PhD - Preserving the recent past

“Preservation is overtaking us”, wrote Rem Koolhaas in 2004, with reference to the growing frequency of listed buildings from the recent past. This, argued Koolhaas, is a problem for contemporary urban development, which needs available land to prosper.


Arkitektur og Designhøgskolen i Oslo





The Institute of Architecture at AHO

The Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO) is a specialized university and a leading international architecture and design school that provides education within architecture, landscape architecture, urbanism and design. AHOs fields of knowledge focus on design in all scales; objects, buildings, urban areas and landscaping. AHO is organized into 3 institutes, and has approx. 800 students and 270 employees.
The Institute of Architecture teaches and researches architectural design through a series of focal areas including sustainability, computation, housing and local building. The Institute sees architecture in an artistic, explorative and critical sense that includes but also exceeds the technologies of design and building. Through numerous master studios and a research-based approach to teaching, the Institute provides core architectural competence.

About the position

“Preservation is overtaking us”, wrote Rem Koolhaas in 2004, with reference to the growing frequency of listed buildings from the recent past. This, argued Koolhaas, is a problem for contemporary urban development, which needs available land to prosper.

That perspective is now being challenged by circular thinking and other discourses where re-use of existing resources is the key, not the anti-dote, to progress. In reality, however, demolition is still the norm across Europe, where fully functional buildings disappear in great numbers to make way for new projects. Buildings from the last decades of the 20th century seem to be particularly vulnerable, since they normally lack heritage status, appear unfashionable and out of synch with present requirements.

They are therefore earmarked as obvious demolition candidates. However, it is precisely such buildings that must be kept in use to a much larger extent if circular thinking is going to make the leap from the principle to practice. The question is only how and to which degree?

Answers will be provided by this PhD, which is a study of the historical value and future potential of the underappreciated architecture of the recent past; “Plain, ordinary, low-value old buildings”, as Jane Jacobs once wrote.

Situated in the field of urban preservation, it investigates the subject matter from a planning perspective. This means that the emphasis will be on overall planning schemes and urban strategies, either for whole areas, neighborhoods or large properties with several existing structures and functions, rather than singular buildings. Much attention will be directed towards the economic, political and administrative forces that motor urban development. In order to engage critically with the general lack of re-use in planning practice, the project draws on contemporary preservation theories like adaptive re-use, circular heritage and sustainable preservation, with the aim of discussing how such frameworks could be incorporated in planning proposals.

From a methodological point of view, it operates across two timelines and two sets of data. First, it studies the archive of the recent past, 1975-2000, in order to map the cultural value, planning characteristics and environmental durability of selected projects from that period. Second, it studies the current management and caretaking of the cases in question, with special attention to their re-use potential as part of larger development plans. These explorations will happen in parallel, with the aim of cross-breeding insights from both time periods and engage critically in two directions at the same time: Towards the limitations of the traditional realm of heritage, which does not have the tools or capacity to deal with ordinary building from the recent past, and the incomprehension of the conventional realm of development, which fails to see the possibilities.

The empirical material will be gathered from projects in Europe. The PhD candidate will investigate a selection of building structures which are either being replanned or set for replanning in the near future. These processes will be analysed in relation to primary sources like planning documents, planning applications, zoning schemes, architectural drawings and other historical resources from the archive. Additional sources such as newspaper features, political statements and real estate adverts will supplement the core material and open up for a broader archive-based discussion. The project should have at least three comparative examples.

The PhD will be connected to the Oslo Centre for Critical Architectural Studies (OCCAS) which is a research centre for humanities-based, advanced studies in architecture at AHO. It will also be part of a European research network with professor Heike Oevermann at the Technical University in Vienna and professors Koenraad van Cleempoel and Bie Plevoets at the Hasselt University as the main collaborators.


  • A master degree in architecture, art history, preservation, planning or similar disciplines.

The applicant should be able to document:

  • Experience in working with archival material,
  • A background from history and theory courses/preservation,
  • Familiarity with planning contexts/planning history,
  • Basic knowledge of heritage management,
  • excellent writing skills in English.
  • We look for applicants with strong and original project ideas within humanities-based urban preservation research that relates to OCCAS’ archive-based work on
  • preservation, interpretation, criticism, and mediation.

The application must include:

  • An application letter describing relevant background, motivation, research experience and network (two A4 pages maximum).
  • A tentative project outline of maximum 5 pages, formulating and discussing research tasks, types of problems, methodology.
  • CV
  • Certified copies of educational certificates, transcript of records, diplomas
  • Examples of work written by the applicant, and/or examples of architecture/urbanism/preservations projects by the applicant, with relevance to the research project.
  • Five works maximum.
  • 2 references (name, relation to candidate, e-mail address and telephone number)

Please note that all documentation must be in English or a Scandinavian language. Applications who do not fulfil the formal requirements will not be considered. Attachments beyond the required documents will not be taken into consideration

What we assess

The material for the PhD application will be assessed according to the following criteria:

  • The quality of the project description (outline)
  • The applicant’s suitability for the research tasks, based on previous practical and academic work.
  • The academic competence of the applicant

We offer

The PhD scholarship is fully funded and there is no tuition fee. The position is a four-year position with on year teaching included. The salary is NOK 501 200 for a full position, with 3 % increase of the salary each year. From the salary, there will be a mandatory deduction of 2 % as a contribution to the State Pension fund (SPK). Standard employment conditions for state employees in Norway apply for the position.

An annual allowance of 20 000 NOK for literature and other necessary academic activities. Office space in a professionally stimulating working environment. Attractive welfare benefits and generous pension agreement, in addition to Oslo’s family-friendly environment with its rich opportunities for culture and outdoor activities.

Formal regulations

The educational component in the AHO PhD Programme is mandatory and requires fulltime attendance. Residency in Oslo for the employment period is mandatory. Research stay at a relevant international academic institution is encouraged. The PhD fellowship will start September 1, 2023.

Information meeting

The PhD Programme at The Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO) will arrange an online information meeting about the AHO PhD Programme on 8 February 15:00 CET. See more information.

Questions regarding the position, should be addressed to the Even Smith Wergeland who will supervise the selected candidate (

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