Oslo is loaded with architectural gems, designed by old domestic architectural masters as well as international iconic stars. Therefore, we wanted to make an architectural travel guide to Oslo, showing that the Norwegian capital has it all.
Oslo has several iconic buildings of high international standard, from the Snøhetta’s new opera, to the tourist magnet the Holmenkollen ski jump, rising high above the sea, visible from the city center.
In recent years, Oslo has ranked among Europe’s fastest growing capital, and even if it is considered a modern city today, it’s more than thousand years old.
Churches in Oslo
Many of the churches in Oslo are designed by forgotten but splendid architects. An example is Haslum crematoria, just outside Oslo, designed by John Engh (1915-1996). Engh was educated at ETH Zürich and the Norwegian Institute of Technology where he earned his diploma in 1938. He acted as local architect for the building of the American Embassy in Oslo which was designed by Eero Saarinen.
Engh won an architectural contest in 1962 for the Haslum crematoria, North-East of Haslum Church, The crematoria has been in use since 1966.
Mortensrud Church is located on a small hill surrounded by pine trees. The design by architects Jensen & Skodvin (2002), succeeds in creating a dramatic yet subtle interplay between nature and culture, past and present, tradition and modernization.
Bakkehaugen Church is located in Tåsen and designed by architect, Erling Viksjø, who also designed the Norwegian government building complex. The most interesting part of this church is perhaps the tight cooperation between the architect and the Norwegian artists Kai Fjell and Carl Nesjar, who were involved before the building design was finished.
Sinsen Church is a working-class church, finished in 1971. It’s built in concrete and has 1,000 seats. The church us designed by architects Turid and Kristen Bernhoff Evensen.
American Lutheran Church
The American Litheran Church in Oslo was concecrated in 1964 and is the largest English-speaking church in Oslo with 400 seats. The church was designed by the American architectural firm Sövik, Mathre and Madson of Northfield, Minnesota. An exterior bronze sculpture titled Christ the King by Egon Weiner, former Professor of the Art Institute of Chicago, was unveiled in 1967.
Related: Waterfront Oslo
Oslo Town Hall
The idea of a location for the Town Hall in Oslo by the fjord in Pipervika, originally a fisherman’s village outside the city proper, was first suggested in 1908. The project was to open up the town towards the sea. 1918 the architects Arnstein Arneberg and Magnus Poulson won the first prize in an architectural design competition with a very historicist proposal inspired by the Stockholm City Hall. In 1929 the architects laid out their eighth and final proposals, the most striking change from the earlier proposals being the division of functions, with two office towers flanking a lower central part, where the main hall, city council hall and other meeting rooms are located.
The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony takes place in the city hall, but apart from all official functions, the building was designed as the “living room” of the town, still open to all every day during office hours.
Bærum Cultural Center, Sandvika
The Bærum Cultural Center was built in a riverside development area, as an extension of the town center of Sandvika, 15 km west of Oslo. It is connecting the old town hall with a bridge crossing the river. The Cultural Center is formed around a 600-seat theater hall, with two rehearsal rooms and a public foyer. The tilted translucent façade elements are strongly present also inside the building, and have been known to play tricks with the sense of balance of visitors.
The building was designed by architectural firm Snøhetta in 2003.
The Broadcasting House
The Broadcasting House (Kringkastingshuset in Norwegian, ), is the oldest building of the NRK headquarters at Marienlyst, Oslo. The other main building is known as the Television House. It was built between 1938 and 1950 after plans by architect Nils Holter.
Norwegian Bank Main Office
The building was designed by the architects MNAL Kjell Lund and Nils Slaatto, who won the open architecture competition in 1973. The building was inaugurated on 13 October 1986.
Norges Bank’s Head Office consists of a central block of seven floors surrounded by a rim of four-five floors. The top floors have glass pitched roofs.
Related: The World is Looking to Oslo
Education, Schools and Kindergartens
Skådalen School was completed in 1975. Its architect, Sverre Fehns says in a text in Byggekunst no. 6-1978 that “the scattered plan was a strategy that allowed the residents to walk from their “homes” to school.” The buildings are as spatially open as possible, and they are designed for children:
“Kuben” (The Cube)
The project is a combination of secondary and vocational school. It is the largest school of this type in Oslo with 2000 students. The aim of Kuben is to support and encourage lifelong learning. Therefore, the 40,000 m2 building also functions as a meeting place for students, teachers and representatives from the private and public sectors. Kuben is designed by architectural firm Arch Uno.
Smykkeskrinet (the Jewel case) Conference Center
Element Arkitekter won the competition in 2004 for the Union of Education Norway, which wanted “a conference room as big as possible” on this site. The headquarters for Union of Education is situated in the parallel street and in the backyard. Smykkeskrinet is an extension of the existing facilities.
Artist Jorunn Sannes developed the art on the main facade. The interior concrete work is of a high quality. The spacious stairs just inside the glass façade double as social arenas and are extensively used in breaks between meetings. The top floor has a canteen as well as a generous roof terrace. Some of the furniture of the conference halls is designed by the architects.
This asymmetrically shaped wooden Kindergarten extends the nearby Fagerborg School with 1.200 sqm of space was designed by architect Reiulf Ramstad in 2011. Besides the big display-windows at ground floor there is a number of smaller windows creating an irregular rhythm and an abstract connection between inside and outside. The different heights allow children of different ages views outside.
Art, Design and Exhibition Centers
DogA Norwegian Design and Architecture Centre
In 2004 Norsk Form and the Norwegian Design Council established this meeting point, gallery and conference center for Design and Architecture in a former Transformer-Station. The building consisted of different additions and alterations from 1860 until 1980. The architects, Jensen & Skodvin, revealed this history by uncovering the “voices” from the past. They removed only the plaster that was in bad shape, thus creating a “story” of the building’s alterations.
The DogA is a part of an extensive transformation of old industrial structures along the Akerselva river.
Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art
Ferry- and Cruise-ship passenger, who arrive in Oslo from the Fjord are greeted by thus private art museum on the waterfront, called Astrup-Fearnley. It was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano in 2012. The art collection of foundations based on a former shipping company is seen as Norway’s most important museum for contemporary art.
The museum, formerly located in the city center, needed larger facilities. The Tjuvholmen project, an extension of the waterfront Aker Brygge project from the1980’s, is mainly residential and is developed by a private company. Total area of the museum is 4.200 m2.
The seaward part of the museum is situated in a small park, with a pebble beach and sculptures. The glass atrium allows views right through towards the beautiful archipelago around Oslo, as does the museum café “Renzo”, which has access to the outside park.
Villa Stenersen is considered one of the main works of Norwegian modernism. The private home was built in 1939 for finance broker and art lover Rolf M. Stenersen and his family. Architect Arne Korsmo (1900-1968) applied the international architectural ideas of his time.
The villa was home to works from Rolf Stenersen’s art collection, exhibited in the piano nobile-like first floor, where the façade consists of glass blocks with ordinary windows inserted, partly due to the outstanding view of the city and fjord. Situated on a prominent rise in the landscape, the house has a somewhat monumental character, quite different from the typical coziness of Norwegian villas.
Since spring of 2014, the National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design is running the villa, restoring the interiors to their original colors, materials and details. Events and exhibitions inform the public of the house’s history and the art, architecture and design of that time.
The Architecture Museum of Norway
The building was once one of the country’s first monumental Empire Style buildings, designed by Christian Grosch in 1830, and its four-story addition of 1910. A branch of the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, has taken over the oldest premises of the Norwegian Central Bank.
Sverre Fehn’s introverted Pavilion from 2008 uses daylight, the sky, and the walls of the nearby Akershus Fortress as its references. From the outside, a main motive is the contrast between the concrete outer walls and the dainty glass pavilion. Inside, the pavilion is square in plan with four large concrete columns supporting the shallowly vaulted concrete ceiling.
Visitors enter the museum through the Grosch Building. Reception, bookstore and café are located in the main hall on the ground floor with library and administration on the second floor.
The two top floors of the repository are used as archives for photography and drawing collections and for registration.
In the “Bjørvika” harbor development area the giant, gleaming white opera, built partly into the water, seems like an iceberg in the sun. Most visitors do not enter the spatially refined foyer immediately, but climb the roof of the opera, for the view of the city and an architectural experience. Architecturally the building encourages people to “give it a try”.
As Norway’s biggest music-related institution the architects Snøhetta gave it an expression of “horizontal monumentality”, avoiding all “vertical and muscular forms”.
There was a fierce debate about where to build this huge project. Only a few locations had the necessary space available, and for a while the old West Railway Station, which went out of use after a central rail tunnel opened in 1979, was the favored place, next to the City Hall. Snøhetta won the international design competition in 2000 and the building was completed in 2008.
Although modern architecture is as controversial in Oslo as in other cities, the opera has been popular from the start, and locals use it for meeting and greeting, as well as celebrating weddings and other special occasions.
Index House (Indekshuset)
Architect John Engh (See Haslum Crematoria above) is most known for his innovative work in stone and concrete. He sat on the board of Norwegian Architects’ Association from 1952 to 1968; from 1964 as president. His designs Include the Oslo Central Station, Indekshuset at Solli plass and several other offices buildings.
The name, Index House, is a combination of Industry Export, since it once was the headquarters of Norwegian Industry Association and the Norwegian Export Council. The building was finished in 1964.
The “portal building” in Fornebu is an extension to the former Airport Terminal housing business and incubation centers for information technology companies on 28.000 m2.
Architects A-lab was commissioned to develop the building, after winning the competition in 2004. The building was completed in 2009. A base resolves the height difference of the terrain between the main street and the old terminal.
The Dutch architects MVRDV from Rotterdam designed the headquarters for the biggest Norwegian Bank. The urban design competition for Bjørvika’s “Barcode” project was won by MVRDV with Dark and a-lab (both from Oslo) in 2003. The building was completed in 2012.
The Barcode consists of 12 buildings with 10.000 work places and 500 apartments. All buildings are long slender slabs, high volumes with sightlines in between. The great variety of heights, materials and shapes is intentional, and the volumes of the buildings create a unified composition.
The office tower is the central structure of the new DNB bank headquarters, which also occupies the flanking buildings, and has 17 floors stepping forwards and backwards in an irregular pattern, blurring the contour of the tower. 2.000 employees work in the building. A basement hall, 3.000 m2 in size, connects to the neighboring buildings, designed by Dark and a-lab.
The new headquarter is aiming for synergy and a corporate identity concentrating twenty DNB office locations dispersed over the city.
Panoramic 140 seat canteen on the top, the executive lounge with a view over the fjord, the board room, and in the heart a trading room with 250 work stations.
Equinor Offices Fornebu, Bærum
Equinor, formerly Statoil, is an energy company with more than 20000 employees developing oil, gas, wind and solar energy in more than 30 countries. 2500 of these work in this office building, with a view over a park and the fjord of Oslo.
A-lab architects won the competition for the project in 2009. The building balances size and architectural expression with its surroundings, whilst introducing new impulses that enliven the area. The building was completed in 2012.
Inside, the warm oak interior and cool aluminum reflects the soft northern daylight. A unique feature of the design is the artistic decoration on the underside of the cantilevered wings flanking the main entrance.
Restaurants, Hotels and Travel
Lysaker Railway Station
Lysaker station on the Drammen Line and Asker Line is situated in Bærum, near the former airport of Fornebu, making it an important node for both local, regional and airport express trains.
The station project is a result of the new train line westwards from Oslo, which made it necessary to double the number of tracks and platforms. The station is elevated and features two island platforms with four tracks. Snøhetta won the architecture competition for the station, the rather sharp curves of which caused some concern about safety. Ut was completed in 2009The platform roofs are shaped as sculptured “clouds”, floating above the slim columns, adding visual qualities to the station.
Gardermoen Airport is the gateway to the Norwegian capital and thus to Norway as a whole. After several decades of planning, with proposed locations all around the Oslo area, all of which were rejected by the local communities, the airport was finally built at the existing charter airport of Gardermoen, 50 km north of Oslo, when the inner-city airport west of town could no longer grow.
It was designed by a consortium called Aviaplan, which comprised Narud Stokke Wiig (now Nordic Office of Architecture), Niels Torp, Hjellnes COWI civil engineers and Bjørbekk & Lindheim (landscape architects). The consortium was incorporated in 1990. Aviaplan won the architectural competition to design Oslo Airport and continues to design airports including those at Tallinn, Riga, Landvetter, and Hyderabad. The design concept for the main passenger building in Oslo was to create “simplicity, lucidity and a subdued sense of monumentality” according to the architects. The impressive control tower is also designed by the same architects. The Gardermoen line, built specifically for the airport project, and still Norway’s only high-speed railway, is also the main line northwards and brings you to the city center in 20 minutes. The station is integrated in the terminal.
First phase was completed in 1998. The airport is still under development.
Radisson Blu Hotel Holberg Plass
With its 67 meter it used to be the tallest building in Oslo, and even today ranks as third highest. The Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel is located just east of the Palace Park. A whole city block of 19th century buildings was demolished to make room for the project, which was the winning design of a Nordic architectural competition in 1969, won by Jon Lunding. The hotel was completed in 1975.
The hotel has 488 rooms and suites on 22 floors, and offers a variety of interior designs. There are great views of the western parts of the city center, the Oslo Fjord and Holmenkollen hill from the panorama bar on the 21st floor. Male guests can also enjoy a breathtaking view from the bar’s rest room.
The elegant Ekeberg Restaurant is regarded as one of “Europe’s foremost functionalist buildings”. Architect Lars Backer won the competition to design the new restaurant in 1927. In 1929 it replaced a predecessor, the Tiedemanns Tobakksfabrikk pavilion of 1916. It was renovated in 2005 by Mellbye Arkitektur Interiør
Situated half way up a forested hill above the eastern harbor area it benefits from its site and views over Oslo. It makes good use of its privilege, especially from the second-floor veranda. Towards the end of the 1990’s, Ekeberg Restaurant was closed and was left to decay, and most of the interiors were vandalized. The building is a listed monument and its renovation has been careful, although controversial, as new elements needed to be incorporated into the original design.
The building now contains restaurants for 200 guests, a bar/lounge, conference and meeting facilities, banqueting and wedding suites. The lobby has a small coffee bar, and the outdoor terrace, where drinks and light meals are served, is a favorite of locals in summer.
Holmenkollen Ski Jump
The Holmenkollen is a beacon for the city and a new showcase for ski jumping, Norway’s national sport. Competitions have been arranged here annually since 1892. Holmenkollen is regarded as the Mecca of Nordic ski sports and with more than 600 000 visitors annually, one of Norway’s largest tourist destinations.
Originally following the natural landscape, the jumping hill has been more or less continually rebuilt and enlarged to accommodate the ever-increasing jumping lengths. The most extensive renewal was made for the 1952 Winter Olympic Games in Oslo, when spectators reached the record number of 100.000.
In 2005, the International Ski Federation decided that the hill does not meet the standards to award the city the 2011 Nordic World Ski Championships. In 2005 Norway’s Directorate of Cultural Heritage approved the demolition of the ski jump and in 2007 the Oslo municipality announced an open international competition for a new ski jump. Julien de Smedt from Copenhagen beat 103 firms and was awarded the commission. The new ski jump was completed in 2011.
The stand provides space for 30 000 spectators, and the redesigned Iandscape links the stadium and all seven ski jumps. The infrastructure around Holmenkollen was improved by building a new metro station and new paths and streets.
This informal architectural travel guide to Oslo is far from complete
Please note that this guide is far from complete. Along the main street Karl Johans gate, the most important buildings are lined up: from the Royal Palace at one end past the National Parliament, National Theater and Old University to the Central Station at the other, the progress of the building of a new national capital from 1814 onwards can be witnessed.
If you want to go a bit off the beaten track, the old working-class neighborhoods, Grünerløkka and Grønland, teeming with cafés and pubs, is a good place to start. With a foreign-born population surpassing 22% this is Oslo’s most cosmopolitan district.
Along the Akerselva river, the traditional industrial structures have been transformed into cultural venues, food marked and schools, giving this former polluted part of town a new lease of life.
In addition, additional iconic buildings are under construction in Oslo, scheduled to be finished within the next two years.
An Architectural Travel Guide to Oslo, compiled by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top): Oslo Airport, Photo: Knut Ramstad