Interview: Bjarte Frøyland | Photography: Mark Henderson | Location: London, UK
Christina Forsberg grew up in Fredrikstad, a smaller city south of Oslo. From an early age, the dream was always to move abroad and live in one of the big metropoles, and after finishing architecture studies in Oslo she followed her long-term dream by moving to London. Here she has been working as an architect for several years, and recently began her entrepreneur career with several projects of her own.
We went to meet Christina in Hampstead Village, next to Hampstead Heath, one of London´s largest and wildest green spaces. Of course we were eager to hear more about her life as an ambitious Norwegian in London, and to see how her local friends responded when they were being introduced to brunost.
Hi Christina! It is great to be in London! You’ve been living in London for 5 years now?
Yes, that is correct.
How would you describe London from the eyes of an Architect?
London is a rather complex and intriguing urban setting, in the sense that it used to be lots of small villages that have grown together over time forming one large city. Despite this, the various areas still all have their own feel and characteristics. There is a lot of well-preserved historical buildings in London, which is great considering I can be rather nostalgic at times. Walking the streets of London always feels a bit like time travelling back in history, which I love.
And what about Hampstead Heath? It seems to be a place everyone loves. Do you agree with this praising?
Yes, I totally agree. I had heard about the uniqueness of Hampstead Heath prior to going here for my first job interview so of course I had to pay it a visit and I completely fell in love with the area. Having such a sizeable nature reserve in the middle of a city with so many millions of people is unique indeed.
What is it that make it that unique to you?
It’s the contrast. In such a busy and crowded city, the escape to more calm surroundings is key and the Heath offers exactly that. It is lush and green, there’s hardly any noise except for that of nature itself and it feels like you are in the countryside basically. People go there to get a break from everyday life, to slow down their otherwise hectic life and it give you the space to think and breathe. That’s at least my view and why praise it so much.
Any favourite spots in the neighbourhood you want to show us?
Yes, there is loads, but I thought I’d take you to a beautiful little grocery shop called the Artichoke in Hampstead Village kitted out with old, wooden crates and amazing fruit and vegs. And then I thought we would stop by my favourite coffee shop – Ginger and White, where I sometimes sit and work from as it offers the best coffee in London, in my opinion, as well as a great local community feeling.
Let´s go check it out, and maybe do some shopping for today’s event and the reason I am here. You are hosting a lunch and will be introducing a quite central part of the Norwegian culture to your British friends?
Yes, I am!
Now, more specifically, what is the plan for today?
We’re planning a picnic in the Heath where I will be serving up some treats with brunost. I was pondering the question of what to make for such an occasion and the first memories that came to mind involving brunost was my mum’s homemade potato flatbread, a very typical Norwegian treat. Traditionally, it is used as a wrap for sausages, but in my family we used to butter them, put brunost on and roll them up, which is such a threat. So, I thought that would be a very Norwegian dish to serve today. In addition to this, as a contrast to the Norwegian flat breads, I thought I’d make some scones, which is of course quintessential British. I am however making them with rye flour, so a bit more Norwegian, and I think it will be a brilliant way to pair up with the brunost, some jam and maybe even some syrup.
Sounds delicious. Who will join us for picnic?
I have invited some of my best friends here in London. Carina, who is originally from Hong Kong. My British friends Ros and Eddie, as well as my Norwegian friend Alex.
So, at least one of them knows brunost then. What about the others? Have they tried it?
Actually, some of them have, but not all, so they are very curious as to what this bruonst is all about.
Living in London, do you eat as much brunost as you did in Norway?
Yes, I tend to do. I usually have my parents bring me some when visiting but I can also buy it in a few shops here in London.
My impression is that people in London have busy lives, which means that they do not tend to cook as much as people might do other places?
That is the truth, I’m afraid.
Is it? What about yourself?
I actually do cook quite a bit. I am very lucky to be living with a good friend, who runs an organic food start-up, so we are both very interested in food. Quality is key to us, and if possible, we buy everything organic and we tend to make everything from scratch. London has such a great food scene, so it is very exciting to take part in that.
/ Having done some shopping and strolling around in the Village, a place we now understand to be a popular part of London, we decide to head back to the apartment to start preparing the picnic /
While you cook, let´s talk a bit more about your career here in London. What has been the best and worst about being an architect in London?
Good question. Firstly, I think as a Norwegian, one is very privileged, I would even go to the extent of saying spoiled. The work ethic and all the employment rights you have in Norway is like no other. England is up there as well, but it’s still not completely comparable. You tend to work much longer hours and late nights without too much compensation. In such a big city, the competition is fierce – so it’s a bit more crazy, compared to Norway.
A tougher business culture?
It is. But it is exciting. I have been designing buildings in London that are quite prominent – so when they are ready in a year’s time, that will be the fun part. Going back and be like “I designed that, I remember that, I did the windows, the facade, the reception”, should be rewarding.
And now – you just went freelance. What is it that you do now? Still some architecture I understand, but you have also got some other projects going on?
Well, I have sort of been building up to this point, waiting for the right time to go out on my own. I started a blog about Scandinavian design a couple years ago called the ‘Scandinavialist’, which is steadily growing. After living in London for a little while I couldn't help noticing the ever-increasing popularity and focus on Scandinavian design and lifestyle, so I started the blog with the goal of creating an online platform showcasing both established and up-and-coming Scandinavian brands. The blog consists of articles and interviews of various brands and designers spanning from design, interiors and architecture to fashion and general lifestyle, whilst the Instagram linked to it is more about curating a gallery and showcasing a variety of design. In the process, I have established an absolutely amazing network of people, both in Scandinavia, here in the UK and abroad. I’ve actually met some of my closest friends as well as business partners through Instagram, so it’s worked out quite well I’d say.
So whilst I´m tinkering with the blog in the background, I am now freelancing as an Architect, working on various projects, some on my own and some with friends. One of them actually being in Oslo, where we are transforming a 1920s modernistic building, so once again I am tying my career back to Norway, which is nice.
No doubt you have a lot of ideas and things going on. When and where is it that you do your best thinking?
Interesting question. In Hampstead Heath, of course! I usually go there when I need a break from the crazy buzz. If it’s to read, go for a stroll, my morning run or even just sitting down gazing into the park and the beautiful view of the city. It helps me clear my head and has become my haven here in London and what keeps me sane in a way. Other than that, going to a café and just sitting there on my own. I enjoy the hustle and bustle in the background and just observing other people. It might also be because I am quite a coffee connoisseur, so just exploring different coffee shops around London is quite enjoyable. So, I guess both quiet surroundings and noisy urban work for me.
Luckily you have both favourites just around the corner, then?
Well, let´s head to meet the others.
/ We find a really nice spot next to one of the ponds in Hampstead Heath and after waiting a few minutes (as some of the British friends stop for a tea on their way), they all show up and it seems like they are all enjoying the picnic, but what about the brunost? /
So, let´s hear it. Brunost, how do you like it?
Carina: I really like it.
Edward: Yeah, I liked it, though perhaps I would have liked a stronger one, as this is slightly lost under the jam. But yes, I like it.
And you, Ros?
Ros: I’ve tried brunost before in Norway, quite a few times, but as I’ve only had it as a savoury thing, I really enjoyed having it as a sweet treat with scones and jam. It was delicious!
/ As they continue eating, they all agree both the scones and pancakes were good, and that they definitely could eat more brunost more often /
Ros: Can you melt it on a burger? Has anyone ever tried that?
Edward: I think that would be good, actually.
Well, I have not tried. And I don’t know if it…
Ros: You think. Ketchup is sweet right. So…
Edward: I think it could work!
Christina: What about brunost icecream?
/ A dog comes by and begs for brunost, but Ros believes dogs can die if they have it. Of course, we would not want that to happen, so he leaves emtpy-handed /
You can also make caramel sauce of it (!)
Ros: That sounds more like it!
Aleks: I recon with game dishes...
Yeah, that is really good. Adding brunost in the sauce.
Ros: Oh, I am definitely trying that.
Christina: Yeah, it adds the right amount of sweetness to the sauce, which balances it.
Aleks: Brunost just generally makes life better, doesn’t it?
Let’s finish on that.
/ Everyone laughs /
As we pack up, everyone discusses what to do next, and they decide to do the only correct thing when living in London, stop by the local bar for a pint.