The Bjørvika pier forms one side of Oslo’s inner harbour basin, and has for centuries been one of Oslo’s points of contact with the world. However, with the decline in harbour activity, the site became underused and was in a state of decay. The Opera House was conceived as a lever for upgrading this part of the city and help transform it into a mixed use development area.
Programme and general organisation
The building links the city with the fjord, and the hills to the east with the historical centre of the city to the west. It marks the contrast between the solid earth here and the fluid water there, and is at the same time a meeting point between land and sea, Norway and the world, art and everyday life - the point where the public meets the artist.
The design for the Opera House was the winning entry in the international architectural competition in 2000. The building programme was complex, and naturally changes were made during the process, but the basic concept proposed in the competition entry has been retained.
The building concept consists of three parts: the Wave Wall, the Factory and the Carpet. The Wave Wall separates the public areas from the stage, and the immense four-storey-high oak wall symbolises the threshold that the public must cross in order to meet the arts of opera and dance. The Factory is the production area, while the Carpet is the 18 000 sq.m. marble roofscape that gives the building its monumental quality.
The interior of the building is divided into two by a north–south corridor called the Opera Street, which serves as the main communication artery for the staff: almost 600 people representing 50 different occupations. The Factory is situated on the east side of the Opera Street, and consists of almost 1000 rooms of varying sizes and different functions.
On the west side of the Opera Street lie the public areas and the stages. These have a freer form and in some cases very high ceilings. A marble-clad plaza leads the public to the main entrance and the foyer, which has a vast glazed south-facing wall that provides a panoramic view over the Oslo Fjord. The building can accommodate up to 2000 people on a performance night, approximately 1400 in the main auditorium, 400 in Stage 2 and 150 in Rehearsal Room 1.
The main auditorium
The main auditorium is a classic horseshoe theatre built for opera and ballet, with 1370 seats. The orchestra pit is highly flexible and the height and area can be adjusted to three separate sizes. On either side of the stage are mobile towers that allow the width of the proscenium to be adapted to ballet or opera. Reverberation time is fine-tuned by drapes along the rear walls. The architectonic intention – a modern auditorium for the appreciation of traditional, unamplified musical expressions – was developed to meet the visual intimacy and acoustic excellence required by the building programme. In older opera halls, acoustic attenuation was often achieved by the use of richly decorated sculptural elements on walls, ceilings and balconies, but in the present case a modern architectonic language has been used. The double curvature of the balcony fronts and the oval ceiling ring consist of pre-fabricated oak elements made of solid pieces glued together, treated with ammonia and then oiled and polished.
Art and materials
Snøhetta believes in close collaboration with the artists during all building projects. Right from the competition phase the architect’s intention was to involve the artists in the design of both the large marble-clad roofscape and the aluminium-clad facades. At an early stage of the competition three main materials were specified: white stone for the Carpet, timber for the Wave Wall, and metal for the Factory, giving it an industrial look. The Italian marble La Facciata was chosen for the Carpet and oak for the Wave Wall and the floor, walls, balcony fronts, reflectors and ceilings. The metal panels were punched with convex spherical segments and concave conical forms; the pattern was developed by the artists on the basis of traditional weaving techniques.