Travel Guide: Oslo

by | 03. May 2018


Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

Remarkable architecture, savoir-vivre and winter sports – the Norwegian capital has it all. From the fjord waves lapping against Snøhetta’s new opera, to the iconic Holmenkollen ski jumping hill rising high above the sea, Oslo offers a unique mixture of breathtaking landscapes and architectural highlights. And which other city provides heated sidewalks and artificially-lit cross country ski tracks?

Welcome to Oslo, Europe’s fastest growing capital. In recent years the town has become a popular destination for architectural aficionados. Although more than a thousand years old, Oslo is a modern city, meeting the pressures of a fast growing population by means of extensive transformation of industrial areas to provide thousands of new flats every year, as well as by the ongoing development of the inner city waterfront, and urban renewal.

Oslo is known for its slow pace, high quality of life and unique Scandinavian design culture. Gardermoen Airport, the gateway for most travelers to Norway, sets the pace with its elegant giant wooden roof structure for the high level of Norwegian design and architecture. Great views are everywhere; from the hillside modernist Ekeberg restaurant the eye captures the whole panorama of city, fjord and forest, with the iconic monuments of Oslo standing out; the Holmenkollen ski jumping hill, a symbol of the city, as well as the cubic twin towers of the City Hall. From this vantage point one realizes what makes Oslo unique in the family of European capital cities: The setting in a largely untouched natural setting on three sides, between forest and fjord.

Along the main street Karl Johans gate, the most important buildings are lined up: from the Royal Palace at one end past the National Parliament, National Theater and Old University to the Central Station at the other, the progress of the building of a new national capital from 1814 onwards can be witnessed. The urban design was heavily influenced by German ideas at the end of the 19th century. With only 650,000 inhabitants, most attractions can be reached by foot.

The uniquely Nordic sense for comfy interiors is omnipresent in a town in which even smaller mediocre hotels have a fire place and relaxing furniture around it to unwind.

For the last 25 years, Oslo has been busy transforming the harborfront into new urban areas. In the west are the hip new districts of Aker Brygge and Tjuvholmen, where former wharfs have been turned into expansive residential, shopping and entertainment quarters. In the east, the new opera stands out as the focal point of a whole new city structure, which includes the ruins of the medieval town, as well as major infrastructure projects like a new subsea motorway tunnel.

If you want to go a bit off the beaten track, the old working class neighborhoods, Grünerløkka and Grønland, teeming with cafés and pubs, is a good place to start. With a foreign-born population surpassing 22% this is Oslo’s most cosmopolitan district. Along the Akerselva river, the traditional industrial structures have been transformed into cultural venues, food marked and schools, giving this former polluted part of town a new lease of life.

Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

DogA Norwegian Design and Architecture Centre

Jensen & Skodvin, 2004

In 2004 Norsk Form and the Norwegian Design Council established this meeting point, gallery and conference center for Design and Architecture in a former Transformer-Station in Hausmannsgate 16. The building consisted of different additions and alterations from 1860 until 1980. The architects revealed this history by uncovering the “voices” from the past. They removed only the plaster that was in bad shape, thus creating a “story” of the building’s alterations. By revealing this architectural information the design gained a complex quality. The new additions inside like walls, furniture and stairs are constructed with simple geometries and rough surfaces. However, the precision and careful detailing of new elements create an elegant contrast to the ruin-like environment. In the same way as in Mortensrud church, steel joints and welding are exposed, presenting visitors with clues to the construction methods.

Original concrete pillars and ceilings are also left without any comforting cover. Lighting fixtures and acoustic panels are designed by the architects. The existing structures are listed, and it was not possible to make extensive changes in the main facades. In the transformer building of the 1940’s, the solution was to insert low bands of glazing with minimal disturbance of the original architectural expression. New flats were built on the roof, and this part of the project was designed by A38 architects. The depth of the building was too large to accommodate only one row of flats, therefore the housing consists of two separate wings, connected by bridges. Underneath, the old building gets daylight through this split into the central hall of offices and exhibition space. In the oldest part of the structure, a black box design is used for the main exhibition hall. The DogA is a part of an extensive transformation of old industrial structures along the Akerselva river.

Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

Oslo City Hall

Arnstein Arneberg and Magnus Poulsson, 1950

Oslo City Hall is the third in the series of early 20th century city halls in the Scandinavian capitals, starting with Copenhagen in 1905 and continuing with Stadshuset in Stockholm (finished 1923). Oslo, or Kristiania as the town was called from 1624 to 1924, also needed a new representative city hall, and the idea of a location by the fjord in Pipervika bay was first suggested in 1908.

A city hall here would involve a major rebuilding of the suburb of Pipervika, originally a fisherman’s village outside the city proper, which had been incorporated into the town structure during the 19th century. This area blocked access from the main street Karl Johan to the waterfront of the fjord, and an important aspect of the city hall project was to open up the town towards the sea. In 1918 the architects Arnstein Arneberg and Magnus Poulson won the first prize in an architectural design competition with a very historicist proposal inspired by the Stockholm City Hall. Financial problems in the aftermath of World War 1 delayed the progress of the project.  In 1929 the architects laid out their eighth and final proposals, now under the influence of functionalism and stylistically combining it with National Romanticism and the Neo-Classicism of the 1920s. The most striking change from the earlier proposals was the division of functions, with two office towers flanking a lower central part, where the main hall, city council hall and other meeting rooms are located. The towers, 66 and 63 meters tall respectively, have an upper part without windows, for architectural effect alone. Some of these volumes are used as ateliers for artists, with skylights. Construction started in 1933 and the main structure was completed in 1936.

World War II also caused construction to stop, and it was resumed in 1947, with remaining art work of the interiors finished for the official opening in 1950, the 900th anniversary of Oslo. The structure is of concrete, but the whole building is covered with 1,5 million bricks, specially made for the project with slightly larger dimensions than modern bricks. Practically all existing buildings and street structure in the area were demolished to make room for the project, an urban transformation which was not completed until the early 1960’s. The building has two faces; a dramatic north side where the towers dominate, surrounded by a circular square which is carefully proportioned with the city hall, and the south seawards façade with the lower “festive” part in the foreground. The grand square on the waterfront gradually became a traffic-choked barrier between the fjord and the city, until a new motorway tunnel made it possible to turn the square into a pedestrian precinct in 1990. The city hall forms a focal node for the Pipervika bay which constitutes the western part of the inner city harbor, in the same way as the new opera does for the eastern Bjørvika bay.

The city hall was meant to be a showcase of civic spirit, with a comprehensive program of artistic decoration, both in sculptures and fountains of the surrounding squares and parks, and in the monumental murals of the interiors. A competition for the artistic interior designs was launched in 1936 with the “Norwegian people” as the central motive. The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony takes place in the city hall, but apart from all official functions, the building was designed as the “living room” of the town, and is still open to all every day during office hours.

Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

Astrup Fearnley Museet

Renzo Piano, 2012

Ferry- and Cruise-ship passenger, who arrive in Oslo from the Fjord are greeted by a new private art museum on the waterfront, called Astrup-Fearnley. The art collection of foundations based on a former shipping company is seen as Norway’s most important museum for contemporary art. The museum was formerly located in the city center, and needed larger facilities. The Tjuvholmen project, an extension of the waterfront Aker Brygge project from the1980’s, is mainly residential and is developed by a private company. The city required a “cultural element” in the project, and the Astrup Fearnley Museum saw their chance of a more prominent and spacious location for their ever-growing collections. Renzo Piano was invited to design the museum.

A glass roof that is gently curved in both directions resembles a sail. It rests on boat-like “masts” made of white steel – the wooden slat-façade resembles a deck of a Yacht. Maritime motives abound. Inside the lamella roof is tilted down to the floor. In order to preserve wall space the main level has been lowered by a half floor. Piano separated the volume into two parts that like a catamaran frame both sides of a new canal: The column-free hall for travelling exhibits is on one and the permanent collection on the other side. Total area of the museum is 4.200 m2. To get from one to another, you have to go out and back in. Shaped like an arrow in plan they frame views of the city and the Fjord. The city demanded a line of sight through the project area, marked by a small canal, in order to have a clear view towards the City Hall. The third building of the project is a six-story office for a legal firm. The friendly, Nordic-light facades are also used inside. Like in a village the building volumes frame a square with a grand outdoor staircase, at the top of which is an observation tower (not part of the museum project). The seaward part of the museum is situated in a small park, with a pebble beach and sculptures. The glass atrium allows views right through towards the beautiful archipelago around Oslo, as does the museum café “Renzo”, which has access to the outside park.

Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

Fornebu IT (now called Technopolis)

a-lab, 2009

The “portal building” in Fornebu is an extension to the former Airport Terminal housing business and incubation centers for information technology companies on 28.000 m2. A-lab was commissioned to develop the building, after winning the competition in 2004. The design reduces volume and waste, providing healthy and communicative workplaces with a flexible layout. The concept was to strip and divide the program into independent elements defined by function, in order to gain a distinct architectural identity. The project is situated on the raised ground of the former apron of the airport, and the symmetrical layout follows the axis of the old terminal, which was designed by Odd Nansen in 1963 and today is a listed building. The two structures are connected by covered passages, reminiscent of bridges at airport gates. A base resolves the height difference of the terrain between the main street and the old terminal. There are four glazed office blocks, four stone clad supply towers and the sculptural public Hub in orange aluminum panels, lifted over the main entrance. The four office blocks have a rectangular form and are relieved of cores and vertical structure. Each office block has 5 floors with a total area of 3.750 m2.

The structure is put outside the exterior façade. It is shaped as a diagonal steel structure around the block and is attached every 4,8 meters with a steel joint through the façade to the floor beams. Vertical communication, technical services and wet cores are placed in intermediate towers, detached from the working areas. The towers are designed as closed massive monoliths, where the functions that do not need daylight or views are located. The free-form orange Hub is an exception and has a clear identity, it acts as a strategic element that glues all the activities. Structure: Steel and concrete. Finish prefabricated: glass, stone and aluminum composite panels.

Architectural Travel Guide Oslo


Arch Uno, 2013

The project is a combination of secondary and vocational school in the same industrial transformation area as the Quality Hotel 33. It is the largest school of this type in Oslo with 2000 students. White has designed the interior of the school, which has a wide range of different vocational courses. The aim of Kuben yrkesarena is to support and encourage lifelong learning. Therefore, the 40,000 m2 building also functions as a meeting place for students, teachers and representatives from the private and public sectors.

The main challenge for interior designers at White was to identify how the experience and the decor of the common areas will support the school’s teaching, and also be a link to the work environment. “Together with principals, teachers, students, architects and the Education Department, we formulated a basis of ideas which culminated in a concept with clearly distinct functions and activities. For these areas we designed special interiors, including a catwalk, student lockers as spatial components, a playing stage, the room-in-room that became a “greenhouse”, lounging cubes, sunken sitting areas and multi-functional furniture,” says Elisabeth Rosenlund, Interior Designer at White.

Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

Fagerborg Kindergarten

Reiulf Ramstad, 2011

This asymmetrically shaped wooden Kindergarten extends the nearby Fagerborg School with 1.200 sm of space. It is separated into two parts, each with a different roof shape. Big cut-outs at ground floor connect the street-side with garden and playground behind the building. The geometry follows the uses: Each group room has its own entrance, designed like a cave. In the center there is a communal room with kitchen while the upper floor contains the offices and social rooms for the staff. The facade has a vertical wooden pattern that runs parallel to all folded plains and edges. Besides the big display-windows at ground floor there is a number of smaller windows creating an irregular rhythm and an abstract connection between inside and outside. The different heights allow children of different ages views outside.

Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

“Smykkeskrinet” Conference Center

Element Arkitekter, 2009

Element Arkitekter won the competition in 2004 for the Union of Education Norway, which wanted “a conference room as big as possible” on this site. The headquarters for Union of Education is situated in the parallel street and in the backyard. Smykkeskrinet is an extension of the existing facilities. Visitors either enter the lobby of the main building in Hausmanns Gate or the lobby of Smykkeskrinet. The struggle has been the tolerances because the two existing neighboring buildings are tilted and not parallel. Therefore the basement has a smaller footprint than the other three floors. The building is anchored by poles into the earth.  Tubes in the decks and the main concrete staircase circulate warm and cold water. The heat from the sun is collected (through the south western glass façade to the street (200 m2) and also some heat from the north eastern façade towards the backyard) in the thermal concrete mass and stored in the earth to be taken up in the wintertime. There are 10 energy wells in the backyard, 150-200 m deep. In the summertime cool water circulates in the building. On the ventilation system there is some “after cooling”.

Smykkeskrinet depends on supply from the energy system on “extreme tops”, estimated to 50-100 hours a year. A CO2 heat pump is more efficient and only consumes 1/6 of the electricity of the heat pump installed today. Smykkeskrinet is connected to the energy central in the existing buildings and will transport extra energy when it produces “too much” energy. Smykkeskrinet will become a zero emission building. Two layers of glass with a screen print (silketrykk in Norwegian) on the outside of the inner glass. Art on the façade symbolizes the important role of Union of Education in teaching and functions as sunscreen. Artist Jorunn Sannes developed the art on the main facade. The interior concrete work is of a high quality. The spacious stairs just inside the glass façade double as social arenas and are extensively used in breaks between meetings. The top floor has a canteen as well as a generous roof terrace. Some of the furniture of the conference halls is designed by the architects.

Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

National Opera and Ballett

Snøhetta, 2008

In the “Bjørvika” harbor development area the giant, gleaming white opera, built partly into the water, seems like an iceberg in the sun. The opera is a blinding shining new cultural icon of the Norwegian capital. Most visitors do not enter the spatially refined foyer immediately, but climb the roof of the opera, for the view of the city and an architectural experience. Architecturally the building encourages people to “give it a try”. After a stroll on the roof and a peak into the lobby curiosity is raised. As Norway’s biggest music-related institution the architects gave it an expression of “horizontal monumentality”, avoiding all “vertical and muscular forms”. This Snøhetta project is the first and only purpose-built opera in Norway, where a regular national opera company was established as late as after WW2. Originally housed in a theatre from the 1930’s, which was totally unsuited to the acoustic demands of opera music, the need for better working conditions eventually became critical.

The decision was therefore not so much about building a new opera, but whether to have an opera at all; it could not go on without dedicated facilities. Like so often in Oslo, there was a fierce debate about where to build this huge project. Only a few locations had the necessary space available, and for a while the old West Railway Station, which went out of use after a central rail tunnel opened in 1979, was the favored place, next to the City Hall. Then the old east-west struggle raised its head; why locate all high-status cultural projects in the affluent western part of town, and not in the traditionally poorer East End? And so the east part of the port, the Bjørvika bay, was finally chosen, an area until then wholly occupied by roads, rail and harbor facilities. The opera became the “locomotive” of the development of this area. Norway’s most famous architectural office, Snøhetta, won the international design competition in 2000.

One basic idea of the project was to “give back to the city what we take from the city”, that is, the concept of making a large part of the roof into a public plaza, open to all 24/7. The sloping roof extends all the way to the water’s edge, making it one of very few places in the city center where one can touch and feel the water, where children can play with the waves among seaweed and driftwood. This presence of nature in the very city center is a typically Norwegian concept; on the top of the opera roof you will in certain places only see white marble, reminiscent of a snow-covered mountain plateau, and the sky, a mere few hundred meters from the central station. The urban art of opera seems to deny its urban setting. The small steps and changes in level of the roof, which has caused many visitors to fall flat on their faces, is part of the artistic program, in order to break up the large even surface into a composition of lines and levels. The idea of the architects is to integrate the art as much as possible with the architecture, blurring the traditional border between decoration and structure.

Another example of this principle is the sculptural curtain walls of the three toilet “islands” in the lobby. In the lobby, one experiences the contrast between the hard, angled exteriors and the soft, curving interior walls, and also the strong interaction of the outside and inside, as well as the proximity to the water, which on sunny days joins forces with the white marble to dazzle the eye. 33.000 pieces of Italian Carrara marble have been put together into a giant puzzle, with exquisite detailing of the highest quality and precision. Inside, German oak is the main material, used both for the floor, walls and ceiling of the main hall where it projects into the lobby. Here, the wood is cut into small sticks, whereas a flowing wooden composition is created inside the hall, curving smoothly according to acoustic demands. The main hall with 1370 seats has the classical horseshoe shape of the Semper Opera in Dresden.

The secondary hall has room for 400 spectators, and a rehearsal hall offers more intimate performances for 200 people. On 40.000 m2 there are more than one hundred rooms and 600 employees. A special feature, proposed by the architects, is the exposing of workshops on the ground floor to the public in the streets outside, creating a transparency of the inner workings of an opera production. The opera is divided into a public part and a production part, divided by a fire wall which is marked by glazed slits in the façade. In this area, workshops, storage units and wardrobes are arranged in the rear on four floors behind patterned aluminum-panel facades. In Norwegian society, which cherishes egalitarianism, such an expensive prestige project serving a supposedly elitist art form, the opera needs to have “low thresholds”. Although modern architecture is as controversial here as in other cities, the opera has been popular from the start, and locals use it for meeting and greeting, as well as celebrating weddings and other special occasions.

Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

Holmenkollenbakken (Holmenkollen Ski Jump)

Julien de Smedt, 2011

The Holmenkollen is a beacon for the city and a new showcase for ski jumping, Norway’s national sport. Competitions have been arranged here annually since 1892. Holmenkollen is regarded as the Mecca of Nordic ski sports and with more than 600 000 visitors annually, one of Norway’s largest tourist destinations. Originally following the natural landscape, the jumping hill has been more or less continually rebuilt and enlarged to accommodate the ever-increasing jumping lengths. The most extensive renewal was made for the1952 Winter Olympic Games in Oslo, when spectators reached the record number of 100.000. In 2005, the International Ski Federation decided that the hill does not meet the standards to award the city the 2011 Nordic World Ski Championships. In 2005 Norway’s Directorate of Cultural Heritage approved the demolition of the ski jump and in 2007 the Oslo municipality announced an open international competition for a new ski jump. Julien de Smedt from Copenhagen beat 103 firms and was awarded the commission.

The design unifies all amenities into one: The booths for the judges, commentators, trainers, as well as the tribune for the Royal family, who attends every competition, all are unified in the sweeping curves of the stainless steel mesh which primarily is a protection against dangerous side winds. The resulting simplicity brings focus to the ski jumping. The ski jump rises 58 meters in the air. Its 69m cantilever makes it the longest of its kind. On the first day of jumping tests, the record of the longest jump made at Holmenkollen was broken. Atop the ski jump is a platform where visitors can take in breathtaking views of Oslo and the fjord. The project also includes a new stadium for cross-country skiing and biathlon, as well as a number of smaller jumping hills. Partly due to time pressure, the new Holmenkollen became almost twice as expensive as planned, causing a political scandal in the city government, who had to cover 90% of the expenses, the rest being paid by the state. As a result, the project had to be simplified to cut costs. The old office and café building under the former jump from 1952 was retained, slightly weakening the original design of the architect. The entrance is from the existing Ski Museum, which is cut into the local red granite rocks. The stand provides space for 30 000 spectators, and the redesigned Iandscape links the stadium and all seven ski jumps. The infrastructure around Holmenkollen was improved by building a new metro station and new paths and streets.

Architectural Travel Guide Oslo


MVRDV, 2012

The Dutch architects MVRDV from Rotterdam designed the headquarters for the biggest Norwegian Bank. The urban design competition for Bjørvika’s “Barcode” project was won by MVRDV with Dark and a-lab (both from Oslo) in 2003. The Barcode consists of 12 buildings with 10.000 work places and 500 apartments. All buildings are long slender slabs, high volumes with sightlines in between. The great variety of heights, materials and shapes is intentional, and the volumes of the buildings create a unified composition. The office tower is the central structure of the new DNB bank headquarters, which also occupies the flanking buildings, and has 17 floors stepping forwards and backwards in an irregular pattern, blurring the contour of the tower. The brick facade pattern is based on a unified module of six by six meters with terraces and roof gardens of different sizes. The pockets between the “Pixels” have greenery. Glass Curtain Walls structure the building and their reflections are mirrored on the neighboring facades. 2.000 employees work in the building. A basement hall, 3.000 m2 in size, connects to the neighboring buildings, designed by Dark and a-lab.

The new headquarter is aiming for synergy and a corporate identity concentrating twenty DNB office locations dispersed over the city. The structure is conceived as a steel rack which permits adaptation, and some dramatic cantilevering at the lower levels. The steel rack is wrapped in brick, it appears as a rock one can climb onto, a strong shape within the boundaries of the Barcode. The niches of this rock provide space for vegetation: the positioning of the pixels creates roof gardens or outdoor areas for every floor. The generic office floors recline and are recessed in various places to reflect the urban context and to create communal indoor and outdoor areas and outstanding daylight conditions. At street level the building is opened by sheltered entrance zones, and intersected by a public passage leading to Central Station. Every floor of the building is both unique and generic: the pixelated volume makes the generic specific. Panoramic 140 seat canteen on the top, the executive lounge with a view over the fjord, the board room, and in the heart a trading room with 250 work stations. These elements are connected by a staggered continuous internal route of terraces. The route meanders from the reception through the building. Stairs made of wood and steel and bridges allow employees to switch levels or to walk the 17 levels up to the canteen. The route is naturally ventilated and made homely with pantries, meeting areas and gas fireplaces, giving access to the terraces and roof gardens.

Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

Villa Stenersen

Arne Korsmo, 1939

Villa Stenersen is considered one of the main works of Norwegian modernism. The private home was built for finance broker and art lover Rolf M. Stenersen and his family. Architect Arne Korsmo (1900-1968) applied the international architectural ideas of his time. The villa was home to works from Rolf Stenersen’s art collection, exhibited in the piano nobile-like first floor, where the façade consists of glass blocks with ordinary windows inserted, partly due to the outstanding view of the city and fjord. Situated on a prominent rise in the landscape, the house has a somewhat monumental character, quite different from the typical coziness of Norwegian villas.

The basement garage is curved and partly glazed, and has a door at each end, allegedly to allow Mr. Stenersen, who was not a gifted motorist, to exit the garage without reversing. The glazed curve is repeated in the ground floor above, cutting into the torso of the house, and making the pilotis structure more prominent. Mr. Stenersen donated the building to the Norwegian State in 1974, intending it to be the residence of the Prime Minister. However, the house has only been used for this function for a short period, leaving it unoccupied for many years. Today, contemporary artworks on loan from the private collection of Sten Stenersen jr. are displayed in the house, which is now listed. Since spring of 2014, the National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design is running the villa, restoring the interiors to their original colors, materials and details. Events and exhibitions inform the public of the house’s history and the art, architecture and design of that time.

Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

Exhibition Pavilion for the Architecture Museum

Sverre Fehn, 2008

The Architecture Museum of Norway uses one of the country’s first monumental Empire Style buildings, designed by Christian Grosch in 1830, and its four-story addition of 1910. A branch of the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, has taken over the oldest premises of the Norwegian Central Bank. Sverre Fehn’s introverted Pavilion uses daylight, the sky, and the walls of the nearby Akershus Fortress as its references. From the outside, a main motive is the contrast between the concrete outer walls and the dainty glass pavilion. Inside, the pavilion is square in plan with four large concrete columns supporting the shallowly vaulted concrete ceiling. The structure is basic, almost archaic in its simplicity. The facades are glass, blurring outside and inside. The somewhat oversized stainless steel sockets for vertical glass elements are typical for Fehn’s design philosophy, emphasizing structural joints. Exterior glass louvers provide for sun screening. The pavilion is surrounded by concrete walls that expand the experience in the room and act as a backdrop for the exhibitions, with glazed slits that provide glimpses of the outside world.

Visitors enter the museum through the Grosch Building. Reception, bookstore and café are located in the main hall on the ground floor with library and administration on the second floor. From the main hall visitors access the Pavilion with changing exhibitions, or the adjacent building with the permanent collection. New building materials are concrete, glass, steel, marble and oak. Fehn was the architect for both the refurbishment of the old building and the pavilion. To the south, there is access to the park through the cafe, which has outdoor catering during the summer months. The museum’s administration, library and assembly rooms are on the first floor. The two top floors of the repository are used as archives for photography and drawing collections and for registration.

Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

Statoil Offices Fornebu, Bærum

a-lab, 2012

Statoil is a Norwegian oil producer with 30.000 employees. 2500 of these work in this office building, with a view over a park and the fjord of Oslo. The structure reflects Statoil’s role as a petroleum company as well as giving a new identity to the local environment. Fornebu area, a previous site for Oslo airport, is undergoing a transformation into an urban area. The office project occupies the area of the former airport’s parking house, and the surrounding park which extends right down to the fjord, was the site of the main access road. A-lab architects won the competition for the project in 2009. The building balances size and architectural expression with its surroundings, whilst introducing new impulses that enliven the area. How does one design a giant commercial building complex to make it blend with the idyllic shoreline? A large part of the site has been transformed into a public park and promenade along the fjord. It consists of five office wings of identical size, stacked on top of each other.

The concept gives a generous amount of space to the park. Each wing is 3 stories high, 140 meters long and 23 meters wide. The modules are oriented differently to optimize daylighting and views towards the fjord. The modules create an atrium, with an “urban plaza” connecting the social functions on the ground floor. It bestows all users of the building with stunning views and good light conditions. The design draws on the oil industry’s techniques. The steel superstructure enables the modules to cantilever up to 30 meters. Escape stairs and services are concentrated in four giant concrete cores, which also stabilize the superstructure. The façade consists of 1600 prefabricated elements with integrated windows, insulation and solar-shading, with no visible fixings. The atrium is covered by a “propeller-shaped” glass roof.

The geometry can be described as a bubble, finding the smallest surface area to close the volume between the modules. A communication tower in the communal atrium is the center of the building’s social life; everyone passes through the atrium to and from work. In this way, spontaneous encounters and exchanges are fostered, which are very desirable for an international knowledge-based company such as Statoil. There are workspace units as small as 3×3 meters, each with access to power, sprinklers, ventilation and lighting. An interior almost free of columns makes it possible to easily adjust the number and size of workstations and meeting rooms according to a project or the tenant’s shifting needs. 85% of energy is recycled and the skin well insulated and airtight. Inside, the warm oak interior and cool aluminum reflects the soft northern daylight. A unique feature of the design is the artistic decoration on the underside of the cantilevered wings flanking the main entrance.

Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

Lysaker stasjon

Snøhetta, 2009

Lysaker stasjon on the Drammen Line and Asker Line is situated in Bærum, near the former airport of Fornebu, making it an important node for both local, regional and airport express trains. The station project is a result of the new train line westwards from Oslo, which made it necessary to double the number of tracks and platforms. The station is elevated and features two island platforms with four tracks. Snøhetta won the architecture competition for the station, the rather sharp curves of which caused some concern about safety. A generous public passage cuts through the massive concrete base of the station, giving good access both to the adjacent bus terminal and the large number of office workplaces in the area. As a contrast to the concrete, colored glass is extensively used in the public areas. The platform roofs are shaped as sculptured “clouds”, floating above the slim columns, adding visual qualities to the station.

Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

Bellona House

LPO arkitekter, 2010

The office building has a characteristic south facade with integrated solar panels that reduce solar exposure. On sunny days the building delivers energy to the local grid. The tenant of this building is the environmental organization Bellona, Norway’s most environmentally friendly office building at the time, with an estimated power consumption of only 68 kWh/m2/year. The building consists of offices, businesses and restaurants. Everything from material selection to life cycle analysis was examined. A mobility plan for the whole Vulkan area was established. The most striking aspect is its saw-tooth-shaped south facade, where the glazed surfaces face downwards and are shielded from excess solar gain by solar panels on the upper surface. The architecture makes use of the sun´s heat in a functional way, at the same time as the sun´s exposure on the windows is limited despite the large south-facing glass surfaces.

The property lies centrally in Oslo and is easily accessed by public transport. A new bridge over the Aker River connects the transformed industrial Vulkan area with the trendy former working-class district Grünerløkka. To establish this connection, part of the old Vulkan factory hall was demolished, the rest being rebuilt into Oslo’s first indoor food market, designed by the same architects. Employees do not have access to parking in the building. The good insulation (roof 400 mm, walls 270 mm), windows (U-value 0.8), minimal cold bridges and a low air leakage factor (0.5 to 1.0). A ventilation heat recovery system (efficiency 87.6%) was installed. The cooling needs are reduced through a low window area, external sun-screening (automatic blinds).

The building has 50% exposed concrete ceilings that accumulate heat and regulate the temperature throughout the day, as well as cool it at night. An energy-effective lighting system (3.8 W/m2) is demand-controlled. A local energy centre supplies the building with heat, cooling and warm water. This center gets its energy from the solar panels installed on the roof of Bellona House, a local ground source heat pump and district heating at peak load. The building´s structure is concrete. Some of the facades have rendered cladding panels made from recycled glass, while on the north facade the render is put directly on the insulation. The south facade uses insulated wood studwork, while the west and east facades use Iso3 studwork. The wooden windows have aluminum cladding and the floors consist of cork linoleum. The eastern wing of the building, facing the Akerselva river, has a somewhat more traditional design.

Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

Akerselva Atrium

NBBJ, Pran arkitekter AS / Bambus Arkitekter AS,  2009

The Akerselva Atrium is a 17,600 m2 office building in downtown Oslo. Surrounded by historical industrial, office and apartment buildings, it is among the first contemporary designs in the area. The design anchors to the area’s existing architecture, while the use of juxtaposed facades, materials and colors, enlivens the neighborhood. The location by the river allows for a more sculptural design than in a city block setting, and the project completes the renewal of this part of Hausmann street. The design ties to the riverfront: The all-metal curtain wall melds with the area’s metal and masonry buildings; its white-and-blue punched windows bring an inter-play of color and shape. The east-facing glass facade tilts 90 degrees to seemingly float above the river, providing staff with not only a panoramic views but a suspension above water. The inward-leaning atrium serves as the entrance and is marked by a dramatic 10-story leaning atrium comprised of orange glass. The atrium defines a diagonal circulation path, splitting it in two. At street level, a wide staircase leads down to the riverside.

Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

Computer Center for the Meteorological Institute

Pir II Oslo AS arch. (“Tallhallen”) 2011

The sculpturally shaped building houses the Meteorological Institute’s servers for weather data processing, as well as new meeting rooms and a staff canteen. Public- and staff areas are located on the upper level, with the technical functions below. The local terrain has been shaped to allow universal access to both levels, on both sides. The external cladding of perforated aluminum panels varies from closed to open in a pattern of clouds circling the building. A low carbon footprint has directed the choice of main materials: timber cladding and low-carbon concrete.

Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

Gardermoen Airport

Aviaplan, 1998 (1st phase)

Gardermoen Airport is the gateway to the Norwegian capital and thus to Norway as a whole. After several decades of planning, with proposed locations all around the Oslo area, all of which were rejected by the local communities, the airport was finally built at the existing charter airport of Gardermoen, 50 km north of Oslo, when the inner-city airport west of town could no longer grow. It was designed by a consortium called Aviaplan, which comprised Narud Stokke Wiig (now Nordic Office of Architecture), Niels Torp, Hjellnes COWI civil engineers and Bjørbekk & Lindheim (landscape architects). The consortium was incorporated in 1990. Aviaplan won the architectural competition to design Oslo Airport and continues to design airports including those at Tallinn, Riga, Landvetter, and Hyderabad. The design concept for the main passenger building in Oslo was to create “simplicity, lucidity and a subdued sense of monumentality” according to the architects. The impressive control tower is also designed by the same architects. The Gardermoen line, built specifically for the airport project, and still Norway’s only high-speed railway, is also the main line northwards and brings you to the city center in 20 minutes. The station is integrated in the terminal.

The ambition of the planners was that two thirds of the airport passengers should use public transport, which is the case today, mainly due to the popularity of the rail connection. The airport has a comprehensive design program, which all users must follow, including commercial services. The idea is to create a sense of Genius Loci, of having arrived in Norway, with extensive use of local materials like natural stone and wood. Generous use of daylight also provides good views of the surrounding landscape, thus improving orientation and sense of direction. As in all public buildings in Norway, the airport has extensive artistic decoration, the most interesting item is perhaps the “Sound Showers”; downward-facing parabolas under which you are in a world of soothing sounds like the lapping of waves, poetry or music, magically isolated from the noise of the terminal, in order to reduce the stress of travel. The huge, all-embracing roof spans the arrival and departure hall with curved glue-lam beams and glass facades.

The terminal consists of a central building with check-in-blocks and a linear pier and a railway station, Norway’s second largest station. Around the building are 34 gates and parking bays for aircraft with passenger bridges. The architects, now known as “Nordic” also won an invited competition to increase the capacity of the airport to 35 million passengers per year. The project involves the planning and design of airside and landside areas, expansion of the terminal building and a new pier. In the first phase the capacity of the airport will rise to 28 million passengers per year, while in the second phase the number will increase to 35 million. The design team aspires for the upgraded airport to be sustainable. The shape of the building takes advantage of passive solar energy and daylight, and can respond to weather. District heating and natural thermal energy, it is designed to achieve ‘BREEAM Excellence’. The strategy includes simple and understandable movement patterns giving the traveler a good overview and understanding of where to go.


Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

Bærum Kulturhus, Sandvika

Snøhetta, 2003

The Bærum Cultural Center was built in a riverside development area, as an extension of the town center of Sandvika, 15 km west of Oslo. The building has a dramatic presence in its urban context. With its dedicated Haukelands Plaza in front, it forms the focal point of a cultural axis through the town center, connecting the old town hall, the bridge crossing the river, the new city administration complex and library, and a neighboring cinema and shopping mall. The Cultural Center is formed around a 600-seat theater hall, with two rehearsal rooms and a public foyer. The upper foyer reaches out towards the street and uses Haukelands-Plaza as part of the stage. Since the site was too small to fit the building, it was important to create an inviting and functional foyer as a connection between the indoor and outdoor plazas. The building’s cantilever makes the entrance plaza a semi-outdoor area.

The indoor foyer has a floor made of white terrazzo with embedded glass pieces that stretches out as a “white” concrete carpet in the plaza. The glass façade along the long sides has a light design program with full RGB color renderings. The tilted translucent façade elements are strongly present also inside the building, and have been known to play tricks with the sense of balance of visitors. The reconstruction of the plaza has slate-covered sidewalks and granite curbs framing a new circular traffic pattern. Green lawns and trees frame the slopes around the old town bridge and connect to the riverside park.


Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

Gyldendal Norsk forlag

Sverre Fehn, 2008

On Sehesteds plass, Norway’s two major publishers face each other: Aschehoug has occupied the eastern side since 1911 and Gyldendal headquarter opened opposite. For most of the 20th century, by acquiring premises on the square, the company aquired a site that penetrated the whole block from east to west. Gyldendal wanted to rationalize their premises and called in Sverre Fehn, Norway’s only Pritzker Prize winning architect. Behind the 100 year old façade the task was to connect a conglomerate of different buildings and provide more room for employees. Instead of many smaller rooms, large continuous offices have been created. Preservationists demand that the reconstruction does not affect the 19th century facades.

The chaotic interiors have been replaced by the Ibsenhall, a big luminous court surrounded by galleries. Its volume stretches across the block, allowing the main entrance and its copper door to be moved from Universitetsgata to face Aschehoug. Gyldendal’s five-storey atrium is full of light from a grid of 18 roof lights, formed as lightweight concrete pyramids with their peaks truncated at different angles to provide natural luminance. It falls on the concrete balconies of the first to third floors to fill the space with cool light which is warmed by oak floors, ceilings, balustrades and joinery. Dappled light comes through glass block walls facing the wells between the building and the ones on each side.

The regular grid of cylindrical columns gives scale to Ibsenhall. This calm and rational volume is interrupted by the concrete semi-circular main stair and Danskehus (the Danish house). At first, its little Palladian-vernacular elevation seems to be incongruous in the middle of the atrium. Gyldendal is conscious of its history and wanted to celebrate it. The atrium’s facade reproduces that of a book warehouse in the courtyard of the Universitetsgata building. Facade fronts the boardroom over a tiny museum, contained in a laminated timber structure. The canteen occupies part of the atrium and the rest is devoted to exhibitions and events. Formal gatherings are held in the 100-seat auditorium, arranged to have independent access from Sehesteds plass.

Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

Fokus Bank

Kristin Jarmund, 2005

Headquarter for Fokus Bank/The Danish Bank. The building is placed on one of the capital’s most prominent corners, directly facing Oslo’s most important and central public space – with the Parliament and the National Theatre in close proximity. The buildings along the two streets that meet at this corner represent a wide range of historical styles. The intention of the design has been to give the new building a contemporary, as well as a timeless expression, interacting with the complex urban context in which the building is situated, – creating an architectural dialogue between the present and the past. The neighboring 1890’s building has been fully restored and integrated with the new structure. The façade towards Stortingsgata has an asymmetrical composition, with the main part slightly protruding from the volume of the building, and where the upper levels are given prominence as a “Piano Nobile”. This sculptural treatment of volumes is typical for the architecture of Kristin Jarmund. Wooden window framing is used to create depth, and to break up the regular rhythm of glazing, as well as to add warmth to the architectural expression.


Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

Mortensrud Church

Jensen & Skodvin, 2002

Located on a small hill surrounded by pine trees, Mortensrud Church has an elongated, rectangular floor plan with gabled roof. It consists of two volumes: the church to the north and the parish center to the south. The church is an example of a typical Scandinavian care for nature; Trees and other vegetation is preserved virtually to the very walls of the structure, giving the impression that the building has arrived from above without any use of the site for construction at all. However, the strictly defined rectangular base of the project also creates a clear division of architecture and nature.

The main structure is a framework of steel with walls of slate bricks and glass, with the slate walls withdrawn from the glass facades, allowing for narrow aisles on either side of the nave. The hand-crafted light grey slate bricks have a smooth and an uneven side – the interior walls have the smooth side facing inwards, while the uneven side is visible from the outside through the glass. This contrasts the fragile glass and the stacked stones. From inside the nave, the mortar-less slate walls, letting filtered light in through its cracks, seem frail in contrast to the steel columns that define the space. The church blends into the landscape with its slate walls accentuating the colors of the landscape and large glass surfaces reflecting the surrounding vegetation and the light of the sky.

The campanile at the south-west corner and the pine trees outside the church binds the complex together. The rock formations emerge like islands in the in situ cast concrete floor of the church between the congregation and choir – and in the atriums by the entrance, as many trees as possible have been preserved. The church is bright, open and gives the experience of something sacred. At the same time, the entrance area is used for more informal functions, even including a café, which makes the church more open and inviting for the local population. Built on a modest budget, Jensen & Skodvin managed to make one of the most celebrated buildings in the country. Its gabled typology evokes traditional church architecture. The design succeeds in creating a dramatic yet subtle interplay between nature and culture, past and present, tradition and modernization.

Restaurants & Hotels

Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

Ekeberg Restaurant

Lars Backer, 1929, renovation and interior design by Mellbye Arkitektur Interiør 2005

The elegant Ekeberg Restaurant is regarded as one of “Europe’s foremost functionalist buildings”. Architect Backer won the competition to design the new restaurant in 1927. It replaced a predecessor, the Tiedemanns Tobakksfabrikk pavilion of 1916. Situated half way up a forested hill above the eastern harbor area it benefits from its site and views over Oslo. It makes good use of its privilege, especially from the second floor veranda. Towards the end of the 1990’s, Ekeberg Restaurant was closed and was left to decay, and most of the interiors were vandalized. The building is a listed monument and its renovation has been careful, although controversial, as new elements needed to be incorporated into the original design. The “International Style” white color is not the original, which was red ochre. The building now contains restaurants for 200 guests, a bar/lounge, conference and meeting facilities, banqueting and wedding suites. The lobby has a small coffee bar, and the outdoor terrace, where drinks and light meals are served, is a favorite of locals in summer. Backer also designed (the residence of the crown prince at Skaugum -no, that was Arnstein Arneberg, town hall architect). the first high-rise office building in the city, the Horn building on main street Karl Johan, originally planned 14 stories tall, but scaled down by the city council. His Skansen restaurant, completed in 1927, but unfortunately demolished, was the first modernist building in Norway, making Backer a pioneer of Scandinavian Functionalism.

Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

SAS Scandinavia Hotel

Jon Lunding, 1975

With its 67 meter it used to be the tallest building in Oslo, and even today ranks as third highest. The Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel (known as The SAS Hotel) is located just east of the Palace Park. A whole city block of 19th century buildings was demolished to make room for the project, which was the winning design of a Nordic architectural competition in 1969. The triangular city block is fully occupied by the low base of the hotel, with the tower as a striking contrast. The architect wanted the tower to be some stories higher, which would have improved the proportions of the structure. However, this was regarded as too dominant seen from the nearby Royal Palace Square, and a reduced height was imposed on the design. The facades are made from black stainless steel, with its carefully crafted details creating a somber yet elegant impression. The hotel has 488 rooms and suites on 22 floors, and offers a variety of interior designs. There are great views of the western parts of the city center, the Oslo Fjord and Holmenkollen hill from the panorama bar on the 21st floor. Male guests can also enjoy a breathtaking view from the bar’s rest room.

Architectural Travel Guide Oslo

“Quality Hotel 33”

Erling Viksjø, 1968, Refurbishment: Mellbye Arkitektur Interiør, 2008

Architect Erling Viksjø designed this brutalist building in the Økern neighborhood of Oslo to serve as the headquarters for a telephone and cable company. 40 years later a hotel operator turned the office building into a hotel, called the HOTEL 33. The conversion is a key project in the transformation process of this industrial zone in Oslo. The building is part of a group of similar structures by Viksjø, including the high rise building of the government office complex and the headquarters of the Norsk Hydro company. A trademark of the architect is the sandblasting technique which exposes embedded pebbles in both internal and external concrete walls. Still a monolithic exposed concrete slab from the outside, the interiors have been totally reworked: The lower floors contain large event- and conference rooms while at street level, there is a restaurant with 300 seats. The added top floor has a bar and restaurant section as well as a spa area, which offer good views of the city and surroundings.