A more Nordic Scandinavia?

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Bjarke Ingels, of BIG, stands next to a machine for diluting identity. (Dezeen)

The five nations of Scandinavia want to “build a new brand identity for the five countries that make up the Nordic region.” This is nuts. This is stupid. I am a quarter Norwegian so I can say this. I have been reading articles about bad ideas for years, mostly in the realm of architecture (where bad ideas are almost mandatory) and this is the most idiotic that I have read so far.

Scandinavia does not need a new identity.

And as if to demonstrate the region’s fecklessness, it is putting part of the project into the hands of a screwy modernist architecture firm called BIG.

BIG to rebrand Nordic region,” by Eleanor Gibson in Dezeen, is difficult to believe. BIG, a design firm founded by Denmark’s Bjarke Ingels (“Bjarking Mad Ingels” in the opinion of some), is part of a plot to scam Scandinavia. BIG and several other firms are conspiring to persuade the leaders of the five nations – Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland – that in order to thrive they need “a new collective identity.” Gibson writes that “the Branding and Positioning of the Nordic Region initiative intends to differentiate the region from the rest of the world and leverage its potential.”

This is ridiculous. Patently absurd. Scandinavia has perhaps the most cohesive identity of any region in the world. Healthy social democracies with a strong sense of design; a region of personal warmth enforced by a climate of cold. It is a strong identity because it has continued basically unchanged for centuries. BIG will not sharpen but blunt the image of Scandinavia around the world – if it has any impact at all, which is the most likely result. Except that a gang of pranksters will have defrauded the good taxpayers of the five nations.

Just look at the photo accompanying the Dezeen article. It shows Bjarke Ingels standing in front of his Serpentine Pavilion, in Hyde Park, which eclipses a lovely historic structure. Perfect! Modern architecture, for decades known fatuously as the International Style, is the best way to dilute the identity of any place where it is allowed. Unfortunately, it is allowed everywhere. No wonder a lot of folks complain that cities they love look increasingly like anyplace in the world – and hence no place at all. Way to strengthen the beloved national character!

The elected leaders who infest Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki and Reykjavik should hang their heads in shame.

Rhode Island recently went through a similar exercise, spending time and money to rebrand a place with an identity that is already strong. It even featured a video that expressed pride at the cool places in Rhode Island. Except that one of the places in the video (actually the only shot of modern architecture) was in Iceland. This led to the state’s new  accidental brand: “New Iceland.” That was only one of many stupid errors and idiotic concepts in the scheme. The rebranding was scuttled, mostly, but not before a lot of time and money was flushed down the drain. Consultants are working on a new rebranding scheme for Rhode Island, certain to be just as ridiculous.

One of the purposes of government is to find new ways to waste taxpayer dollars. Places with strong identities, such as Scandanavia and Rhode Island, can be thankful when money is all that is lost. Weaker places may find that “rebranding” also costs them what identity they have. And yet this kind of thing is becoming more popular in capitals around the globe. Go figure.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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3 Responses to A more Nordic Scandinavia?

  1. A Subscriber says:

    On more than a few occasions over the course of my long life, I’ve had conversations about ‘dominant’, ‘alpha’ cities and states (NYC/ NY = yes; Albuquerque, NM = no) and I’ve always asserted that Rhode Island had a strong identity. That assertion of mine was always met with incredulous stares and even a few rolls of the eyes.

    Thank you for twice stating what I’ve always felt to be true, David: Rhode Island has a strong identity. Massachusetts, the dominant, alpha New England state, takes its top-dog status for granted and so its collective identity is understated and subtle, while resting securely within its sense of entitlement. Rhode Island’s identity has no sense of entitlement; it’s more like a stubborn resistance and a self-satisfaction. (like Popeye – “I am what I am …”?)(or maybe I watched too much of ‘Salty Brine’s Shack’ growing up!)

    Is Connecticut really New England or was it co-opted by NYC/NY a long time ago?

    And those other New England states … um …

    Thanks again, David! 🙂


  2. peterkellow says:

    They want to dilute the identity of each of the nations. A typically modernist project to want to eliminate identity in favour of deracinated internationalism. Haven’t they done enough damage already?


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