Copyright ©2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


Nordic cool. What is it? Well, right now it's a massive festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., with artists and designers displaying art and culture from the very tiptop of the globe. NPR's Amy Walters reports the festival arrives at what seems like just the right moment for Americans.

AMY WALTERS, BYLINE: From Danish modern furniture of the 1950s to the on the omnipresence of IKEA, Americans have long been attracted to the austere design of the Nordic countries. We shop at H&M, we read Steig Larsson's "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," and one of the most emailed New York Times' articles this week: "Bark Up or Down? Firewood Splits Norwegians."

The piece reviewed a 12-hour Norwegian television show devoted to building one fire.

JUKKA SAVOLAINEN: Nordic cool, I think it's also a little about oddness.

WALTERS: Jukka Savolainen is hosting the design portion of "Nordic Cool." When he talks about oddness, he points to a large piece of lava rock in the shape of a ball.

SAVOLAINEN: I think it looks like a garden gnome.

WALTERS: The piece is by Icelandic artist Tinna Gunnarsdottir, and the only outward similarity I can see to the traditional stocking-capped gnome is that this gnome, presumable, belongs in a garden.

SAVOLAINEN: Why can't the garden gnome be something that is actually quite beautiful rather than funny-looking elves? When you think about the gnome as somebody kind of respecting nature, somebody protecting the area, what is actually better than a natural element?

WALTERS: Savolainen says he thinks the Nordic appeal is simple.

SAVOLAINEN: We're living in the virtual world, and in the real world at the same time. People need simplicity and the Nordic way of life is maybe a little bit simpler.

WALTERS: Like plywood.

JENNI OLSULSEN: Emmanuel Nobel, Alfred Nobel's father, he was an inventor, architect and engineer, and he figured out a new way of making plywood.

WALTERS: Jenni Olsulsen is an architect at Snohetta. Snohetta designed Oslo's opera house, the new pedestrian-friendly Time Square, and "Sup-Plywood," a floor-to-ceiling pile of molded plywood, that looks like someone dropped it from above. One part stands up, one on its side, while the other flops on top of itself. Olsulsen says viewers describe the work as both a roll of film and a ski jump. She says it's about her society, like the pieces of plywood, working together.

OLSULSEN: We try to really be as equal as possible and the way we work in team. We're not so much survival of the fittest. We're more like we have to take care of each other. So if we can bring something over to you and you can learn something of the way we are thinking, I think that would be really good.

WALTERS: But I'm still not sure it's going to help me understand a TV show about a burning fire. Amy Walters, NPR News, Washington.


GONYEA: This is NPR News.


Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: