Within ten years, the Oslo Opera House has become the embodiment of an architecture that governs the external perception of an entire city, much like the Sydney Opera House designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon in 1957. From the start the striking design by Snøhetta was characterized by the intention not only to provide a functional structure to showcase opera and ballet, but also to create an open public landscape, a new place in and for the city.
Oslo Opera House has been home to the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet since April 2008. It is located in the former port area to the southeast of the main railway station. With a view to city planning, one aim of the project was to provide impetus for the reorientation of the city towards the fjord side. The Opera House now forms the heart of the new Bjørvika quarter and is the city’s landmark.
The Norwegian architecture studio Snøhetta won the international competition for the building in 2000. The architects found an image that was as significant as it was memorable for the complex building program consisting of a large and a small hall, rehearsal room, workshops, administrative areas as well as a restaurant and bars: The structure sits in the fjord harbour like overlapping ice floes. The sculptural landscape form is made up of the reflective glass surfaces of the foyer and the outer shell consisting of white Italian Carrara marble. The building’s entire roof area may be walked on all year round, making the opera building a public urban space, public stage and prime spot for gazing out at Oslo’s harbour.
The 15-metre-high glass wall of the foyer, with its slanted pillars supporting the roof construction, provides a view of the city to the west and of the Bjørvika Bay fjord to the south. The foyer area, where the sanitary cubicles shrouded in a light installation by artist Olafur Eliasson are also located, is open 24 hours a day.
The sides of the foyer facing the auditoriums are gently curved and clad with slender oak slats. In the interval, opera-goers may spend time in the galleries situated there. The horseshoe shape of the large hall with around 1,400 seats is based on the layout of the Semperoper in Dresden. Inside, the walls are clad in dark-oiled oak. Next to the large hall there is a smaller hall with 400 seats and a studio stage. The entire building is divided by a corridor running from north to south into the public areas, with the stages in the west and the production area in the east with rehearsal rooms for the orchestra, singers and ballet as well as workshops and administration areas.