Something to Sing About

I.D. Magazine

With its recent sea oil revenue and late urbanization, Norway tends to play the role of Scandinavia’s nouveau riche cousin from the country. The postwar urban aesthetic of this small and sparsely populated country (4,7 million) has (with the exception of Pritzker Prize winner Sverre Fehn) been stuck in a time warp, giving it rustic patina rather than Scandinavian Modern gloss. This is set to change, however, with Oslo’s new opera house. The elegantly expansive structure, which was inaugurated on April 12, is expected to pull the Norwegian capital out of its cultural obscurity and put it on the map as an architectural hot spot.

Norway’s ministry of culture held the international competition for a new national landmark eight years ago, and local breakout firm Snøhetta—which is best known for their future visitor’s center at the WTC Memorial and the 800 000 square foot Alexandria Library in Cairo– but has never built a similarly grand-scale project before on its home turf—was a natural choice for the weighty commission. “We were given the task to create a monumental building that would represent the abilities of contemporary Norwegian society,” says Snøhetta’s Tarald Lundevall, who was the project’s architect together with his colleagues Kjertil Thorsen and Craig Dykers.

Although the white stone and glass building itself has already radically transformed the city’s coastline  —with its sweeping roof platform that descends into the fjord on one side and extends into a plaza on the other, it looks like an immense formation of ice floes rising out of the water—Snøhetta’s interpretation of “monumental” was focused more on usage and Scandinavian ideals of public access. All aspects of the building are designed for public use, even the exterior. The roof ramps over the entire building, functioning like a panoramic park as it rises above the glass encased foyer and offers an impressive view of the Oslo cityscape and then slides down the other side into a waterfront terrace. “We wrapped the building in a carpet of widespread planes that are open for everyone,” says Lundevall. “You can sit on the roof and take some sun, you can stroll around and dip your toe in the water.”