Friday, March 19, 2010

A new scene for art and architecture

OSLO/RECLAIMING THE SEA. On the scene way below my balcony seat, the drama of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser opera unfolds in a spectacular show. Dressed in present day Salvation Army uniforms, the cast performs on an impressive high-tech stage in constant change.
To be honest, I’ve come not as much for Wagner’s opera as for the chance to admire the inside of a spectacular building that has come to symbolize a transformation of the Norwegian capital on a massive scale.
Like a huge block of ice, the white marble Opera House is set in the waters of the Oslo Fjord. The sloping roof of the building that extends all the way down into the fjord forms a unique urban space where people gather both summer and winter.
In an exhibition at the Architecture museum nearby, representatives of the local world class architects Snøhetta, explain in a filmed interview that this dual use - both the inside and the outside – of the building was one the main ideas behind the project.
Snøhetta has already won several awards for its design of the Opera House (right and below), and the exhibition is due to the Norwegian architects winning the Mies van der Rohe Award for 2009.
The Opera House, with its cool marble exterior and its warm wooden interior, was opened two years ago as an inspirational starting point of what will become the new face of Oslo.
The Fjord City, as a series of developments along the waterfront is called (see my first report here), will reconnect the city with the sea.
This new Oslo will house an impressive series of cultural institutions in new buildings with high architectural ambitions.
If we move two kilometres along the Fjord to the west, we can begin an imaginary trip through the cultural Oslo of the future.
On Tjuvholmen, a small island peninsula that used to be occupied by port and shipyard facilities, builders are now busy completing what will be the fanciest part of the new Oslo. Most of the residential buildings are already in place, but the real gem will be a new art museum and recreational park complex designed by Italian master Renzo Piano.
The new privately owned Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art is planned for opening in 2012. It is set to become one of Norway’s major attractions.
“Tjuvholmen is a small island, but I think the park there will become one of the most beautiful places in the world”, says Renzo Piano when interviewed in a book about the Tjuvholmen development.
He prefers to call it an “island of art” instead of a museum. Besides a gallery for modern art, there will be a sculpture park, recreational areas with a small beach, restaurants, an office building and an observation tower.
“The Piece”, as Piano calls it, of the project will be a large wooden roof covering the main buildings and the space between them.
“This project is inspired by Norway in so many ways. The buildings belong to the sea”, says Renzo Piano in the book interview, and explains that the inspirational site surrounded by water was the reason he accepted the offer to do this project.
Not far from Tjuvholmen, Oslo’s National Museum will have a new home behind the old railway station that now houses the city’s Nobel Peace Center. Six finalists have been chosen from an international architecture competition and the winner will be picked on April 12. Whoever wins, the new National Museum is bound to become one of Oslo’s signature buildings.
As we move eastwards, past Oslo’s characteristic City Hall, the area surrounding the Akershus Fortress (an important part of Norway’s historical heritage) will be spruced up.
Further east lies Bjørvika, with the Opera House, which will be the most significant part of the new Fjord City.
The Opera will get two high-profiled neighbours; a new home for the Edvard Munch collection and a new library.
Munch is Norway’s most important contribution to the history of art and his masterpiece “The Scream” one the world’s most famous paintings.
The present Munch Museum on the outskirts of central Oslo will be replaced by a new ultra-modern museum designed by Spanish architect Juan Herreros. His design “Lambda”, after the 11th letter of the Greek alphabet, has caused some controversy in Oslo. Some find the 40 meter high building too tall, some think it looks more like a bank office than a museum.
Juan Herreros himself called the building “strange but logical” when he was interviewed by the Norwegian daily Aftenposten on a recent visit to Oslo where he faced some of his critics.
“This is a place where all of Oslo will go when they have their birthday or visitors from other places. We are also considering a viewing platform on the roof of the building. There you can go out from the exhibition and feel the light, the wind and the cool air, and then go inside the warm building again. If we make the building lower, it will diminish the view and the quality of the experience”, says Herreros in the Aftenposten interview.
The future Deichman Library, designed by local architects Lund Hagem, will be an innovative building with see-through walls on the other side of the Opera House.
Further east there will be a Middle Ages park on the original site of the Norwegian capital, with plans for a new Museum of Cultural History housing Oslo’s unique Viking ships. A decision on this is expected later this year.
“All of this will become an extremely attractive cultural cluster that will be important not only for those who live here and come here for visits. It will also to cultural cooperation across the borders”, says Bård Folke Fredriksen, the city’s Commissioner for Urban Development.

This is the second in a series of reports on the transformation of Oslo.


Oslo's new Opera House, rising from the water like a big block of ice.


The warm interior of Snøhetta's Opera House.


Copyright: Tjuvholmen KS/Renzo Piano Building Workshop
The new art museum on Tjuvholmen, designed by Italian master Renzo Piano.


Copyright: Herreros Arquitectos, Spain
The winning concept for the new Munch museum in Bjørvika, near the Opera House.