​Claiming Space — architect statement and walk through

To address the lack of queer-inclusive spaces for minorities in Oslo and the lack of knowledge about this issue, it is crucial to understand and discuss what a ‘queer space’ is, how it is produced and perceived, and how we can advance queer narratives and safety in mainstream spaces and discourses. When positioned as a narrative, architecture can question and interrogate the perspectives and need for a ‘queer architecture’, which is not simply the production of a place appropriated by non-heterosexual people but a space that challenges assumptive, dominant and normative behaviours, social codes, rules, expectations, and situations.

Norwegian culture can be considered a culture that is fixated around “dreams” similar to the “American Dream,” and it's architectural and material signifiers — white picket fences, sports bleachers, office buildings and cars. This dream, closely connected to notions of labour, reproduction and material consumption and status, has over decades established social structures based on a concept of a majority population and their needs based on a constructed, aspirational image specific to a laborious and normative “middle class”. In Norway, this enacts itself primarily through the (re)production of hetero—monogamous units that inhabit 1) enclosed “private spaces” — such as homes, apartments, and cabins, 2) “semi-public spaces” — offices, meeting rooms, cafeterias and backyards, and 3) “public spaces” such as parks, squares, streets, supermarkets, bars, gyms, and public-facing institutions. However, as has finally become a mainstream topic in recent years, members of both the majority and minority population in Norway live lives that do not fit into categories defined by these socioeconomic norms: the “male/female” gender binary, or the predominantly white, reproductive, heteronormative, and economically intertwined middle class. Which begs the question, what spaces in society and everyday life exist for them, and how are these spaces initiated, produced and maintained?

Lives outside of the normative are pretty much non-existent in the world of architectural theory and education. In architectural discourses and curriculums, sexuality, gender, orientation, class, and race, are over-looked, ignored and thius erased from the perspective, history, and influence of our profession. Thus interrogating and questioning these theories and the structural short-comings which have led to this homogeneity is essential, and a new and better understanding of architecture for people, our built-in environment and the needs they produce, is needed.

At Møllergata 34 concrete space, the architecture evokes a series of undefined contexts and encounters: “The outside” space, “The in-between,” “The Passage,” then “The recreation.” The architecture calls for emotion, and the feelings call for understanding. It is a prerequisite passage from “the outside” to another understanding of space: “The Space of projection.”

“Recreating” queer spaces

While ancient gymnasiums are deemed as the historical origins of queer spaces and informal LGBTIQ+ hangouts, bars and nightclubs have in recent decades become one of the most prominent sites of refuge and exploration for queer people and communities. While urban spaces like parks still play venue for encounters with like-minded strangers who can open doors into hidden and underground communities, the online virtual world has also emerged as a contemporary way for interactive networking, cruising, and exploring different identities and desires.

Queer spaces are not only defined by their aesthetic appearance, but arguably even more by the interior sensations of desire, fear, longing, release, tolerance and acceptance they create in its visitors. In queer spaces, the relation between the ‘viewer’ and ‘the viewed’ is transformed to one of tangible possibility.

Therefore, the “recreation” of queer spaces and their signifying elements is necessarily a testament to the significance of these spaces, socially, culturally, and historically, and an invitation to consider how much architecture and social signifiers contribute to and affect our interior lives, shaped by the internalisation of our experience of the outside world and the knowledge and awareness of social codes which can grant us access to invisible worlds and new communities.

This is physically illustrated throughout the interior of Møllergata 34. Present here is ‘the closet’, the queer art venue, the mirror-bar, a library, a bleacher (a cheap bench seat at a sports ground, typically in an outdoor uncovered stand). These spaces and elements evoke invisible social lives and networks. They refer to queer communities which suffered and disappeared during the AIDS epidemic, have continued to struggle with the emergence of social media and gentrification of larger cities, and have now almost completely dissipated during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Not to mention, there is a lack of concrete political measurements in Norway and many other countries to ensure the protection and accessibility of these spaces, and they are not treated an integral part of society and culture.

I invite you to treat the experience as much as an internal emotional journey as an external, sensory one.

- Antoine Fadel, architect

Mapping Queer: Where Does Queer Happen in Oslo?

The map locates queer moments, memories, or histories concerning physical space. The map project intends to document the spaces that hold queer memory and experience, from pubs, public toilets, parks, and the spaces of organisations like Skeiv Verden, to mark these moments and contribute to the highlighting of their importance.

Feel free to mark and claim your space!