By Charlotte Jul, skribent, editor and curator, 2006
Skuldelev 2 is really a warship - the long, slender design enabled the ship to move quickly through the water. The oak ship is 30 metres long and seated 80 oarsmen. Skuldelev 2 could hold booty of up to 25 tonnes. It had to have a very strong construction to carry all that weight. The characteristic round shields and striped sails of Skuldelev 2 are among the most common decorative features ever in fashion and graphics - indicators of the Vikings’ sense of strong, simple signals.
Art and craft
The ship is one huge piece of handicraft: built with a deep sense of design and feel for wood’s capacity to cope with ever changing water and wind conditions. Skuldelev 2 is a delight to the eye. One key practical feature was that when the Vikings were rowing, their shields could be fixed to the side of the ship to protect the crew from the wind and enemy arrows. This is a supreme example of art and craft combined.
War and development
The Viking expeditions were pure strategy. The Vikings came, saw and conquered and then left again. Quickly and efficiently! Today, almost 1000 years after the Viking period, war is still one of the areas on which states expend the most resources on design and invention, such as intelligent clothing with built-in sensors registering the fluid loss of soldiers or jackets with integrated click-on, click-off communication systems. The Gulf War in the 1990s was a vivid example of the key role of design and technology in modern military strategy.
Did you know?
The Vikings are often portrayed as a bunch of wild adventurous barbarians in search of wealth. The reconstruction of Skuldelev 2 at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, however, shows that the Vikings were extremely well organized, efficient and resourceful. When the museum rebuilt the ship, it used 44,000 hours of work, 340 trees, 7,000 iron nails, 2 kilometers of ropes and 118 square meters of sails. Think about what it takes to build an entire fleet!
The committee's justification
By the Committee for Design and Arts, 2006
Building a ship is a form of acknowledgement. It is completely dizzying to try and conceive the extent of knowledge that is incorporated into a Viking ship – knowledge that today we have distributed across ten or so different trades. Knowledge that was lost during the 11th and 12th centuries, when aspirations of North European supremacy were abandoned.
Today, it is impossible to know how the Vikings perceived the relationship between shape and function. Or between decoration and religion. Was it important to them that the ships were beautiful for religious reasons or for the same reasons that we appreciate beauty today? It is impossible to say. However, it is very obvious that the organic whole of construction, design and function in the “Havhingsten fra Glendalough” (The Sea Stallion from Glendalough), as the Viking ship Museum called its reconstruction, is incredibly effective.
Today, it is also true that the aerospace and defence industries are at the forefront in terms of innovation. Industrialisation after the Second World War, which radically changed everyone’s living conditions, is a result of armament developments during the war. Spaceships and aircraft carriers are our contemporary Viking ships – both beautiful and fearsome. Do we have to engage in war to create innovation? The Viking ship is beautiful, regardless of what it has created. And perhaps recognition is just as important as war in its construction? This is a central and difficult problem issue when it applies to design.