Oslo Opera House – Snøhetta

To celebrate #ARCHweek17, I wanted to go back to 2011 and a visit to another of my favorite buildings – the Oslo Opera House. No surprises with it being in Norway and by Snøhetta, right?

The Opera House is an iceberg floating in Oslofjord, enveloping a warm wooden heart, and a distinctly modern public square. There aren’t many other buildings that allow unfettered access to the roofscape. It’s an angular anchor for a new Oslo neighborhood (Barcode, now completed to the left in the picture and another neighborhood to the right under construction).

In many ways the iceberg became a “beach” during the summer days. Locals and tourists flock, creating a lively space outside of simply going to a performance. Glazing and white stone make up the entirety of materiality, allowing for the angular forms to be showcased and traversed. Finished stone meets unfinished where water meets iceberg, showing passage of time and movement of water (and algae).

Traversing to the top point of the roofscape is quite the experience. There are great sightlines to the rest of Oslo and the fjord, and one spirals around the building while making their way to the top. There are variations in stone height and paths along the way, reminiscent of fissures, crevasses, and uneven terrain on ice and glacier.

After traversing the iceberg and summiting at the top, an expansive view of Oslofjord greets you. You feel as if you are on the prow of a ship, getting ready to leave Oslo behind like the unnamed protagonist in Hamsun’s Hunger, or simultaneously – and more in line with the building’s conceptual underpinnings – an iceberg cleaving from the glacier and floating out to sea.

Inside, the always stunning Northern light meets the wooden heart of the building enveloping the theaters. The textural wooden walls capture sunlight, create shadow, and serve to contrast the smooth white stone and glazing – and serve as circulation and procession into the theater spaces. The wooden volume is a very apropos spectacle recalling Garnier’s grand steps at the Paris Opera, and reconfigured for Norwegian sensibilities.

A beautiful moment of the building comes on the interior where interior and exterior begin to blend together in the glazing. The sectional play that comes from the roof scape allows for overlapping views both in and out of the building – allowing for the “see and be seen” nature of taking in a show. Snøhetta took the conventional norms from the grand operas houses of mainland Europe and brought them into the 21st century. Familiar, yet completely reconceptualized – taking what was given to us by the past and paying those gifts forward.

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Josh Mings

Architect and painter. Columbus, IN born, New Orleans educated, Chicago living and trying to leave the world better than I found it.