From savings bank to cultural think tank

March 2016: Just 115 years after the opening of Christiania Sparebank, a completely new version of this group of old bank buildings stands ready for use.

“This bank will stand for eternity, unless it explodes from pressure from within.”

So said architect Henrik Nissen at the inauguration of Christiania Sparebank on 14 April 1901.

“As a result of pressure from within” the savings bank has become Sentralen, a centre for culture and innovation. The old buildings in Øvre Slottsgate 3 and Tollbugata 30, together with the head office of Christiania Sparebank in Kvadraturen, have been renovated and merged.

Christiania Sparebank, Norway's first savings bank, was founded in 1822. The bank was a social initiative, created to serve the working class people of Oslo. A large proportion of the bank's profits were spent on social projects within the capital. Projects funded in this way included the construction of the Royal Palace, Parliament, University, Stock Exchange, Norges Bank, Freemasons' Lodge and Oscarshall Summer Palace, as well as the bank's own headquarters which were erected in 1898.

Historical impressions from the bank

The building that now constitutes Sentralen was originally two linked buildings, Øvre Slottsgate 3 and Tollbugata 30. The buildings have been opened up and amalgamated. Henrik Nissen's bank building in Øvre Slottsgate 3 marks a change of style in Norwegian architecture where elements of the Neoclassical genre have been combined with aspects of Romanticism.

The façade is a mixture of granite, soapstone and marble. Railway tracks are embedded in the walls to deter any robbers from digging their way into the bank.

Welhaven and Ambjørnsen's favourite hangout

In 1901, the building with offices and restaurants facing Tollbugata was erected in a style typical of business premises at the time. It was designed by architect Ivar Cock who would go on to produce drawings for the Hotel Continental.

This plot was originally occupied by an apartment building built in 1689 and, from the early 1800s, the building was known as Thronsen's Hotel, a cornerstone of the city's cultural and night life. The hotel was frequented by folklore collector Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and poet Johan Sebastian Welhaven.

At various times the building was used as an art publishing house, studio, café, hotel and milk shop. In other words, this is not the first time that this area has been a centre for debating, cultural experiences and the generation of ideas.

Filling an empty cultural space

The Sentralen project started in 2007 when Sparebankstiftelsen DNB (the DNB Savings Bank Foundation) bought the buildings of the DNB Bank. With time, the idea of using the building as part of the Foundation's charitable activities emerged. During the period 2009-2012, potential users and focus groups were consulted and more than 200 interviews conducted to determine what Sentralen's purpose should be and who would use it.

The result of these surveys demonstrated that Oslo had a need for an open meeting and work space for cultural producers. Further into the process, it was also decided that Sentralen should be a centre for innovators working on finding new solutions for dealing with social challenges.

A pilot projcect since 2013

In 2013, to identify potential needs and challenges in the operation of such an establishment, Sparebankstiftelsen DNB launched a pilot project that gave cultural producers and social innovators the opportunity to sit in the open landscape. Initially, the pilot project took place in the Marble Hall in Øvre Slottsgate 3 and was moved to Tjerslandgården in Skippergata 22 when the total renovation of the bank building began in 2014.

Today, there is 350 cultural producers and social innovators working at Sentralen.