Nes, Norway, a small municipality an hour's drive northeast of Oslo, faces issues common to similar-sized communities worldwide that, due to urban growth, seem poised to become far-flung suburbs. How does such a town maintain its rural character while accommodating the near-certain influx of residents from cities? One of Nes’s proposed solution, being developed in tandem with the architecture firm The Scarcity and Creativity Studio (SCS), hopes to make the rural lifestyle, and even life on the farm, a key selling point.
The Småbruk, or pocket farm, concept would revolve around a cluster of four homes that would share a common barn, additional farming facilities, and a children's playground. Planned to be built on land north of Dystlandhaugen Farm in Nes, the proposed structures would, in effect, be part of a small experiment in communal living. Christian Hermansen Cordua, Principal at SCS, believes this new settlement model could be a perfect fit for those who still work in the city, but have jobs that offer enough flexibility so they don’t need to be daily commuters. And, at an estimated 3 million kroner ($356,000) for a land, house and common share of the barn, the investment would be a huge bargain compared to city real estate prices.
"Homeowners would share the barn, machinery, a play area for kids, even the tractor," he says. "This creates a shared living situation for families, and with transit stations nearby, it offers a much more sustainable lifestyle than you could have elsewhere."
Oslo is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe, leading to incredible pressure to expand the metropolitan area by buying up and developing former agricultural land, turning the pastoral into just another bedroom community. Sprawl may seem difficult to fathom, since Oslo has traditionally been bounded by hills and surrounded by national forests. But residents can’t have it both ways. As Cordua says, there’s a romantic ideal in Norwegian culture that you should be able to open your doors, strap on skis, and enjoy the wilderness, a situation, due to urban employment, obtainable by a select view in contemporary society.
While the Småbruk development, which should have a finished barn by this summer, isn’t nearly as idyllic as the ideal, it does attempt to split the difference between modern convenience and rural character in a way that might make expanded growth both more sustainable and community focused. Instead of reinforcing the idea that new real estate developments should just cluster around transit options, this type of living arrangement would connect new arrivals to the land and the rest of the community. The site plans developed by Cordua and his colleagues, which will be built out in April and May, will ideally offer community and a connection to nature.
"Nes is going to market this, and we'll see how it performs," he says. "This idea could attract a lot of young people who are having trouble working their way up the property ladder."