Opened in 1939, Fornebu was the capital airport in Norway until 1998, so there’s a lot of history, including the Second World War when it was used by German troops, in its walls. Still an important part of Norwegian aviation history, the most important elements still exist, including workshop premises, two air towers and a large, 5000 sqm hangar. Located approximately 15 minutes from Oslo, Solvik-Nissen describes Fornebu, or Californebu as he and his team like to call the area, as the most important historical property in the whole area — an identity marker for the new city, being built on the archipelago of Bærum.
— Most people have some kind of memory from the old airport, he says. Today this industrial property is the home for around 150 different artists, crafts studios, two old air control towers, and a 5000 sqm old hangar that is housing Norway’s biggest tv-studio. Our ambition is to create an art and cultural district that will shake up the Oslo scene, and even the entire Norwegian culture scene. It’s also our ambition, for a longer perspective, to contribute to the international art scene, especially focusing on the youth culture. Recently we have opened a natural wine bar called Papirfly and signed one of the biggest Norwegian NFT artists named Trym Ruud to open the very first Rude Boys Gallery and community. We are also working closely with some huge names within the world of art, such as the world-famous artists Broslo and Gallery DC-3.
In politics, the Social Democrats are traditionally strong in Norway, and after last year’s election, they’re back in power. Californebu, though, is placed just on the capital border in the neighbouring municipal with the longest blue traditions in Norway which, Solvik-Nissen explains, means that the business side of the district is highly expected.
— This will not be a place funded by some governmental project funding, rather by healthy business development around these art industries. In that core, we strongly believe that we are creating some long-term values — highly important for the development of the local society, but also noticeable for an international audience through the channels of all the young up and coming artists situated here.
Art districts, Solvik-Nilssen continues, in today’s big cities are often subject to gentrification, but Californebu is specially planned for arts and culture.
— It has a public long-term owner in the local municipality but it’s set up in a traditional business model. It’s around 14 000 sqm big so it has the potential to be a relevant district with bars, art scenes, and cultural events all around the year. We believe that the strong history and identity, combined with the spirit and appealing know-how of up-and-coming as well as established fresh artists and craftsmen, will give this place the re-creation of this place. It will become the next cultural destination, with good help from exciting people and companies, bringing it back to life, he says.
While art is the main purpose of the place, it also aims to attract talents within several other fields.
— Art, like everything else these days, is in huge motion especially because of the digital opportunities and availability. It is also subject to be defined by higher learning and for the well sophisticated but we want to create a place, and community, where artists can forget about the established art community. A place to thrive, work, and hopefully take off to a new destination. Gaming and e-sport as a platform is obvious and we believe that the digital movement we see within the art industry is just the beginning. We want to be the main hub for these and related activities in northern Europe.
— Also, we are surrounded by the biggest tech industries in Norway — Aker, Equinor, Telenor, and Evry, to name some — so it’s a very natural fusion now and in the future bridging these environments. It’s only a matter of time before they will seek up our area and start hanging out — the fruits from these potential synergies lies ahead of us.
What’s next in terms of development for the project?
— We are creating a 360-degree event space and apartment in the old airport control tower. This will be a symbol, and our ”attraction diamond”, to the world around us. Our aim is to create an area for artists and celebrities to live when they visit us for a collab art project, or when international artists and DJs come to Oslo. They will then be able to stay at Flytårnet Fornebu and have a unique view and atmosphere during their short stay.
— Next door to the tower, the old airport hangar from 1940 is developed to a unique industrial public scene that can host up to 2.200 people for art and music events, gaming events, fashion fairs, food and wine events, and more.
— We’re also developing Norway’s first ”farmer deli shop & café” that will be our no.1 supplier of sustainable food to the area. We want to create a place where consumers can buy directly from the farmers and harvesters, just like the best restaurants are doing on a daily basis, Solvik-Nilssen concludes.