It's the attraction that everyone's been waiting for. Ever since the long-established Viking Ship Museum on Oslo's waterfront closed to the public in 2022, anticipation has been building for its successor: the Museum of the Viking Age

Norway's cultural heritage 

Delayed by a year and debated for two decades, the transformation of the Viking Ship Museum has involved one of the greatest engineering challenges of modern times. 

The reason? The museum houses the world's most valuable collection from the Viking Age, notably the oldest and best-preserved Viking ships, the Oseberg, the Gokstad, and the Tune. 

This means it contains Norway's most significant contribution to the world's cultural heritage. 

With the museum's coming expansion and remodeling, it will be further elevated from a national museum to a leading international knowledge center for the dissemination of knowledge about the Viking era. 

Architects have designed the museum's interior to facilitate a flowing, narrative journey through the Viking Age, guiding visitors through thematic zones that illuminate various aspects of Viking life. Source: AART architects

The new design 

The museum has just released images of how the permanent exhibition at the new facility will look. 

The completion of the design for the permanent exhibitions is a huge milestone for the project. 

The world's best-preserved Viking ships and approximately 5,500 other treasures from the Viking Age will be housed in new, spectacular surroundings, scheduled to open by 2027. 

Architectural firm AART was established in Aarhus, Denmark, in 2000 and has since opened offices in Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm. 

In 2018, it acquired Norwegian architectural firm SJ Arkitekter to strengthen and develop its position in the Norwegian market. 

Now with a staff of 300 employees – architects, landscape architects, construction engineers, anthropologists, economists and civil engineers – AART is one of Scandinavia's leading independent architectural firms.

As AART sees it, "The expansion project fulfils the vision of elevating Norway's cultural heritage and adding a new dimension to visiting the museum." 

"To achieve that goal, a circle-shaped building, with roof and façade clad in locally extracted Norwegian slade, will be added to the existing museum, designed by Arnstein Arneberg in 1926, thereby uniting the new with the old in a clear, distinctive concept." 

"The existing, cross-shaped building will take a prominent position in the unified building by simultaneously being the beginning and the end of the visit." 

"Drawing a circle around the museum will open it up to its surroundings and create an inner courtyard, while also creating an iconic signature for the museum and thereby providing new opportunities to attract visitors." 

"In fact, the project, once completed, is expected to double the visitor count to over one million per year." 

The relocation and preservation of the Viking ships within the museum has been heralded as an engineering marvel, involving meticulous planning and cutting-edge technology to protect these priceless artifacts. Source: RAA

A sunny afternoon in 834 

The existing building is linked to the new one by a glass extension. 

This is not just an elegant architectural solution; it also enables the exhibition designers to emphasize the concept that visitors can stand under the open sky in daylight before being transported into another world – specifically, a late summer afternoon in Oseberg in the year 834. 

Perhaps taking inspiration from JORVIK, the pioneering interactive museum in York that first introduced the concept of experiencing a day in Coppergate on a late October afternoon in 948, the new Museum of the Viking Age has both broadened and refined its focus. It now offers visitors a clear timeline to enhance their experience. 

This also, of course, gives designers the kind of challenges that those who built the original Viking Ship Museum a century ago could not have even dreamed of. 

According to the museum: "The new Museum of the Viking Age will be three times as large as the current Viking Ship Museum." 

"In total, it will comprise approximately 13,000 square meters, of which around 9,000 square meters is for visitors, including 5,500 square meters for exhibits." 

Plans for the museum also include a dedicated area for schoolchildren, a laboratory with public access, and a research center aimed at fostering a deeper understanding of the Viking Age. Source: RAA

"In addition to a tripling the exhibition area, the new museum facility will include a restaurant, lecture hall, museum shop, museum park, a separate area for visiting schoolchildren, a laboratory with access for the public, and a research center." 

"Archeologists and a multitude of other staff are working together to find innovative ways to create exhibitions, so that the museum can reach its goal of becoming the world's most important communicator of the Viking Age." 

"The expansion will give visitors the opportunity to take a journey through the world of the Vikings and to see the Viking ships from a new and broader perspective and several levels, from the open arcade structure to the broad stands that allow visitors to walk down to the level of the ships and view them up close." 

"Together, the arcade and exhibition rooms provide visitors with a multifaceted story about the Viking Age. They make both short and long visits possible, where the visitors can navigate through the world of the Vikings and their many maritime adventures." 

"Developers Statsbygg is now in the process of planning in detail the new building, which will be a continuation of today's one." 

"Experts in conservation and collection management are collaborating with Statsbygg... to find solutions for safe handling of ships and objects during the construction process, and on safe methods for moving to the new building." 

The museum's design incorporates a narrative approach to the presentation of the ships, linking them to broader themes of exploration, trade, and the Viking influence across Europe and beyond. Source: RAA

A miracle of engineering 

As already revealed by The Viking Herald, the removal of Gokstad, Oseberg and Tune ships to a new, custom-built extension alongside is a massive operation with priceless cultural relics at risk. 

Head engineer in this process, David Hauer, tasked with coordinating the relocation, told us about the challenges his team has had to deal with: "Structural stability is a key factor to avoid damage to the ships." 

"They are already suffering from degradation, and during the construction work and relocation process, the objects will be exposed to deformation and vibration."

"It is a big challenge to understand the behavioural characteristics of such complex archeological wooden objects as Viking ships. Therefore, it is important to break down the analysis into manageable sublevels." 

"When we protect the ships from construction work vibrations and prepare for the moving process, we are lifting them into a stiff and heavy steel framework rigs and placing the complete structure on four loadbearing points instead of the 19-32 separate supports they have today." 

A key architectural feature is the innovative use of natural lighting, designed to enhance the display of artifacts and create a dynamic atmosphere that changes with the seasons. Source: RAA

In place for nearly a century, the former ship museum was by far Norway's most popular cultural attraction, initially welcoming some 40,000 people a year. 

By the time the museum closed in 2022, half a million annual visitors were walking around these priceless vessels, frail despite their sturdy appearance. 

With the advent of technology capable of safely relocating the Gokstad, the Oseberg, and the Tune ships to their new home, complete with advanced environmental controls to shield them from humidity and temperature changes, attention now shifts to the crucial role of designers and architects. 

Their work is now in focus as they navigate the complex task of integrating these historical treasures into a modern, visitor-friendly space. 

The signing of an agreement between developers Statsbygg, Norway's governmental building commissioner, and major Norwegian construction company AF Gruppen in 2021 brought the project closer to realization. 

A contract was signed to build a new facility 9,300 square meters in size – about a fifth the size of the vast harbourfront Opera House nearby – with majority of the work to take place between in 2025 and 2026. 

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