Oslo – the visionary hotspot for Nordic architecture and urban development

MOST of us know the iconic Opera House in Oslo by architects Snøhetta which has become somewhat of a landmark for the city in recent years. But perhaps less known is that Oslo is in the process of positioning itself as an internationally leading city on climate-friendly, high quality architecture.

In a world where large cities in the world are faced with similar challenges such as migration, climate change and how to be cities for people, Oslo is actually beginning to craft the solutions. In Oslo they have decided to do something about it and be prepared for the future. And they have been very ambitious defining their vision for the future city development; it must be people-centered, sustainable and include high quality architecture.

Most importantly, the City of Oslo has identified the principles and values that should define the city they want in the future. By addressing the current climate and migration challenges, and by debating visions, the city has started to position itself as an international world leading city as a people-centered, climate-friendly, high quality city. This effort is also creating a large-scale branding of the city as a benchmark for other cities of the future.

Oslo is expanding with an urgency that makes it the fastest growing city in Europe. It is estimated that the population in Oslo will grow by 33.2 per cent by 2030 which is partly due to large net migration. The vision is to make Oslo an attractive city for living, working and visiting as well as becoming an international leading climate-friendly city. But how do you achieve that?

Stairs inside Powerhouse Kjørbo by Snøhetta. Photo courtesy by T Lauluten and FutureBuiltStairs inside Powerhouse Kjørbo by Snøhetta. Photo courtesy T Lauluten and FutureBuilt

The Oslo Model
The Municipality of Oslo has designed a comprehensive masterplan to develop Oslo through compact urban development and in close collaboration with private developers. The programs outline a specific framework for both area development and buildings in order to ensure that Oslo grows into a place with an overall quality that enhances its urban, nature and heritage qualities.

A part of the masterplan is The Fjord City – Fjordbyen in Norwegian – an area along the harbour covering more than 10 kilometres of continuous waterfront. The idea of the programme is to connect the city with parks, cultural institutions and public spaces along this area. Other strategic initiatives targets that a continuous and varied green network in the city ensures opportunities for recreation as well as a better local climate, air quality and natural water balance. Urban spaces is designed to create social meeting places and favour interaction across citizens, to strengthen the local identity and a sense of belonging.

Oslo Opera House by Snøhetta. Photo courtesy by SnøhettaOslo Opera House by Snøhetta. Photo courtesy by Snøhetta

The National Cultural Axis
A very interesting element of the creative vision is the National Cultural Axis, which proposes to invest in culture and placemaking along an east/west axis between the harbour and the city. In an age of rapid urban transformation, places need their own cultural identity to flourish and the arts can contribute to local communities and may even attract businesses to start up an area. The most famous examples are The National Opera by Snøhetta, and The Astrup Fearnley Museum by Renzo Piano at Tjuvholmen, the new cool area of the city which was not too long ago nothing but a run-down industrial site. Also, we find the ongoing Deichman Library designed by Lund Hagem Architects in collaboration with Atelier Oslo, and the new rather spectacular Munch Museum designed by estudio Herreros both scheduled to open in 2018. By establishing a cultural strategy in the overall design that enlivens and connects the city to the harbour, Oslo is making culture accessible to people as a part of their everyday lives.

It is a rather bold and visionary decision using culture as a strategic leverage in urban development. Investing in culture on this level is vital as a strategy for urban development as it stimulates the city’s global arts status. When you offer a distinctive sense of place and identity, people will want to stay and be a part of it. It is a great idea for any city wanting to compete for the best innovators and creative citizens.

Barcode by night, Oslo, Norway. Photo courtesy by Visit NorwayBarcode by night, Oslo, Norway. Photo courtesy of Visit Norway

Barcode – the futuristic facades
Located at Bjørvika near the opera we find the Barcode, a row of distinct highrise office buildings designed by acclaimed architects such as MVRDV, Dark Arkitekter and Snøhetta. The buildings are stacked closely together, appear very distinct in their individual designs and vary in expression depending on which angle you see them from. The skyline of modern office buildings with the pixelated, sculptural appearance has given the building complex its name – the Barcode.

Powerhouse Kjørbo by Snøhetta. Photo courtesy by T Lauluten and FutureBuiltPowerhouse Kjørbo by Snøhetta. Photo courtesy of T Lauluten and FutureBuilt

A spectacular part of the masterplan is the so-called FutureBuilt – designed to encourage buildings with low energy consumption and climate emission and of high design quality. One major goal is to realize 50 model projects testing out a minimum of 50 percent reduction of climate gas emissions. The flagship project is Snøhetta’s Powerhouse Kjørbo, which claims to be the world’s first office building that produces more energy than it uses. The new Munch Museum and the Deichman Library are also part of this programme, which is based on the visionary idea of fighting climate change with high quality architecture and a collaborative approach across siloed professions. Oslo is proving to be the leading testbed for visionary, climate friendly and high quality solutions for global challenges.

Installation view. On Residence Oslo Architecture Triennale 2016_ After Belonging. Photograph by Istvan ViragInstallation view. On Residence Oslo Architecture Triennale 2016_ After Belonging.
Photograph by Istvan Virag

Oslo Architecture Triennale (OAT)
How architecture affects society and how it can be part of the solution on global challenges was on the agenda of this year’s OAT, the Nordic Architecture Festival. Reflections explored the challenges that follow in the wake of growth and migration. The fundamental issue is that global circulation of people and information, and objects have changed the way we think about the concept of “home” and the notion of feeling at home. This has implications for how we build our cities and our homes – and it affects our notion of belonging.

The Triennale includes two main exhibitions and an ambitious programme with an international conference, attracting profiles from all over the world. The Oslo Architecture Triennale is a laudable and interesting Nordic contribution to the main architectural festivals primarily the Architecture Biennale in Venice. OAT proved itself in 2013, with the enigmatic exhibition Green Door, showcasing sustainability in architecture, curated by ROTOR and has proved itself a worthy player on the international architecture scene. The triennale emphasizes Oslo’s position as a platform for discussion and solutions to global challenges.

It is truly worth taking an interest in what happens in Oslo right now. Oslo has chosen an original model to tackle issues relevant to cities worldwide. This model is based on the city’s identity and includes vital elements of people, culture, climate. Oslo is facing up to the global urban challenges ahead with an integrated programme outlining the new city. A city for people and with powerful visions for how modern citizens of the world want to live in the future. There is plenty of inspiration to be had for any city wanting to become a successful, beautiful, and unforgettable city in the future.

by Jeanne Rank Schelde

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