Fredrikstad is a city built during the Renaissance. It has great industrial development and at the end of the 20th century experiences-like many other cities in the developed world-de-industrialization. Due to its scale, it helps us comprehend processes which are difficult to distinguish in mega cities. Research, workshops and interviews began in 2017. More is to come.
The city of Fredrikstad is located in northeastern Norway, in the delta of the Glomma river, south of the capital Oslo. It is located in the province of Østfold and has around 80.000 inhabitants.
It was founded in 1567 by Frederic B’ of Denmark as the substitute for a nearby town, Sarpsborg, which was completely destroyed during the war with Sweden. It is interesting that Sarpsborg was not eventually abandoned, it was rebuilt and still exists. The city of Fredrikstad seems to be born out of a misunderstanding. In addition, it is an example of 16th century urban planning with the star shaped fortress spread on two sides of the river.
Fredrikstad, unlike Moss, which is half an hour’s drive away, is not a native city but a city born at the order of the king, its fortress being one of the best preserved in Europe. These two cities, Fredrikstad and Moss, are traditionally rivals and this is manifested clearly when their football teams are confronted. This rivalry, of course, has many ramifications and deserves to be studied in depth. The first heyday of the city of Fredrikstad is connected with the exploitation of power of the river and the mills that cut wood. Over the years it had a great industrial development and after a long course entered, during the 80’s, a process of de-industrialization similar to that found in many countries of the developed world, in Europe and America. This process has now been completed and the city is looking for new meanings and new uses of the space and history occupied by industries beforehand.
In our research we see the great narratives, the so-called significant events and historical turning points, yet we don’t stop there. The slightest pieces of personal memories emerge and are mirrored in the great strides of history. These slightest pieces deepen the understanding of things, this helps us to comprehend the significance of events. But often it can be lost. Therefore, the rescue, registration and interpretation of the insignificant personal dimension of history is a huge bet. Space is required for the rest of the great “story”, for the people. This becomes more difficult when there are sweeping changes which erase any trace of the past, and wipe out entire neighborhoods and factories as big as states. An example of this process is the identity of the city of Fredrikstad, which was connected with its huge shipyards located to that very crucial spot where the city opens to the sea. The shipyards are now deserted and their usage could determine the future of the city at all levels. However, this decision will be made by one “family” without consulting the citizens. It is known in the city that its entire center belongs to a limited number of families, so in general a few decide upon the future of the many with no transparency.
Here emerges a common paradox in many other cities in the world, without though the same intensity; the fate of one city is defined by a handful of people and this makes citizens insignificant, extras in a game outside any public debate. Are there any limits to ownership? Should we investigate what ownership of a building or an area stands for when its’ meaning is so determining/decisive for everyone? In other words, which are the mutual boundaries of public and private? And also, how will the slightest pieces of memory balance with the enormous weight of history? If one is lost, the other will be shattered.
Such fascinating questions cannot be answered in one place, they are universal. It is for this reason that the formulation and understanding of the problem alone is a huge step leading us beyond Fredrikstad. You can be in one place and mentally travel all around the world.
Whenever we talked to an international audience about the persistent work on the subject of Athens, the reasonable question arising was whether the Reception could be realised elsewhere; in cities where we had no memories or experiences. The need to engage with the city phenomenon appears nowadays almost everywhere. The answer was that a similar reading proposal could be made to other cities, but it takes time and research. This of course remained an estimate since no extensive trial had been made. So the challenge was great when there was an invitation for two “routes” of two cities in the province of Østfold in northeastern Norway, Moss and Fredrikstad; cities that have lost their vital industrial activity and are now experiencing an identity crisis.
We decided we had to organize a process that would have “value” in every single step, where the “project” would be present in all aspects but would be activated by the route which was not the goal but the occasion for the project. We started with overall planning including meetings with people of different social and age groups under different circumstances, walks to places they chose, meetings for discussion without a strict agenda like there were no stakes and finally workshops where more focused work was done. Under any circumstance time was and is needed; time spent with the city, with the people, with the conditions, and the climate. We needed to stand before the city and listen to it, with history and memories standing and sometimes conversing on an equal footing.
We have already mentioned this, speaking of Moss. “Our work always has understanding as its starting point; in all possible interpretations of the term. And as its destination, however strange it may sound, love for the place. However, love exists where there is life, even if it seems scarce, even if it has a distorted form-although ultimately who can define its “normal” version? Finally, love if found is passed on. From one body to another. So we are not interested in a construction but in an offering.”