Hitting a high note

Just like many other port towns, Oslo has redesigned its waterfront. The Opera House, which is the largest cultural building to be completed in Norway since Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim (c.1300), is said to be an important symbol of what Norway represents as a nation and will express the role that opera and ballet have in society.

The construction of the new Opera House is the single largest cultural-political initiative in modern Norway. Its base area is the equivalent of four international standard football fields and the building has 1,100 rooms grouped in numerous sections.

Designed by architectural firm, Snøhetta, the Opera House design is poetic, but also concrete; it takes away room from the city, but also gives it back. It is the mediator between two quarters and it connects land and sea. The architectural team chose for monumentality, but not for one that towers as a sculpture. On the contrary, the monumentality is a social one: a public proscenium on a human level.

The venue is a landscape and a building. In that sense, it conceals its actual musical function and has a double use. The roof, rising to 32m, is designed as a public space with exciting refractions, stairs, corners and elements like the 54m high flytower, in an austere but pleasing play of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines.

It is a miraculous carpet on which one can walk, sit, picnic, dance, skate, or descend into the water or ski. The foyer is open all day, with four bars, restaurants, shops, and toilets.

The rich-in-form ensemble of surfaces has considerable dimensions: 207m x 110m. Including the forecourt, it is 242m long. Resting on piles up to 55m, the colossus of concrete and steel reaches down to 16m below sea level.

In the underground, vault spaces like underground stages, dressing rooms, storage, rehearsal rooms and technical gear are located. The project accommodates 1,100 bigger and smaller rooms for more than 600 people.

The building itself is typified by a hard exterior (natural stone and glass) and a soft interior (oak). The roof, large parts of the outer walls, forecourt and foyer are clad or covered with 38,000 radiant white plates of Carrara marble.

The outer wall on the north side and a zone on the sea front are furnished with the Norwegian granite species Ice Green. The public areas on the front or west side have huge glass walls for the unobstructed view over the Oslofjord; in one of them a colossal solar panel is integrated.

At the back, the business facilities are accommodated over four storeys and a cellar, such as workshops, rehearsal rooms, offices, dressing rooms and storage. They all are flexible and adaptable; the functionality of them is indicated by the horizontal aluminium cladding with a pattern that comes to life by the light.

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