Upholding the Law: Magnus the Lawmender’s Law of the Land, 1274-2024

The National Library of Norway

Visitors walk through atmospheric gauze layers of hand-written pages

Exhibition Design, Graphic Design

‘Upholding the Law: Magnus the Lawmender’s Law of the Land, 1274-2024’ is a refined, atmospheric and delicately-staged exhibition for The National Library of Norway. The show celebrates the 750th anniversary of the country’s 1274 ‘Law of the Land’, which laid the foundation for the Norwegian legal system and for popular participation in it – effectively establishing the prerequisites for democracy.

The approach to the design, developed following our appointment to the project in late 2022, was to create an immersive atmosphere that would permit visitors the feeling of almost walking inside these incredible and hugely historically-significant books.

Visual playfulness ensured a sense of wonder, based on the idea that laws are made up of words that gather strength as they are made first into pages and then into books, with structures and society then arising directly out of these. Individual words are treated as the central tenet of the design concept – as they are of the law. The exhibition is located in a predominantly dark space, with light used theatrically to highlight the exhibition’s structures, showcases and objects, with words and pages displayed at different scales and in both translucent or overlapping forms.

Paper and the act of writing are also investigated as part of the exhibition’s visual themes, which consider material textures, highlighting and correcting, typographic styles and illustration. Manuscripts and the layout of text, including proportion, indentation, alignment, hand scribing and paper types and tones were all sources for the exhibition’s innovative and expressive layout and graphic design.

Gauze ‘pages’ are angled through the space by each showcase, whilst contemporary angled boards, with a sharp and unique colour edge according to their location in one of the six different thematic sections of the show, are sited around the perimeter.

Because of the preciousness of the works on show, the showcases were designed with ultra-high-security credentials, as well as to the very highest conservation standards. They were also designed with future-facing flexibility, so that the investment in the structures can be spread into the coming years.

The showcases feature illuminated and angled labels for maximum accessibility and are lined in a luxurious fabric in deep jewel tones. Visitors will not overshadow the labels when looking at the books, nor does the text interfere with the experience. The new label-holders were retrofitted onto their existing cases too so that they feel part of the same family of furniture. The lighting inside then enabled a very careful focus around the books – to feel as if they are floating – with labels inside the cases which can also be illuminated.


The National Library of Norway


Oslo, Norway


Exhibition Design
Graphic Design


Light Bureau - Lighting Design
Studio ZNA - Showcase Lighting Design

photography: Gareth Gardner