstein Arneberg.
An old tale says that the mountain Stopulen, across the fjord from Høyanger, would fall down the first time the church bells would ring in Høyanger, thus creating a tsunami that would swallow the whole town. It has been told that when the occasion arrived, several people walked up the hills to Håland. The occasion passed without issues – Stopulen is still standing, as well as Høyanger itself.
As previously mentioned, the church in Høyanger took a long time to be finished. While it was part of the first development plan, other needs like housing, came before it, in addition to the new school and hospital that was needed by the community. NACo was the developer, but also another group played a large part in developing the town in a community-friendly direction – the organized workers’ union. The union has been highly visible and vocal through the last century, and from the mid 1920s, the Labour party and the Communist Party had majority in the municipal council.
Gamle Sæbøtangen has a special place in Høyanger’s history. This was the most distinct working class district. The area has been perceived and portrayed in different ways; through old photographs one can easy get the impression of an idyllic life with housing close to the fjord. This was a home for many, both short and long term, and many have good memories of this time. On the other side, this area was also seen as a slum quarter in some contexts, an area associated with poor standard of living and social issues. The kids that did not grow up there were frightened of the area, and would walk around and not through it. In the class divided industrial community, Sæbøtangen was seen as the part of Høyanger with the lowest social status.
It was NACo that, from 1916, developed most of the area of Sæbøtangen. Here there was housing for rent for the workers in “Murgården”, the brick house, built in 1916. Sæbøtangen was the haunt for many of the single men, or the bachelors as they were called, in Høyanger, frequenting the People’s Kitchen, built in 1916. In 1937 NACo developed own housing for the bachelors, with the Bachelor House, which is the only remaining building left of what was known as Sæbøtang Complex.
This was housing for the workers at NACo. Additionally, the company had both “Own Homes” housing and a house for administration workers developed in 1928. In addition to this, there were private development in Sæbøtangen, with both housing and businesses. In the 1920s and 30s Sæbøtangen developed into a small, but distinct district, and those who grew up here at that time tells stories of a lively community.
While some stayed permanently in Sæbøtangen, most people stayed temporarily in the houses for rent at Sæbøtangen, often just waiting for something better, usually finding a new home through NACo in Parken or in “Own Homes”. Some even built own houses. Through both temporary and permanent residents in Sæbøtangen through the years, a lot of people have come and gone through the district.
In the 1970s and 80s, most of the old Sæbøtangen Complex was demolished. The only building left is the Bachelor House. This house has been renovated several times, once after a fire, and no longer functions as housing for bachelors only. The old Sæbøtangen, especially Murgården, is a symbol to many of a part of Høyanger that was lost. This was where the first generations of industrial workers and their families met the worker’s culture, and the area that developed into the most distinct and typical working class neighborhood in Høyanger.
10 Parken, “The Park”
The houses in Parken were developed by NACo and are designed by architect Nicolai Beer. The area was developed between 1916 and 1928. The brick houses in Kloumanns Allè were all built in 1916-17. The most central building is the Director’s House, with housing for local administration in the buildings surrounding the house. In addition there were two other brick houses built in Storgata. In 1924, ten additional wooden houses were constructed for workers, housing four flats each and thus four families. The last building constructed was Messa, the Hall, also wooden. Messa was an assembly hall and the official residence of the administration at NACo, with housing for the engineers on either side of the building.
The river and the wooden fence marks the old class divide in Høyanger; on one side, at the end facing the fjord, most of the administration and the director of the factory had their houses, and on the other side there were housing for the workers. On the other side of the river, the distinctly working class district of Sæbøtangen was located. Up until 1971 there was a bridge across the river from Sæbøtangen, which lead the workers through Kloumanns Allè and to the factory gates.
During NACo’s time in Høyanger, the houses in Parken were owned by the company, and many of the houses were rented out to families. This continued into the period when ÅSV ran the factory between 1967 and 1986. After Hydro took over in 1986, Parken entered a new era. Parken was now seen as a wholesome housing environment, and was highlighted as an area to protect. The Director of Cultural Heritage found that Parken had architectural, scenic and cultural historical values that should be preserved. On the 7th of December 1989, the building society took over the ownership of the upper part of Kloumanns Allè, while the factory kept those of the lower part. In November 1993 the Director of Cultural Heritage declared Parken listed as a protected site.
In the mid-1990s, most of the houses were renovated, and remodeled from housing four to housing two and three flats. Some were also refurbished as single household buildings. In the later years, Hydro has sold several of the houses facing the fjord, leaving only the old Director’s House and Messa with its residences in their possession.
Anna Underdal, who was married to the farmer of the Øyra (Øren) Farm in 1899, had this house moved from her home village of Underdal to Høyangsfjord, thus the house often being called “Underdalshuset”. From 1916 the houses was used as a company hospital with seven hospital beds up until the new hospital was finished in 1934. Later the old hospital was sold to Høyanger Health Association.
In the original development plan by Morgenstiern and Eide from 1917, the old factory gates were the focus of the town. The docks, with the old gate into the plant, was for a long time a famous meeting spot in the old Høyanger. The administration building of the factory still resides here. The workers walked through these gates every day, and for those coming from Bergen by boat before the road was opened, the boat docked next to the gates. When the road opened and people started arriving by buss, the main stop was still down by the docks. This highlighted the importance of the factory for the town, showing off both the buildings and the view. The administration building by the docks was built in 1916-17, and the gates in 1924. Both were designed by Nicolai Beer.
After the new factory gate was opened, and the Høyanger Tunnel towards Balestrand was opened in the early 1980s, the center of attention in Høyanger has been turned to the Town Gate and the Town Square.
Storgata runs from the docks and all the way up the school, and follows the original village road that was here before 1916. Along the street, there were several important public services and community establishments. The post office, telegraph office and shops of different kinds that belong in a modern society were located here.
12 Sjukehuset, The Hospital
The new hospital in Høyanger was finished in 1934, was developed with funds granted by NACo, and ran by Kyrkjebø Municipality. The architect behind the building was Rolf Sande. Housing up to 40 patients, the daily running of the hospital was in 1948 left to the county. The hospital was closed in 1982 after a long battle with the community and local government. The old hospital building is owned by Høyanger Municipality, and has been completely refurbished, becoming a part of a larger municipal health and care facility.
13 The Town Hall and the commercial quarter
The town hall in Høyanger was originally built in 1956, and was designed by architect Johan Lindstrøm. After the millennia, the building started to get outdated, and a demand for a more modern work environment was evident. A renovation of the building was decided, giving the building a new brick façade and a new floor, today housing the canteen and providing a view of the fjord and mountains for those using it. The renovated town hall was finished in March 2015.
Høyanger once had several shops and was an important trade center for the whole area. The old commercial quarter was mainly built in the 1930s. During the 1970s, 80s and 90s, it gradually was replaced by more modern buildings.
The well-regulated Høyanger
In 1940, NACo in Høyanger was Norway’s largest producer of aluminum, and Høyanger was portrayed as an ideal town in Norway. The company’s vision of creating a harmonic and well-regulated industrial society had in many ways been realized.
“Høyanger is probably one of the youngest modern places, and without compare the most beautiful” (Arbeiderbladet, 1939)
«…there’s a plan behind everything in Høyanger. The streets are perfect, but never boring; townhouses are superseded by a group of villas arranged around a small garden with a fountain in the middle. Order and planning everywhere, but also variation and beauty… It’s an incredible town.” (Morgenbladet, 1937)
Fodors Guide to Scandinavia from 1966 went as far as calling Høyanger one of the best planned and most beautiful industrial towns in the world.
Høyanger is not alone in having this kind of vernacular architecture. This way of developing housing and an industrial community can be found other places in Norway and in the rest of the world. The garden city principle had its roots in England and Germany, where one easily realized the negative sides to the industrial revolution. In Norway you kan find similar vernacular architecture, with for example “Own Homes”, in Oslo and in industrial towns like Rjukan, Tyssedal and Ålvik. Still, Høyanger is possibly the most thorough and well-completed industrial community that has been created.
It was NACo that developed the well-regulated town centre in Høyanger from 1916 until the company was brought into the ÅSV-group from 1967. ÅSV managed the town into a newera, where the new idea was “New and better is needed”. This lead to parts of the oldest buildings being demolished. The old rentable households were no longer up to the standard they should, and the old brick houses were replaced with new and modern wooden houses. ÅSV also represented a new housing politics – they no longer wanted to provide rentable household for their employees. When they took over from NACo, they had 170-180 flats and houses for rent, but this was reduced during the ÅSV time. After Hydro took over in 1986, the housing politics with service- and rentable homes was entirely abandoned. In 2015, Hydro is left only with the Director’s House and Messa, with its associated residences.
The old commercial district in the center of town also had to give way to the new era, and more functional and contemporary buildings were built. This process started in 1970 and continues to this day. The first building that was modernized was the Community Center from 1917, which was replaced with a new and modern center in 1971. The newest renovation was the Town Hall, which originally from 1956, which was updated in 2015.
While some of the original buildings are gone, the basic structure of the well-regulated town center with the distinct streetscape and houses is still intact. Parken is listed as a world heritage site, the town gates and the “Own Homes” are still features of the town center. People still live in most of the old houses and the town center is thus a thriving and lively area. At Hjetland, the school and Valhall are still important monuments of the past and present of the town. The old factory gate and the administration building mark the old entrance to Høyanger.
I Høyanger, the physical class divide was a direct result from NACo’s own housing politics, where people were housed after the employment status of the father of the house. This has slowly diminished from the 1960s onwards. Still, the old division of the classes is still at the back of the minds of the people that grew up here during that time, yet Høyanger has developed according to the times alongside the rest of the Norwegian society, and has partially found new ways and markers to follow.
Architect Arild Wåge, who at the end of the 1990s completed an analysis of the industrial town, describes Høyanger as a corner stone in town planning and city-building of the 20th century. Høyanger is still a lively industrial society, where the streets and houses are still telling the story of the town that developed between the mountains and the fjord.
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