The Sámi Architecture Library travels to Venice
For over fifteen years, architect and artist Joar Nango has been assembling an archive of books about issues relevant to Indigenous architecture. This year Nango, alongside a team of collaborators, unfolds Girjegumpi: The Sámi Architecture Library—a structure, social space, and source of knowledge around architecture in Sápmi—at the Nordic Countries Pavilion at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia.
Girjegumpi is a spatialisation of conversations and research initiated by Joar Nango over two decades of practice at the intersection of architecture and art. As an itinerant, collective library, the project has evolved and expanded with site-specific adaptations as it has travelled to different locations in Sápmi and the broader Nordic region. This journey involves multiple collaborations, including artists and craftspeople such as Katarina Spik Skum, Anders Sunna, Ken Are Bongo, and Anders Rimpi, among others.
Central to Girjegumpi is the archive that it contains and shares – from rare titles to contemporary books, the collection of more than 500 editions embraces topics such as Sámi architecture and design, traditional and ancestral building knowledge, activism, and decoloniality. This archive also comprises artworks, materials, design details, and found objects. As a gathering space, it hosts large groups of people. As a reading room, it offers an environment for solitary study and reflection. As a critical project, it builds spaces for Indigenous imagination.
Nomadic by design, Girjegumpi is a living project addressing the relevance of Indigenous culture in architectural discourse and construction today: the importance of collaborative work, building techniques and use of resources in rapidly changing climate conditions, the use of locally grounded material flow and sensitive approaches to landscapes and nature. It highlights the architect’s position towards a more polyphonic understanding of the world.
The Nordic Countries Pavilion, designed by Sverre Fehn in 1962, was conceived to represent forms of cooperation across the Nordic countries. In this context, Girjegumpi opens to an international audience to continue building bodies of knowledge, collaboration and solidarity that transcend national boundaries.
Girjegumpi: The Sámi Architecture Library by Joar Nango and collaborators at the Nordic Countries Pavilion (18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia). Photo: Laurian Ghinițoiu (2023). CC BY-SA 4.0.
Joar Nango at the Nordic Pavilion in Venice. Photo © Knut Åserud (2022)
The word Girjegumpi is derived from two Northern Sámi words: ‘Girji’, meaning book, and ‘Gumpi’ – a small mobile reindeer herder cabin on sledges, often pulled by a snowmobile. This wordplay refers to a library, an archive, and the construction in which these are stored and transported.
Girjegumpi has unfolded in many locations since 2018. When it is not travelling, it is based at the Sámi Dáiddaguovddáš (SDG – Sámi Centre for Contemporary Art) in Kárášjohka/Karasjok. A sister version of Girjegumpi is held by the National Gallery of Canada in Odàwàg/Ottawa.
Joar Nango (born in 1979, Áltá) is an architect and artist based in Romsa/Tromsø, Norway. His work is rooted in Sápmi – the traditional Sámi territory covering the northern regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Through building, site-specific interventions, design collaborations, photography, publications and video, Nango’s work explores the role of Sámi and Indigenous architecture and craft in contemporary thought.
Nango’s work, including the long-term project Girjegumpi, is nurtured by parallel collaborations with other artists, architects, and craftspeople. Among many other initiatives across two decades of practice, he is a founding member of the architecture collective FFB (2010). Currently, he is collaborating with choreographer and director Elle Sofe Sara on a dance performance with Carte Blanche, premiering at the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet. Following a winning proposal in 2021, Nango alongside Snøhetta, Econor, and 70°N arkitektur are designing the new Sámi National Theatre and Sámi High School and Reindeer Husbandry School in Guovdageaidnu/Kautokeino, currently under construction.
Trained at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Nango graduated in Architecture in 2008. Since then, his work has been presented at documenta 14, Bergen Kunsthall, Nasjonalmuseum Oslo – Architecture, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Sámi Dáiddaguovddáš (Sámi Centre for Contemporary Art), and Kiasma.
Top picture: Girjegumpi: The Sámi Architecture Library by Joar Nango and collaborators at the Nordic Countries Pavilion (18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia). Photo: Laurian Ghinițoiu (2023). CC BY-SA 4.0.