Image Credit : Gareth Gardner





Project Overview

An immersive and labyrinthine temporary exhibition at The National Library of Norway in Oslo, focusing on the fictional character Harry Hole - ‘Oslo’s number one detective’ - created by multi-million-selling Norwegian author Jo Nesbø for his hugely-popular ‘Harry Hole’ crime series.
The exhibition, entitled ‘Labyrinth: Tracing Harry Hole’, is located in the Library’s 195 sq m first floor temporary exhibition space.

Project Commissioner

The National Library of Norway

Project Creator

Nissen Richards Studio


Exhibition & Graphic Design Nissen Richards Studio
(Pippa Nissen, Kate Coghlan, Candy Wall, Queenie Wong)
Contractor / Bespoke Joinery Tømrer Petter Halvorsen and Tømrer Totto Johansen
Lighting Design Studio ZNA
Graphics Contractor Konsis

Project Brief

A quote by author Umberto Eco formed part of the client’s conceptual thinking for the new exhibition, as cited in the project brief: ‘The starting point is partly inspired by Umberto Eco’s statement in his preface to ‘The Name of the Rose’ that people primarily enjoy crime fiction because it invites them to guess at the solution.’
The form of the exhibition is inspired by the idea of the labyrinth, where the visitor, just like the hero detective of Nesbø’s books, follows a number of winding paths, whilst tracing threads of clues. The literal idea of a thread also relates to the labyrinths of classical Greek mythology, where Ariadne follows a thread through a labyrinth created for her by Theseus.
The labyrinth therefore forms the framework of the new exhibition and is also the exhibition’s philosophical, ethical - even mythical inspiration. In a traditional labyrinth, there is no centre or alternative way out - only the possibility of following the thread. The treatment of subject matter in Jo Nesbø’s crime novels - and the city he locates them in - is both theatrical and forensic, focusing on the gathering of evidence. Here, it’s as if the visitors themselves are characters, experiencing clues, evidence and context whilst using Inspector Harry Hole’s research-based methodology.

Project Need

The exhibition is made up of a series of spaces which explore different themes relating to the Harry Hole novels. The visitor discovers a series of rooms within the labyrinth, as if negotiating a real city and coming across fragments of evidence. Themes that spin out of Jo Nesbø’s books and Harry Hole’s methodology are widened and examined, making use in part of the National Library of Norway’s incredible resource of reference books on everything from old city maps, forensic illustrations and medical diagrams of the human body to the history of Norwegian prisons as illustration.
Themes and sub-themes are contained within capsule areas or miniature ‘rooms’ set between the curving plywood walls, with individual displays centring on books, manuscripts and translations. The objects on display include precious items relating to the author directly, such as manuscripts and reader reports, and else historic objects presented in either showcases built into walls or framed and placed behind apertures – or, finally, reprinted Nesbø books, with quotes underlined in red pen, mounted on a wall or with a cradle mounting bracket.
“Nissen Richards Studio has once again transformed the listed exhibition room of The National Library of Norway to create a completely new experience for our visitors. The labyrinth, forming a curated pathway through central aspects of the Harry Hole novels, is a beautiful construction in itself, whilst also working in harmony with the existing interior."
(Head of Exhibitions at The National Library of Norway, Marte-Kine Sandengen)

Design Challenge

The main challenge was how to create and communicate the labyrinth itself. First, a model is introduced at the outset, serving as a map, so that visitors know what kind of journey they’re embarking on. Maps also have a special place in the Harry Hole novels, with Hole often actively using a map to find messages left by a killer or to decode secrets the killer is trying to conceal.
The visitor’s route through the space includes curved plywood ‘labyrinthine’ walls. Recognising that a sense of place is important to us as humans, Nesbø always makes a point of describing the geography of the setting of his novels, starting with the human body and the experience of being. The aforementioned labyrinthine thread, meanwhile, finds form in the exhibition as a wandering red line, painted on the walls and floor.
When visitors first arrive, they’re met by a towering, theatre-scale graphic wall in a dramatic black, grey and red colourway, including three doors and with a giant fingerprint integrated into the design. Visitors are directed towards the seemingly ‘correct’ entrance, only to find the route is actually a cul-de-sac ending in a trick door that opens onto a library shelf of books. The visitors then come back out and go through the real door, understanding immediately that their path through the exhibition will not be straightforward and that the exhibition will encompass both clues and dead ends.


The main contractor on this project was locally-based, as were all materials suppliers, minimising any transportation to site. The client’s own existing stock of library showcases was used for display, whilst the client’s existing light fittings were also re-used for the majority of the exhibition’s lighting.

Natural materials predominate, including the main timber structure, which can be recycled. For the graphic elements, single-use plastic was avoided and paper and wood-based products were used, sourced in Norway and which can either be recycled or are themselves a recycled substrate.

Open to all international projects this award celebrates innovative and creative building interiors, with consideration given to space creation and planning, furnishings, finishes, aesthetic presentation and functionality. Consideration also given to space allocation, traffic flow, building services, lighting, fixtures, flooring, colours, furnishings and surface finishes.  

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