Art is the ultimate form of expression. When spatial function and a concern for public needs is added to it, art becomes architecture. Hence, architecture is a form of civic art that embodies the soul of its time, it represents ‘gestalt’ with its arrangement of space as well as its aesthetic qualities. Although not all architecture can be considered civic art, in its most noble and ideal form, architecture represents the vocabulary and values of the people it is designed for. As architecture is a form of expressing communal ideals, it is crucial for public spaces and cultural buildings to embody the notion of civic art.
The Opera House in Oslo designed by the Norwegian architecture firm Snohetta is just that: a remarkable civic art.
During my trip to Oslo in November, I visited the iconic building emerging from the water like an iceberg floating in the North Sea. The form of the Opera House is intentionally reminiscent of an iceberg as a reference to the country’s climate. It embodies the massive yet delicate presence of an iceberg through effective use of materials. The white exterior shines during the day and during the night, the building becomes a heartwarming lantern with its glowing yellow light. Scandinavian design is renowned for its simplistic yet astute solutions. The Opera House is very characteristically Scandinavian as it uses the limited space it occupies very efficiently. The building has a vast open slope connecting the ground level to the rooftop, offering astounding views as the visitors ascend on the pathway. Thus, the Opera House is not only beautiful but also exceptionally practical and flexible in terms of its program.
Beyond its beauty and practicality, the Opera House removes the threshold between the art venue and public space. The abolishing of thresholds is explicit in the physical form of the structure: the street almost seamlessly connects to the sloping rooftop, it is simply another path to take while walking along the shore. The slope also connects the land and the sea, it gets swallowed by the freezing waves, the building sinks into the water.
Although the front facades are much more enchanting than the back, the windows on the back facade that reveal the activity inside allow the public to engage with art even when simply walking past the Opera House. By exposing the costume and stage crafting studios as well as rehearsal rooms to the public, the building allows everyone to experience some art in their daily lives. Art becomes infused into the city, into everyday life, rather than existing as an isolated practice that only caters to the paying audience.
The Opera House has a completely different atmosphere indoors. The cold, icy, vast facade envelopes a very warm and cosy interior. Textured wood panels form a swirling circular staircase that connects the entrance hall to the auditoriums. Across the room, opposite the comforting wood is an undulating white textured wall with apertures. The wall is lit from beneath with green lights which form beautiful reflections on the marble floor beneath. This part of the entrance hall is almost a remembrance of the exterior and the Norwegian climate: it’s cold yet charming.
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