Oslo Opera House
Oslo’s new Opera House is located on the Bjørvika Peninsula overlooking Oslo Fjord. The marble clad roofscape forms a large public space in the landscape of the city and the fjord.
The government wanted the Opera House to be a landmark for Norway as a cultural nation, highlighting the Norwegian Opera and Ballet, and also the foundation for the urban redevelopment of the area. The design by Snøhetta won the international competition in 2000.
The conceptual basis of the competition and the final building is a combination of three elements, the “Wave Wall, the “Factory” and the “Carpet.”
The Wave Wall
Opera and ballet are young art forms in Norway, art forms that evolve in an international setting. The Bjørvika Peninsula is part of a harbor city, historically the meeting point with the rest of the world. The dividing line between the ground “here” and the water “there” is both a real and a symbolic threshold.
The production facilities of the Opera House are realized as a self contained, rationally planned “Factory.” This “Factory” is both functional and flexible which was very important during the planning phase where a number of rooms and room groups were adjusted in collaboration with the end users. These changes have improved the buildings functionality without affecting the architecture.
The competition brief stated that the Opera House should be of high architectural quality and be monumental in it’s expression. To achieve monumentality the architects wanted to make the Opera accessible in the widest possible sense, by laying out a “Carpet” of horizontal and sloping surfaces on top of the building. This “Carpet” has been given an articulated form, related to the cityscape. Monumentality is achieved through horizontal extension and not verticality.
The materials, with their specific weight, color, texture and temperature, have been vital to the design of the building. Snøhetta’s architecture is narrative, it is the materials that form the defining elements of the spaces – it is the meeting of the materials that articulates the architecture.
For the Opera House three main materials were specified at the competition entry. White stone for the “carpet,” timber for the “Wave Wall,” and metal for the “Factory.” As work continued glass was introduced, allowing the underside of the “carpet” to be visible.
For Snøhetta a close collaboration with artists has always been an important part of their projects. For the Opera House the artists were invited as collaborators at the competition stage to avoid having to apply “decoration” to the architecture.
The “Carpet” was a collaboration with artists Kristian Blystad, Kalle Grude and Jorunn Sannes. The architects chose the Italian marble, La Facciata, because it retains its brilliance and color even when wet. The surface treatment of the stone, its pattern, cuts and lifts, which create a shadow play, have been designed in close collaboration with the artists. The Water Project is by artist Monica Bonvicini.
The design of the metal cladding elements was a collaboration with Astrid Løvaas and Kirsten Wagle. Because the Opera House is designed to have a long life span the selection of the metal cladding was very important. Aluminum was selected because of aesthetics, longevity, malleability and the possibility of making very flat panels.
The panels were punched with convex spherical segments and concave conical forms. The pattern developed by the artists was based on old weaving techniques.
Eight different panels give a constantly changing effect depending on the angle, intensity and color of the light on them.
Oak was chosen as the dominating material for both the “Wave Wall’ and the main auditorium.
For the “Wave Wall,” which has has a complex organic geometry made up of joined cone shapes, it has a light and varied surface.
One enters the building under the lowest part of the roofscape where the ceiling meets the floor.
Further into the foyer the roof is supported by four free standing volumes. The perforated, illuminated cladding of these volumes, by artist Olafur Eliasson, is inspired by glaciers and ice crystals.
A grand staircase, leading to three galleries around the auditorium, is peeled out of the wooden wall. The interior of the wooden wall has an intimate feel in contrast to the open, white foyer.
Oak, treated with ammonia to give a dark tone, was used in the auditorium for floors, walls, and ceilings, as well as balcony fronts, and acoustic reflectors. The main auditorium is a classic horseshoe shape designed for opera and ballet. It seats approximately 1,370 divided between stalls, parterre, and three balconies. The orchestra pit is highly flexible and can be adjusted in height and area with the use of three separate lifts.
The Snøhetta designed chandelier, suspended inside an oval reflector, is the main source of illumination in the auditorium. Made of 5,800 hand cast glass crystals, through which 800 LED lights shine, the chandelier gives off a cool diffused light.
The stage curtain was designed by American artist Pae White. She worked with digital images of aluminum foil which reflects and adopts the colors of the auditorium. These images are then transferred to a computer driven loom.
Stage 2, seating up to 400, will be used by both opera and ballet, as well as banquet functions, rock concerts, experimental performances and children’s theatre. It is a multi use hall where the seats, which are on large wagons, can be repositioned in a number of different configurations.
The exterior of the Opera House becomes diffused as night falls. The “Wave Wall” is illuminated giving the building a completely different character. The interior becomes the facade showing how interdependent the interior and exterior of the building are.
During the building period it became clear that rapid and considerable settling of the ground level around the building would need to be addressed. Large areas of gravel, designed to take local vehicular traffic, have been laid around the building footprint, this being easy to adjust as the ground sinks relative to the building which is founded on the bedrock.
Landscaping of the surrounding areas is a collaboration between Snøhetta and Bjørvika Infrastructure who have been responsible for the planning of the street around the Opera House.
The Norwegian Opera and Ballet is the country’s largest music and theatrical institution, being the national producer of opera, ballet, music and dance theatre, and concerts. The Opera House will be the workplace for approx. 600 employees from more than 50 professions.
The building is split in two by the “Opera Street,” running north-south. The “hard workshops,” where the scenery is made, are located to the north. The “Soft workshops,” with all the functions necessary to serve the needs of the dancers and singers, as well as administration and changing rooms, are located to the south. The public and stage areas are located to the west, the production areas, which are simpler in form and finish, are located to the east.