Located at the head of Oslo fjord along the Bjørvika Peninsula in the capital city of Oslo, Norway is the nation’s largest music and theatre institution “The Norwegian National Opera and Ballet”. Designed by celebrated Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta the structure is the winning entry of the International design competition. 

Completed in the year 2008, the National Opera and Ballet was a part of the city’s revitalization strategy to redevelop the waterfront with a rich history into an accessible public square. The building is an embodiment of high architectural quality and monumental expression connecting the urbanscape with the landscape.

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Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, Oslo_©Jens Passoth


The concept of the winning entry of the opera house is a combination of 3 elements: the Wall wave, Factory, and Carpet.

Wave wall

Bjørvika peninsula is a part of harbor city which is historically the meeting point for the rest of the world. The wave wall is then conceived as the dividing line, a symbolic threshold between the ground and the water. This can also be interpreted as the threshold where the public meets art.

The Carpet

One of the main aims of the structure was to make it accessible to the public which was achieved by laying the carpet connecting the roof via horizontal and sloping surface. Monumentality is achieved through horizontal expansion. Thus, making the building a social monument and not just a sculptural one.

The Factory

The proposal suggested the production was to be carried out in-house in a self-contained rationally planned accessible place. This was achieved by the setting up of the factory in which several rooms were adjusted as per the users’ needs. The factory houses 600 employees under its roof working from 50 different professions.

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Wave Wall_©Gerald Zugmann
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Wave Wall_©Gerald Zugmann
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 Landscape and Urban Setting

The structure is characterized for having an identifiable theme that ties the culture and people through a string of architecture having unique and expression

In the words of Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, architect, and co-founder of 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.”

Connecting the land and sea, the Opera House seems like an enormous glacier sliding into the fjord. The sloped roof that angles down is made of Italian marble to create the illusion of glistening ice. The sculpted landscape would be just a theater for opera and ballet, but also a plaza accessible to the public. Horizontality and openness are the evident characteristics of the project. The building faces the fjord and the city is a way to create a visual connection.


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Plan of Opera House_©Archdaily.com
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Section of Opera House_©arquitecturaviva.com

Built with an area of 37500 sq. m with 11200 area dedicated for public space the opera house is divided into 2 by the corridor running north-south. To the west of this lies the public areas and stage areas. The eastern part houses the production areas which comprises 3 floors above the ground with an underground basement U1 below it.

Access to the plaza and main entrance is over the marble-clad footbridge. Inside there is a sense of height with windows running up to 15 m high flooding the area with light. The structure has a total of 1100 rooms with the main auditorium having a capacity of 1400 and other two performance stages -the second house and the studio.

A considerable portion of the building being underwater with two ferry terminals close by there was an impending danger of ships colliding into the building. To solve this problem an underground ship barrier was constructed to the south of the opera house close to the building which sits 2 m below sea level. Another important factor during construction was the foundation, the construction of which required 12000 sq. m of steel piling around the perimeter of the site. The piles vary in length and can reach up to 55m below the water level.


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Lobby_©Gerald Zugmann
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Main Auditorium_©Helene Binet

The interior is in stark contrast with the landscape of the white marble outside. At the heart of the structure is the wave wall made from strips of golden oak behind which lies the main auditorium. The main auditorium is a classic horseshoe-shaped plan with an excellent acoustic design. There is a courtyard in the middle of the production area surrounded by facades of glass, timber which bring in sunlight. 

The perforated cladding located at the lobby of the bathroom shows differing characteristics of scale and hue from different angles and sides. Interior has been designed to provide informal space fluid in nature with several different areas characterized by carefully chosen materials.


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Glass Exterior_© Trond Isaksen
Marble Clad Roof_©Snøhetta.com

The materials had been chosen categorically in accordance with their colour texture weight. White Italian marble was for the carpet, oak wood for the wave wall and metal for the factory were the primary materials chosen. Glass was added as the fourth material as it was extensively used in the public areas. The materials articulated the essence and the architecture of the space.

This monumental structure creates an engagement of the public with art and highlights Norway’s cultural significance of opera and ballet.  


Oslo Opera House / Snøhetta”. Accessed from ArchDaily.

Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, Oslo, Norway. Accessed from Architonic.lo, No


A student of PMCA Cuttack. She believes nothing is black or white but grey. Like the meaning of her name, she is in quest of her grey; the perfect balance in life be it through her words or design. Her love for architecture, history, and baking best describes her.