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About Georg Sverdrups hus - history and architecture

The house was named after the first director of the University of Oslo Library (UBO) - Georg Sverdrup - and was opened in 1999. At the same time the Humanities and Social Sciences Library moved in to the building. With its 2.800.000 books, it is the largest academic library in Norway.

The facade has clear parallels to the temples and libraries of the antique period.

Georg Sverdrup

The University of Oslo Library was established in 1811, at the same time as the University of Oslo, which was then called “The Royal Frederic’s University”. This was at the time when Norway still was in union with Denmark. The library’s first director was professor, in classical studies, Georg Sverdrup, hence the name of this building. Professor Sverdrup was also president at the independence assembly in 1814, where the Norwegian nobility, land owners and senior officials agreed upon the constitution which is still in power.

Architectural contest for a new University Library

In 1992 the final decision in the parliament was taken for building a new University Library at the Blindern campus, this should include the main administration and the library services for four faculties: The Faculty of Arts, The Faculty of Social Sciences, The Faculty of Education and The Faculty of Theology.

An architectural contest was announced in the autumn in 1993, and in July 1994 the jury had voted for 5 out of 32 proposals. The winner was KABA by the architect Are Telje. The building occupies a space of approximately 30.000 m² (275.000 square feet), which is divided into three main areas:
1) The library,
2) Education facilities and common areas,
3) Administration.
The Library have 25.000 meters of open shelves over 5 floors with approximately 800.000 volumes. There are also 59.000 meters of closed store rooms in the cellars with capacity of nearly 2 million volumes.

The style of the building

The building is designed in a post-modern and late functionalistic style. There are several references to different periods and styles. The big red back-wall and the contrasts with white, yellow and black, combined with the extended use of squares can be traced back to constructivism and Bauhaus in the twenties and thirties. The accomplished use of birch in the interiors gives associations to the “Scandinavian Design” of the fifties. The monumental façade with its giant columns gives associations to classical temple or library façades of the antiquity. The use of travertine and white marble also keeps the associations to the antiquity. The heavy use of glass and black granite as a coating on the façade brings the design back again to the present time.

These variations of design also reflects the variations of the library’s collections. The collection spans from Egyptian papyri; more than 2000 years of age, to modern electronic texts, in between these extreme points we find many hundred years of academic literature as well as some of the first examples of Nordic literature in the shape of the three Runic stones at the entrance.


There are three main works of art displayed in the building:

  • A big painting by the famous Arne Ekeland in the main lobby.
  • The copper and glass doors at the entrance to the library are designed by Paul Brandt.
  • Kjell Torriset has made a monumental work in the library with his 836 black tiles with eyes overlooking the visitors to the library.

The library was officially inaugurated on the 6th of September 1999.

Published May 18, 2011 10:05 AM - Last modified May 3, 2016 1:39 PM