Oslo Opera House is designed by the renowned architectural firm Snøhetta. Oslo Opera House encompasses Norwegian National Opera and Ballet and the national opera theatre in Norway. Being Norway’s largest musical and theatrical institution, the ultimate purpose is to produce opera, ballet, dance, music, theatre, and concerts.
Opened in 2008, the structure is operated by Statsbygg, a government agency that is assigned to manage properties in the Norwegian government. It is one of the largest cultural buildings constructed in Norway.
The site where the Oslo Opera house is located, Bjørvika bay has been one of the economic lifelines of Oslo. It has been the connecting link between Oslo and the rest of the world for centuries. As the years passed like most of the historic harbor cities, Bjørvika became under-used and needed to be revived culturally. An international competition was held for the Bjørvika region which was won by the firm Snøhetta.
“The building is not an icon. Rather it’s trying to be the opposite. Because once you allow the public to move about the roof, it is they who generate the expression of the building, rather than the building itself.” – Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, architect, and co-founder of Snøhetta
The primary intention of the Oslo Opera house was to escalate the urban development in the defunct region of Bjørvika. The main motto for this project was “If you build it, they will come”. Oslo Opera house thus created a new urban condition in the heart of Bjørvika, which is a rapidly developing area in central Oslo.
As per the stated brief, the structure was to be monumental in its expression and has to have high architectural quality. The horizontality and openness are one of the prime qualities of the structure. Snøhetta has design concepts based on these three elements: the Wave Wall, the Factory, and the Carpet. Along with that, the structure has a main auditorium hall.
The Wave Wall
The concept of the wave wall derives from the location of the Bjørvika which is part of the harbor city. The wave wall is the symbolic dividing line between the sea and the city, envisioned as the meeting point between sea and ground. The wave wall developed as an extensive oak wall acts as a meeting point for the public and the art.
As per the brief developed, Snøhetta proposed that the production facilities of the Opera should be self-contained in a planned factory. The factory was needed to be both functional and flexible during the planning phase itself as well as in later use. The accommodation capacity of The Factory is about 600 employees working in 50 professions for the new Opera house.
Another element of design induced in the structure was The Carpet. The brief by the competition stated that the Opera house should possess the idea of monumentality. It was to inculcate the concept of togetherness and should be openly accessible to all. The carpet is the large, open, horizontal sloping surface that was specifically designed as common property. The form of the carpet is in co-relation with the cityscape, and the horizontal extensions define monumentality. The surface area of the carpet which is accessible is about 1800 sq. ft.
The Main Auditorium
The main auditorium is a horseshoe-shaped hall with a capacity of approx. 1370 visitors. The auditorium is designed in accordance with the acoustic detailings and visual excellence. The aesthetics of the hall are modern, formal, and clean rather than rich, decorative, and sculptural style used in olden times. The entire auditorium is illuminated by the specially designed chandelier made of 5800 hand-cast crystals.
Facade – The building has a clean white look along with the glass glazing. A large part of the building is covered in white granite and La Facciata, a white Italian Carrara marble. While the stage tower in the structure is cladded in white aluminum.
Lobby – In contrast to the calm exterior material, the interior material palette consists of oak finishes of European origin which brings warmth to space. The lobby in the structure is designed to get maximum view of the sea, it has huge fenestrations with special glass and minimal framing.
Auditorium – The main horseshoe-shaped auditorium has seats with monitors for an electronic libretto system (a system used in opera houses to translate lyrics in the audience’s language). The seats are designed in a way that they absorb less sound. The material palette has a warmer, darker hue. Oak is used for the interior, which is suited for the theatrical experience.
Along with that dark timber and the specially designed orange-red fabric is used. The chandelier used in the hall is also an acoustic reflector.
Roof – The roof angles to the ground and is supported by angular columns which do not obstruct the view. The pattern on the roof-scape is stone-clad and marble-clad in some areas, which is traditionally used in public squares.
Oslo Opera house was designed with an experimental mindset. An experiment towards changing the urban conditions in the Bjørvika region. The structure literally blends into the city and lets the users define it. The roof of the structure slopes down to the ground level and people are encouraged to access it throughout the year. A place like the Opera house is used multi-functionally by people for skating and sledding down during winters. This makes the structure ‘socially sustainable’.
Due to its proximity to the sea, it becomes an excellent public place imparting many views of the water from the lobby. Even the usage of materials is contrasting, which gives the sense of two different experiences. The structure is more open and interactive with its context and allows users to define it in their own sense. This helps it create a unique, and exploratory condition for the context of the Oslo region.