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The idea of a Hamsun Centre was born in the mid-1980s and the building was completed in time for Knut Hamsun's 150th birthday on 4 August 2009. In 1994, Nordland county municipality and Hamarøy municipality established a limited company that was to progress this work and in the same year the American architect Steven Holl was engaged to design the centre, which was then to be situated at the writer's childhood home of Hamsund. The architect immersed himself in Hamsun's life and works and when he presented his characteristic watercolour sketches in 1996, they showed a strange tower, a building that was an interpretation of Hamsun's literature and which the architect himself described as a character out of Hamsun.

As the building took shape, it aroused attention and debate both in Norway and abroad. In 1997 it was decided that the centre should be built in Presteid, the designs were reworked and the cultural hall was incorporated. In 2000, the county council agreed that Nordland county municipality should act as builders for the Hamsun Centre. The centre was financed as a co-operative venture between public organizations and private sponsors and collaborative partners. The building work started in 2008, and upon its completion in 2009 Salten Museum (now Nordland Museum) took over the running of the Hamsun Centre. The building was completed in 2009 and the exhibitions in 2010. The centre was opened to the public on 11 June 2010.