Oslo’s Opera House, located at the head of Oslofjord and completed in 2008, singlehandedly placed the city and its architect Snøhetta into the spotlight of contemporary architecture. At a certain level, the building has many similarities to Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House in that both buildings created more than a place of music and performance for the city; rather, they became destinations in their own right and gave their cities defining landmarks.
Looking at the Oslo Opera House from a map, the building sits in the waters near the Central Station. A single pedestrian bridge connects the public square outside the Opera House with the historic city. More accurately, the public space stretches from outside the Opera House onto its roof, as the main defining feature of the building is its slanted profile, which allows people to literally step onto the building. The entire building becomes a public square as visitors delight in climbing the slope to catch a view of Oslo from the vantage position.
It is perhaps no surprise that the Oslo Opera House blends architecture and landscape so successfully. Its architects, Snøhetta, was formed under the concept of incorporating architecture and landscape architecture into one design process. Oslo Opera House is perhaps the magnum opus to this idea, as the landscape literally blends in to the architecture to create a unifying experience. The success of the design is such that, on visiting the building, some visitors climb onto the roof immediately, bypassing the interior of the building altogether.
On the inside, the building is a blend of white and wood. The large windows which look out to the sky creates dramatic lighted spaces that highlight the volume of the interior. The publicly accessible space on the interior is slightly disappointing though, as the area is quite small and limited only to the lobby area outside the auditorium. Unlike the Casa da Música in Porto or the Helsinki Music Centre, Oslo’s Opera House is much more traditional in its programmatic layout. Certainly there are areas to see and be seen, but its interior arrangement is much more Palais Garnier than the avant-garde qualities of some contemporary music halls.
Often said to give the impression of an iceberg, the all white exterior of the Oslo Opera House is striking to look at from across the waters. Its sharp edges, large windows and angular silhouette are undoubtedly modern and gives off an arctic vibe fitting to its Nordic landscape. Yet the building is perhaps a little too much like an iceberg, as the marble chosen for the roof is a brilliant reflector of light. On sunny days, the reflection from the building makes it overly bright, creating a snow blindness effect that almost requires visitors to wear sunglasses in order to climb the building.
Where the building overwhelmingly shines is its concept as a seamless blending of the building with its urban context. The creation of a singular plane creates a sense of participation, an architectural interpretation of traditional Scandinavian values of openness and democracy.