Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Oslo's Opera House wins another award

ARCHITECTURE. It’s a celebrated building, but also a popular urban space. Now Oslo’s spectacular Opera House has won yet another award.
The white marble building rising up from the Oslo Fjord has been chosen as joint winner of the 2010 European Prize for Urban Public Space. It shares the honours with an experimental Open-Air-Library in the German city Magdeburg.
The price is awarded by the Centre of Contemporary Culture in Barcelona (CCCB) with the aim to “recognise and foster the public character of urban spaces and their capacity for fostering social cohesion”.
The prize is the second in a short period of time that Norwegian architects Snøhetta has won for its Opera House that was completed in 2008. Earlier this year they were given the Mies van der Rohe Award 2009, which is the European Union prize for contemporary architecture.
The Opera House marks the beginning of a transformation of the Oslo waterfront that will completely change the face of the city. Construction has begun on new office and residential buildings near a part of the Fjord called Bjørvika.
Later this year a highway that now separates the area from the city centre will be torn down and moved into a tunnel. That will open the way for a new residential district and a couple of high-profile cultural buildings near the Opera House.
The architects of Snøhetta have pointed out that the dual use of the Opera building was one of the main ideas behind the project. The sloping roof of the building, which rises out of the water like an iceberg, is open to the public and has become a popular meeting place.
Open air shows have been held on the white Carrara marble and the top of the building offers a good view of central Oslo and the Fjord.
The co-winning project from Magdeburg in Eastern Germany represents the opposite of the monumental architecture of the Opera House.
The Open-Air-Library is a citizen’s initiative in a run-down part of Magdeburg. Some twenty thousand books were collected and with help from the federal government an unusual library was built.
The books are kept in shelves in a thick wall where visitors freely take and return books without any monitoring.
The wall shelters a green space where people can read in the open air and a scene for small concerts.
This innovative meeting place is seen as an emblem for a more promising future for this part of the city.

Copyright: CCCB/Snøhetta, photographer Erik Berg
The roof of the Opera House is one Oslo's best public spaces.

Copyright: CCCB/KARO* with Architektur+Netzwerk
The Open-Air-Library in Magdeburg, an innovative meeting place.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Probably the best master plan in the world

COPENHAGEN. Most old industrial sites ready for conversion into modern city districts are unwelcoming places, sometimes hard to imagine as fit for human life.
But there are exceptions.
Near Copenhagen’s city centre lies 33 hectares of Danish industrial heritage full of intriguing buildings and fascinating history. This is where Carlsberg brew its world famous beer for more than 160 years before relocating two years ago.
Now the Carlsberg brewery grounds are ready to become Copenhagen’s most pleasant new city district.
And let me correct the headline: The master plan for the new Carlsberg city district has already been picked as a category winner for Future Projects at the prestigious World Architecture Festival 2009 in Barcelona.
There is only one problem. The development project is on hold due to the financial crisis and no decision has been made on a starting date for construction. But there is some progress in the area, with work on public spaces going on and some activities moving into existing houses.
The small Copenhagen architecture firm Entasis won an international competition with over 200 entries with a master plan called “Our City” in 2007.
The plan was adopted by City Hall a year ago. Some 2,000 apartments will be built in the area over the next 20 years, if things get underway according to plans. The vision for the Carlsberg district is focused on public spaces with many activities creating a vibrant urban atmosphere.
Carlsberg will be very different from other new developments in Copenhagen, like the often criticised Ørestad.
“Our Carlsberg project can in some ways be seen as an indirect criticism of Ørestad. The urban spaces out there are on a scale that makes the planned architecture of Eastern Europe turn pale with shame”, said Entasis managing director Christian Cold in interview with the Copenhagen magazine KBH last year.
He describes the Carlsberg plan as the opposite; moving down in scale. This is also what won “Our City” first prize at the World Architecture Festival. The urban spaces of Carlsberg are described as a network of publicly accessible spaces in the form of gardens, squares, streets, alleys and a number of privately owned but publicly accessible buildings.
The plan emphasises “public space first, buildings second” as it says in the presentation of Entasis’ winning entry.
The project is based on “sustainability in all aspects”. The ambition is to make the dense, public-transit oriented district CO2-neutral. But Christian Cold of Entasis puts just as much emphasis on economical and social sustainability for the dense urban district he envisions.
There has to be a mix of prize-levels for the homes in the area, to ensure a mix of residents. Cold underlines that he doesn’t want the Carlsberg district to become another enclave for “Mr and Mrs Weber Grill”, as he puts it.
“There has to be more normal people here, and it’s super important that all kinds of people will have a possibility to move to the area. Otherwise it will be a dead city district”, Christian Cold said in the interview with KBH magazine.
If you are in Copenhagen and happen get a chance to join one of the occasional architecture tours (left) of the Carlsberg grounds – don’t miss it.
This place is full of fascinating history that is hard to match when it comes to family intrigues, entrepreneurial skills, success, philanthropy and megalomania. Even if you are only interested in the beer, you’ll get carried away by the rest.
J.C. Jacobsen, the founder of Carlsberg, began brewing beer on this spot in 1847. The brewery was named after his son Carl and the modest hill it was located on, overlooking central Copenhagen.
The beer became a monumental success and the most famous Danish brand. It made Jacobsen a very rich man, but it also led to a bitter conflict between father and son. The story of this family feud is full of unlikely details.
The young Carl Jacobsen eventually set up his own brewery next to his father’s, naming it New Carlsberg. His father renamed his brewery Old Carlsberg and the fight went on.
Luckily, father and son Jacobsen spent much of their money on architecture and art, trying to overtrump each other.
This heritage is part of what will make the Carlsberg area so special – when it eventually will be built.

Copyright: Carlsbergs byudviklingsprojekt/Entasis
A view over the future Carlsberg city district near central Copenhagen.

The famous Elephant Gate at Carl Jacobsen's New Carlsberg brewery.

Copyright: Carlsbergs byudviklingsprojekt/Utopian Cityscape
"Brewer's Place" in the future; full of urban life in a vibrant new city district.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A capital in search of visionary architecture

STOCKHOLM. Copenhagen has its celebrated new architecture in modern city districts deemed as urban planning failures.
Stockholm represents the opposite – new city districts seen as models for successful modern planning but lacking visionary architecture.
Recently I spent an evening in a packed auditorium in the Swedish capital to get a taste of the public debate on the city’s architecture.
On stage was a leading local politician arguing for more daring architecture, a famous architect ready to provide it and an architectural historian urging caution as new buildings are planned for Stockholm’s precious inner-city.
Listening was a crowd of some 300 residents anxious to voice their criticism of a number of buildings not seem fit for their beloved city.
“We need an architectural policy for Stockholm, a policy that not only says where the city can grow but also how”, says Kristina Alvendal, vice mayor for city planning for the ruling liberal-conservative coalition in Stockholm’s City Hall.
She has ordered work to begin on an architectural policy for the city. Perhaps she will find inspiration in the Danish capital Copenhagen, where a new and ambitious architectural policy was adopted late last year.
The initiative is applauded by Gert Wingårdh (above right, with Alvendal), one of Sweden’s leading architects, who was invited to defend his profession in the discussion.
“The City of Stockholm now wants world class architecture. But what is world class? That’s a difficult question. But just the fact the issue has been raised is a big step forward”, says Wingårdh.
The theme of the discussion was supposed to be tall buildings, following a heated local debate over two planned skyscrapers in a new district that will be built on the northern fringe of central Stockholm (I have written about the project here).
Any plan for a tall building casting a shadow over old neighbourhoods will stir emotions in Stockholm, where people are proud of an un-dramatic skyline dominated by church towers.
“Stockholm is completely dominated by church spires that has nothing to do with a secular society”, says Wingårdh in an attempt to get the debate going.
He also presents a couple of tall buildings his office is designing in the Stockholm area, but since they are located outside the city center there are no protests. But when Wingårdh shows pictures of a beautiful but modest residential building, 13 stories at its highest point, in an inner-city neighbourhood, critics raise their voices.
“Architecture must make a statement”, argues Wingårdh.
When the audience gets their chance to speak, there is criticism against a number of new buildings deemed too ugly for Stockholm. One such building now stands at Östermalm’s Square (above left) in a classy part of the city. With its glass façade it seems completely out of place in the old surroundings, claim the critics, and vice mayor Alvendal’s response is that other plans had been even worse.
Another hotly debated project has been a new office, hotel and congress complex (pictured below) next to the railroad tracks at Stockholm’s Central Station. The complex called Stockholm Waterfront, to be completed later this year, is considered to be an ugly intruder blocking the view of Stockholm’s beautiful City Hall (right).
“Please wait until it’s finished before you judge it. And remember that it stands at a place where there was nothing but traffic”, says Kristina Alvendal.
Martin Rörby, a well-known local architecture historian, is applauded when he criticises the Stockholm Waterfront complex, but at the same time he reminds the audience that they have to keep an open mind towards change.
“A dynamic city is a mix of old and new, high and low, of contrasts. The essence of a living city is to shed its skin now and then”, says Rörby.
Stockholm is doing that now, in a big way. But the new skin still needs visions for its design.

Copyright: White Arkitekter AB/Jarl Asset Management AB
The office and hotel complex near Stockholm's Central Station.

Construction of Stockholm Waterfront will be completed later this year.

Copyright: White Arkitekter AB/Jarl Asset Management AB
The Stockholm Waterfront complex as it will look at night from City Hall.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Green means money, builders are told

STOCKHOLM. As cities around the world plan their sustainable development for the future, energy efficiency in buildings and retrofitting old houses are added to common themes like densification and public transit.
Builders and developers face tougher demands as new city districts are planned, and are sometimes seen to take their own initiatives to earn attractive green labels for their buildings. Owners of the older housing stock are being convinced that retrofitting for higher energy efficiency makes sense –and money in the long run.
To get a taste of the “green vibes” of the construction industry in Northern Europe, I spent a day at the Nordbygg (North Build) fair in Stockholm. The fair, which ends today, is described as the most important meeting in the Nordic countries for the construction industry. Some 850 exhibitors, a new record, from 18 countries took part this year.
This is not my home turf, I must admit, and as a layman I’m sure I missed a lot of interesting news on show.
But at a time when there is so much talk of green buildings and sustainable development, I was a bit surprised that relatively few of the exhibitors were marketing themselves with a green profile.
Then again, this is perhaps not the place where they need to do that.
But there were a number of seminars on energy efficiency, and the organizers had made it an important theme at the fair by setting up a special section on building automation. Energy efficiency in both new and existing buildings has become one of the most important issues for the construction and property sector, organizers said.
Siemens, a leader in building automation, was one of the companies with a significant presence in this section.
I sat down to listen as Jon Leo Rikhardsson, a representative of Siemens, held a presentation aimed at owners of older properties looking at ways to cut high energy costs.
“We have always said that it costs money to be environmentally friendly. But now it makes sense to invest in energy renovation. Energy costs are rising, and the value of your properties will rise if you can cut those costs”, says Rikhardsson.
Instead of fixing small problems as they arise, he recommends property owners to look at the big picture. Do the whole thing – isolation, ventilation, water – and save a lot of money in the long run, up to 30 percent of energy costs according to Rikhardsson.
Sweden, as well as other countries, has a lot of older buildings from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s that are now energy hogs and responsible for a sizeable part of CO2-emissions. Municipalities around the country are getting ready to start big programs for retrofitting public housing.
“We are looking at a boom in this field. Municipalities want to be energy efficient, and they are all getting in to this now”, says Rikhardsson when I talk to him after his presentation.
New technology open the way for smarter solutions. With economic incentives and political pressure, energy efficiency is set to be a main theme in sustainable urban development in the decade to come.
The speciality magazines presented at the fair write a lot about low-energy buildings and passive houses. New EU-regulations are set to give energy smart buildings a boost.
In the next generation of high-profile urban developments, like Stockholm Royal Seaport, energy efficient buildings will be a must. As I walk around the fair, I see a couple of exhibitors marketing solutions for passive houses.
Sweden aims to be a world leader in sustainable urban development. Stockholm and Malmö get a lot of international visitors looking at leading examples of new city districts from the past decade.
But when it comes to energy solutions for buildings, like solar power or green roofs, other countries have taken the lead.
My day at the fair gives me no clear indication if Swedish companies are catching up.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Copenhagen Metro "the world's best"

TRANSPORTATION. Copenhagen’s sleek, driverless Metro has been chosen the best in the world at the leading international event for the industry.
The Danish capital got two to prizes at the MetroRail 2010, held in London. Besides being picked as the best Metro overall, before London, Madrid, São Paulo and Seoul, Copenhagen also got a first price in the “Best Driverless Metro” category.
“This Metro has delivered incredibly high levels of passenger satisfaction; with 2009 being a record year in terms of service availability. The technological innovation demonstrated with regard to safety and security, as well as the ambitious plans for future expansion ensures this Metro is truly a world leader”, says the motivation for the winner.
Copenhagen’s Metro is a relatively small and new service opened in 2002. It consists of only two lines, connecting new developments and the international airport on the island Amager with the rest of the city. It has 22 stations.
A new city circle line will be built, serving 17 stations. It is scheduled for opening in 2018.

Norwegians prefer the old T to a new M

OSLO. It’s often the smallest things that cause the biggest debates. Like the idea to replace the T with an M in Oslo.
Ruter AS, the company running public transit in the Norwegian capital, is looking over its information strategy and has come up with the idea of changing the name of the city’s underground/subway/metro (pick the one you prefer!) from T-bane in Norwegian to the more international Metro.
Changing all the T-signs at stations in Oslo to an M, and all the rest that would come with a change of name, will cost 95 million Norwegian crowns.
The change would be part of an overhaul to improve information to passengers, not only to make it easier for foreign visitors to find their way.
Marketing experts question what Ruter AS would gain from a name change from T-bane to Metro.
A representative of Ruter’s management says to daily Aftenposten that the term Metro “puts us under an obligation to deliver quality” and that it gives the company’s product “a new dimension”.
Oslo’s residents, at least those who posted their comments on Aftenposten’s web site, seem to argue with that, to put it mildly.
“It’s exciting to see what Ruter’s management actually is working on while we are waiting for trains that never arrive”, writes one reader.
“This is the stupidest proposal of the decade”, argues another.
No decision on the name change has been made.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Homes for the rich, urban space for the rest

OSLO/RECLAIMING THE SEA. When Norwegians look for words to describe their sentiments they often turn to their own cultural icon, 19th century playwright Henrik Ibsen.
Therefore I’m not surprised to find a wooden sign with a quotation from Ibsen welcoming me as I enter the elegant new waterfront development Tjuvholmen in Oslo.
“Night and day, winter and summer, it weighs upon me – this irresistible longing for the sea”, says Ibsen’s words from “The Lady from the Sea”.
The Norwegian capital is now reclaiming its seafront in a huge project called Fjord City, where urban life will replace derelict port facilities and noisy highways in the next decade or two.
As I wrote in my first report from Oslo, this is perhaps the biggest ongoing facelift of any major European city.
Oslo residents are getting a first taste of what the future might look like at Tjuvholmen (Thief’s Inlet in English), a tiny city district consisting of three small islands separated by narrow canals. The Tjuvholmen development, which has come more than halfway towards its completion in 2013/2014, will consist of some 900 apartments, offices, a hotel, shops and restaurants.
The main attraction will be a new art museum and park designed by world famous Italian architect Renzo Piano (read more about that here).
I walk around on Tjuvholmen on a rather gloomy winter morning, trying to imagine what the place will look like on a bright sunny summer day a few years from now. Renzo Piano predicts that it will be one of the most beautiful places in the world.
I’m sure many will argue with that, but Tjuvholmen will definitely do its part in improving life in the Norwegian capital.
It is also an interesting model for modern urban development.
Tjuvholmen represents a new way of securing the economy for a project like this. A private investor bought the whole area from the city-owned Port Authority. The money from the sale is used to build a new cargo terminal further east in the Oslo Fjord, and the sales contract clearly stipulates how Tjuvholmen will be developed.
“There are a number of things the developer is committed to do, like streets, bridges, squares, parks, a waterfront promenade and the new art museum”, explains Stein Kolstø, the City of Oslo’s project manager for the Fjord City.
The same method will, basically, be used as work on the Fjord City now continues in the area around Oslo’s new Opera House at Bjørvika. Money from the developers will continue to finance the new port facility.
The history of the sale of Tjuvholmen, and the tough competition for choosing the master plan for the area, is a drama in itself involving the giants of real estate and architecture in Norway.
In December 2002 a master plan designed by veteran Norwegian architect Niels Torp, famous for his British Airways headquarters at Heathrow among other things, was picked as the winner by the City Council. The decision followed a bitter fight between Torp and his backers and a proposal by Snøhetta, another giant of Norwegian architecture and designers of the Oslo Opera House.
In the spring of 2003, a grouping called Tjuvholmen KS, buys the area and begins planning the development according to Torp’s master plan. The price tag was set at nearly 900 million Norwegian crowns (145 million US dollars, 108 million Euros).
Almost half the money is set to be used for developing urban spaces, and the art museum, for the public.
The first homes on Tjuvholmen where completed in 2007. These are no ordinary Oslo homes. Prices for apartments are almost twice as high as in other central Oslo locations.
Buyers get ultra-modern apartments, most with a view of the sea, in what is set to become the city’s most prestigious neighbourhood. The area will be more or less free of motor vehicles, as cars will be driven straight into underwater garages.
As I walk into the developer’s sales office, I get a taste of what’s on offer. For close to 8 million Norwegian crowns I could buy a 3-room apartment on the third floor of a rounded apartment building right on the waterfront.
Like in other cities with modern waterfront developments like this, there has been a debate in Oslo about these “enclaves for the rich”.
The same debate followed the development of Aker Brygge, right next to Tjuvholmen, in the 80’s and early 90’s. Aker Brygge, once home to a shipyard, is now a popular meeting place for Oslo residents.
“I think you can say that some are a bit provoked by the prices in these developments. These homes are not for the general public”, says Stein Kolstø, the project manager for the Fjord City.
“Homes in Aker Brygge were considered very expensive when it was built. I’m 52 years old and I have never been inside an apartment in Aker Brygge. But I have spent a lot of time on Aker Brygge, enjoying the waterfront, going to restaurants, having a beer or going to a movie. I have used Aker Brygge a lot, but I don’t miss living there”, says Kolstø.
Now the same debate is brewing again as construction gets under way at Bjørvika, which will be the main part of the Fjord City.
“People are angry and ask me who will live in Bjørvika. I tell them that it will be the people who buy apartments there. It’s as simple as that. The Fjord City project will benefit everybody in Oslo, but those who will live there are those who buy homes there”, says Kolstø.
Norway has no system of subsidized housing and waterfront developments are expensive. When the market sets its prices, apartments will cost more than most can afford. The City still has an ambition that ten percent of the homes in Bjørvika shall be reasonably priced.
But compared to what? That is pretty much up to the developers.
Those who can’t afford to live by the Fjord will at least get a completely new waterfront full of public spaces. When their longing for the sea, in the words of Ibsen, gets to strong they will be able to walk right down to the water and dip their toes in it.

This is the third and final report in a series on the transformation of Oslo.

Copyright: Tjuvholmen KS
Under construction; a model of a residential building on Tjuvholmen.

Copyright: Knut Ramstad for Tjuvholmen Utvikling
A model of the outer part of Tjuvholmen, with the art museum in the foreground.

Work is under way on the new art museum designed by Renzo Piano.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Prestigious development fears oblivion

COPENHAGEN. It was the most prestigious urban development project in Scandinavia during the past decade.
Ørestad would become a showcase for modern city building with cutting-edge architecture, excellent public transportation and vast green fields surrounding this new face of Danish capital Copenhagen.
Then came the financial crisis, which left many buildings un-built. And on top of that, residents of Ørestad now fear that the city and the developers will leave them behind to focus on new, more exciting projects in other parts of the capital.
The Danish press is now talking of a “war between city districts” in Copenhagen.
Over the weekend, daily Berlingske Tidende ran a big piece on the worries in Ørestad. In an earlier report in this blog, I wrote about the critics who see Ørestad (right) as a failure with its desolate streets and empty lots.
Now residents in Ørestad, who paid big money for homes in what they thought would become the most exclusive part of Copenhagen, see signs that the future is moving elsewhere and that they will be left with their dark streets and empty lots.
Ørestad is divided into three parts. Ørestad North, closest to the city center, has a university complex, a celebrated new concert hall at the headquarters of Danish Radio, and residential buildings which gives life to its streets.
Ørestad City has some stunning residential buildings and the big convention center where the UN held its failed Climate Summit in December. It is dominated by the huge shopping center Field’s, which many blame for effectively killing all street life in the area.
The last part, Ørestad South, is where the problems become most obvious. Only a few buildings are under construction. Among them is the 8-house, a huge residential and office building designed by famous young Danish architect Bjarke Ingels and his firm BIG.
The building will be an attraction in itself when completed, but it is surrounded by empty lots and that isn’t likely to change in the near future.
Ørestad was planned for 20-25,000 residents, but there are only 5,500 living there today.
At the same time, the city is getting ready to build a number of new developments around Copenhagen. The most important of these is Nordhavnen, destined to be an environmentally friendly showcase eventually housing some 40,000 residents.
Copenhagen is growing, and everybody expects that growth to pick up considerable speed when the financial crisis is over.
But many residents now fear that the city will begin developing new districts, while leaving others half-finished.
“There are a colossal number of city development districts in Copenhagen. The question is if you shouldn’t give priority to finishing what already has been set in motion”, one architecture and urban planning professor tells Berlingske Tidende.
Former Copenhagen mayor Jens Kramer Mikkelsen, who now heads the CPH City & Port Development (jointly owned by the city and the Danish government), assures residents in Ørestad and elsewhere that they will not be left behind when Copenhagen continues to develop.
“When they a 100 years from now look back, I’m sure they’ll say that we did the right things”, says Jens Kramer Mikkelsen to the newspaper.
CPH City & Port Development is responsible for all big developments in the Danish capital.
Jens Kramer Mikkelsen, for many years a dominant figure in Copenhagen politics and development, sees Ørestad as a future Manhattan with a planned new sports arena as a Danish version of Madison Square Garden.
Looking at Ørestad today, it’s more like Central Park without the surrounding cityscape.

The 8-house will be an attraction in a desolate Ørestad.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The comic strip hero of architecture

OSLO. Designing an eye-catching building is a complicated creative process where the architect has to convince a number of people of the brilliance of hers or his idea.
How can you best explain that process?
Bjarke Ingels, the 35-year-old international star of Danish architecture, came up with an unusual solution.
Together with his colleagues at BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) in Copenhagen he did it in a comic book that is as playful and practical as the architecture that has given his office a world reputation.
“The book has become an unexpected success. Many non-architects have told us that this is the first time they actually got something out of a book on architecture”, says Bjarke Ingels (left) when I by chance walk right into a small press briefing with him in Oslo.
Ingels was at the National Museum of Architecture in the Norwegian capital to open the exhibition “Yes is more” that led to the comic book with the same title.
The Oslo exhibition that runs until April 25 is a smaller version of the original showing from the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen that was a success last year. Ingels takes us through the exhibition and later in the day gives a lecture before a packed room of architects and students.
“Yes is more” is described as “an archicomic on architectural evolution”. In the book, readers are guided through the creative processes behind 35 of BIG’s projects. It shows how exciting ideas are rejected, just to show up again much later in another project.
“It often turns out that a great idea could be the right answer to a different question than the one you’re working on”, says Ingels.
After his education, Ingels spent a couple of years with Rem Koolhaas and his OMA in Rotterdam before heading home to Copenhagen to set up PLOT together his young Belgian OMA-colleague Julien de Smedt.
PLOT was an immediate success, but Ingels and de Smedt decided to go separate ways and the Bjarke Ingels Group was formed in 2006. It now has a staff of 86, a number of awards to its merit list and clients all over the world.
BIG’s work, a continuation of what was started at PLOT, has been described as seeking a balance between playful and practical approaches to architecture. The playfulness can be seen in most of BIG’s buildings, and even more in the objects that haven’t been built.
“In eight or nine years we have designed over 200 projects. Only eight have been built, and a few more are on the way”, says Ingels.
But he is not discouraged by the statistics.
“That’s the name of the game. The ideas live on. It’s a form of evolution.”
He describes 2009 as BIG’s best year so far, both artistic and economically. His office won a number of international competitions and exciting new projects are being built.
“Architecture is the art and science of resurfacing the surface of the earth”, says Ingels as he opens his lecture later in the day.
He is an entertaining speaker who tells a good story. If you would like to see an example of it, you can watch this video that I posted earlier in the blog.
When the Shanghai Expo 2010 opens in May, the world will get another taste of Bjarke Ingels and his architecture. BIG designed the Danish pavilion where they will try to convince visitors that sustainable urban development isn’t a burden, but rather increases the quality of life.

Copyright: Jens Lindhe (photo)/National Museum of Architecture, Oslo
"The Mountain" in Copenhagen, one of BIG's most celebrated designs.

Copyright: Bjarke Ingels Group/National Museum of Architecture, Oslo
Hafjell ski resort, an example of BIG's playful design. The skiing begins on the roof.

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.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Norwegian facelift of historic proportions

OSLO/RECLAIMING THE SEA. He might be stretching it a bit, but when the politician responsible for urban development in Oslo’s City Hall tries to describe the ongoing transformation of his city he digs deep in history.
“This is the biggest change of Oslo since 1624”, says Bård Folke Fredriksen, Commissioner for Urban Development in Oslo’s city government.
When he looks out the window of his tenth floor office in one of the towers of Oslo’s characteristic City Hall, Bård Folke Fredriksen (right) can see the changes taking place.
Oslo is reconnecting with the sea in a monumental waterfront development called Fjord City, a project that will completely change the face of the Norwegian capital. A decade or two from now, when the project is completed, Oslo will finally live up to its motto: “The Blue and the Green, the City in Between”.
Today most of the city center is separated from the blue waters of the Oslo Fjord by a stretch of dismal infrastructure that forms a barrier between urban life and the seafront.
Norway’s busiest highway (left) cuts right through the city center along the waterfront. Old port areas take up much of the rest of what is the face of Oslo.
Plans for the new Fjord City were first drawn almost 30 years ago, in the early 1980’s, and parts of the waterfront have already been transformed into pleasant new city districts. But the really big changes will be set in motion later this year, when the first part of the main waterfront highway is moved into a new tunnel under the waters of Bjørvika right in the city center.
Next to the iconic new Opera House, a celebrated architectural sensation, construction will begin on new residential areas. The highway will be torn down as soon as the tunnel is completed, and the new city district will be connected to the old center.
The Bjørvika development, one of a series of developments that form the Fjord City, will be right next to the historic center of the 1000-year old Norwegian capital.
This is where the great change took place in 1624, when the original city was destroyed in a fire and the King of Denmark, who ruled Norway at the time, decided to move the capital across the waters of Bjørvika to a new site further west along the fjord.
“The main driving force behind this development is the fact that Oslo is growing very quickly. We must secure that the city can house as much 200,000 more residents in the next 20 years. And that comes on top of a growth of 100,000 residents in the past 12 years”, says Bård Folke Fredriksen in the City Hall.
The city of Oslo now has a population of 585,000. The Fjord City developments with its 9,000 homes will not fill all needs for new housing, but this is where the symbolic change of Oslo is taking place.
After looking at a number of European waterfront developments lately, I’m tempted to say that no other city will go through a facelift comparable to Oslo’s.
The Fjord City project will not only change the physical image of Oslo in a dramatic way. It will also make the city a world class cultural attraction with several new institutions set to follow the Opera down to the waterfront in planned new architectural masterpieces. There will be more about that in later reports.
The video below will give you an idea of what this Oslo of the future will look like.
The frosting on the cake, Bård Folke Fredriksen says (using a similar Norwegian metaphoric expression), is that Oslo with the new development will get a 10 km long waterfront promenade linking the different parts of the Fjord City, from east to west.
“You will be able to go for a walk, fish and swim in the fjord. There will also be many open urban spaces leading down from the city to the new waterfront.”
As the construction at Bjørvika now gets under way, the vision of the Fjord City becomes more real for Oslo’s residents. There is a sometimes heated debate going on, mostly about details in the project. A later report will look more at that.
Stein Kolstø, the city’s project manager for the Fjord City development, has lived with the planned transformation of Oslo for decades. I meet him and his colleagues at the city’s Agency for Planning and Building Services for a comprehensive look at the changes brought forward by the Fjord City plans.
“This is very valuable land, both because it’s so near the city center, but also because it’s near the nature of the Fjord landscape. And it’s facing south. This closeness to the city center is something I think sets this project apart from other waterfront developments in Europe”, says Stein Kolstø.
Closest in comparison comes HafenCity in Hamburg, says Kolstø, a project that has been covered in this blog.
All existing port activities along the Oslo waterfront will be moved to a new terminal called Sydhavna (Southern Harbour) on the eastern edge of the Fjord City project. Construction of the new, modern port facility is financed by the sale of land to the developers of Fjord City.
The revamp of Oslo’s waterfront actually began in the 1980’s with Aker Brygge, a commercial and residential district near City Hall. It was completed in 1992 and has since been a popular meeting place with its bars and restaurants.
Near Aker Brygge, a small new development called Tjuvholmen (right) is nearing completion. Dominated by exclusive residential buildings, Tjuvholmen’s main draw will be a new art museum designed by world famous Italian architect Renzo Piano. There will be more on Tjuvholmen and Piano’s creation in later reports.
Filipstad, a large port facility to the west of Tjuvholmen, will be the last of Fjord City segments to be developed with residential, commercial and extensive park areas.
But for now all eyes are on Bjørvika, with some 5,000 homes and 20,000 workplaces the center of Fjord City.
The water of the fjord is now clean, since polluted sediments have been removed. Lobster has returned and city center beaches will be part of the future urban landscape.
In the era of sustainable urban development, Bjørvika’s main asset will be its location just a short walk from Norway’s most important public transportation hub – Oslo’s Central Station. Trains, subways, streetcars and buses – all meet here. The developments of the Fjord City will also be served by a new street car service.
A geothermal system using seawater will heat houses in Bjørvika through a district heating system.
Standing on the roof of the Opera house, you can only imagine the change this part of Oslo will go through the next 10-15 years.
To your right all you see is remaining containers from the port activities soon to be moved. To your left are some of the first buildings in the area – the so called “barcode” high rises (left) in the Opera block. When the highway is gone, these buildings while line the Queen Eufemia Street, the main boulevard through the new Oslo.
Stein Kolstø has been part of this vision from the beginning. The idea of a total makeover of the whole waterfront was there right from the start. But back then the challenge was to convince decision makers of the brilliance of the plan.
“This was a terrible place”, Kolstø says while pointing at Bjørvika on a map.
“Imagine standing there and trying to explain what a paradise it would become if only billions where invested.”

This is the first in a series of reports on the Fjord City development in Oslo.

Copyright: MIR Visuals
An aerial view of Bjørvika as it will look in the future.

The "barcode" buildings; where the new Oslo begins.

Copyright: Oslo Waterfront Planning Office
A map of central Oslo showing the Fjord City developments in yellow.

This video from the City of Oslo shows what the Bjørvika development will look like in the future. It’s in Norwegian, but here is a short recap:
The tour begins on the hill top Ekeberg park, overlooking Bjørvika and the city center. From here there will be a cableway to the new district in the future.
Much of the tour in the clip is focused on future parks and urban spaces, an effort from the city to calm fears that the area will be dominated by big buildings blocking the views.
Below you can see a photo of what Bjørvika looks like today.

Bjørvika today, a dismal old port facility ready for a total makeover.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Swedish urban development on show

STOCKHOLM. Decision makers from cities all over the world and representatives of the international property business got a taste of modern Swedish urban development at the important trade show MIPIM in Cannes today.
Stockholm is using its present status as European Green Capital 2010 to market itself as a global role model for sustainable urban development. A delegation lead by Mayor Sten Nordin headed for the French Riviera to tell the world about it.
“We would like to act as a role model to inspire other cities. We have long a reputation as one of the cleanest cities in the world”, said Mayor Nordin (right) in a keynote address in Cannes Wednesday morning.
“The environmental work is important not only for our own citizens, but also as a way to share best practices with others. The exchange of ideas is essential.”
Mayor Nordin informed the audience about Stockholm’s planned way to become a CO2-free city by 2050 and ideas for the future in the city’s Vision 2030-document. He also presented the plan for Stockholm Royal Seaport, the city’s new showcase urban development that is already gaining international attention.
Later in the day the Swedish Trade Council, through its marketing project SymbioCity, hosted a presentation of sustainable urban development in the three Swedish cities Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö.
The Swedes had also invited Hamburg to be part of the program, a show of cooperation between the two first European Green Capitals – Stockholm (2010) and Hamburg (2011).

Photo of Sten Nordin: © Peter Knutson

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Green light for Swedish science cluster

STOCKHOLM. In one the biggest developments ever in Sweden, a new science cluster and residential district will be built on an “infrastructural wasteland” on the border between Stockholm and the neighbouring city of Solna.
Stockholm’s City Council last night gave a green light to the project that will run for at least 15 years and cost some 50 billion Swedish crowns (7 billion US dollars or 5 billion Euros) in public and private money.
Residents have been invited to a competition to name the new district. A winner will be announced later this spring. For now it’s called Norra Station (North Station) after an old railway station in the area.
The ambition is to create a world class center for life sciences. A number of research foundations as well as three local universities are involved. The Karolinska Hospital, a leading Swedish hospital, on the Solna side of the project will be redeveloped and upgraded to top international standard.
Some 36,000 workplaces will be located in the new district, which also will be a dense new residential area with 5,500 homes. Norra Station is expected to be completed by 2025.
“With this decision we are sending a clear signal to investors and researchers that we are welcoming their operations to our region”, says Stockholm’s Mayor Sten Nordin.
Most of the discussion around Norra Station has been focused on the plans for two high rise towers called Tor’s Towers (right)forming a new gateway into Stockholm. The 140-meter towers have caused controversy for two reasons. Some people don’t want high rises at all in central Stockholm, other accept the idea but dislike the proposed design for the towers.
Kristina Alvendal, vice mayor for city planning, recently asked architects to return to the drawing boards to come up with something more interesting.
The political opposition in Stockholm’s City Hall called for an international architect competition during last nights debate. The present plan has been developed at the city’s planning department.
However, an architect competition is unlikely since planning now will go ahead for a start of construction later this year.
Norra Station is just one of several big developments under way in Stockholm, a city destined for big changes in the decade to come.

Konceptbeskrivning: White Arkitekter
The New Karolinska Hospital will be part of a Swedish life science cluster.

Illustration of Tor's Towers above: © City of Stockholm

Danish capital aims for Expo 2022

COPENHAGEN. The City of Copenhagen has now officially asked the Danish government to prepare a candidature for hosting the world Expo in 2022.
The city plans for the Expo to be a showcase for a planned new sustainable district called Nordhavnen, a CO2-neutral futuristic development under way on a huge, derelict port area just outside the city center. This sustainable new city district is expected to house 40,000 residents and 40,000 workplaces. Read more about it here.
“With an Expo we can hold on to the brand that Copenhagen got in connection with COP15 (the UN Climate Conference in December 2009) and show that Copenhagen can be a laboratory for development of big city solutions for CO2-goals locally and globally”, says Copenhagen’s new mayor Frank Jensen to Danish daily Berlingske Tidende.
“Such a showcase would also secure growth and export possibilities. After Nordhavnen in Copenhagen, the next step can be New York or Tokyo for implementing climate friendly solutions.”
If the plan comes through, Copenhagen would aim for a smaller version of the world Expo that would run for three months and attract 5-10 million visitors.
This year’s Expo in Shanghai, which will open in May, is a six month mega-event expected to be visited by 70 million people.

Copyright: CPH City & Port Development/COBE
Copenhagen's Nordhavnen as it may look when its time for Expo 2022.

New city plan "a departure from modernism"

STOCKHOLM. Last night the City Council in the Swedish capital Stockholm approved the new comprehensive plan setting up strategies for the city’s development in the next decade.
Kristina Alvendal, the ruling liberal-conservative coalition’s vice mayor for city planning, called the plan a return to “classic European urban planning”.
“This plan marks a departure from the modernist urban planning. We are creating the walkable city. The different parts of the city will be linked together”, said Kristina Alvendal (left) as she presented the ruling majority’s proposal.
The opposition from the left accused the majority of having “politicized” the comprehensive plan, but didn’t make a clear case in explaining that.
Last week I presented some of the main parts of the new plan in a series of reports that you can find here, here and here.
The plan is seen as an attempt to combine expansive growth with modern urbanity. The city itself is expected to grow from 800,000 residents to one million in the next 20 years. The Stockholm region is also expecting rapid growth.
The city will grow through densification, with new developments under way on old port and industrial sites as well as in a number of suburban nodes with good public transportation.

Photo of Kristina Alvendal: © Peter Knutson

Monday, March 15, 2010

A new icon for Norwegian winter sports

OSLO. A young Belgian architect, working in Denmark, won the honour of designing the most important icon of Norwegian winter sports – the ski jump at Holmenkollen in Oslo.
The result went on full display for the first time this past weekend, when Oslo held the dress rehearsal for next year's World Championships at Holmenkollen, the classic winter sports venue overlooking the Norwegian capital. “Awesome” was a frequently heard comment from ski jumpers and on-lookers, as they admired the design by Julien de Smedt and his JDS Architects. The new Holmenkollen Beacon, as the ski jump is called, strives towards the sky in a daring structure that takes the sport to a new era.
When the complex is fully finished, a beam of light at night will extend the visual impression of the structure even further towards the sky. From Oslo’s city center, the Holmenkollen ski jump can be seen on the not too distant mountain, standing as a symbol for the winter sports that Norwegians hold so close to their hearts.
The World Championship trial run this past weekend was a great success, even though the new Holmenkollen (with venues for cross country skiing and biathlon next to the ski jump) is not completely finished yet.
The official opening of the ski jump on Saturday was, of course, conducted by His Majesty Harald V, Norway’s winter sports loving king.
I took the old train up to Holmenkollen on Saturday to spend a magnificent day among tens of thousands of Norwegians, most of them carrying flags and dressed in traditional ski wear as they came to pay tribute to the returning Norwegian heroes from the Vancouver Winter Olympics.
The fans got all they wished for as the great cross country skier Marit Bjørgen (winner of five medals in Vancouver, including three gold medals) led the Norwegian women to a 1-2-3-sweep in the opening 30 km-race.
To underline the importance Norwegians put into winter sport, some 6,000 fans spent the night in cold tents in the Holmenkollen forest just to get a good spot along the course.
Anyone who would like to experience winter sports in a classic venue should head for Oslo next year, when the World Championships are held in Holmenkollen February 26 to March 6.
The Winter Olympics were held here in 1952, and Oslo markets itself as the World’s Winter Capital.
It’s hard to argue with that. There are few major cities in the world where you will see people dressed in ski gear and carrying their skies on public transportation, heading for a day of outdoor fun in Holmenkollen and beyond.
“The City of Oslo wants it to be the skiing capital of the world, with the best after-ski in the world right downtown”, says Bård Folke Fredriksen, commissioner for urban development, when I meet him for an interview in Oslo’s City Hall.
There has been cost overrun in the development of new Holmenkollen, and the word “scandal” has been used in Norwegian press. The project was budgeted at 1.8 billion Norwegian Kroner (300 million US Dollars, 217 million Euros).
“It is too bad that it became more expensive than planned. But this is something that had to been done for Holmenkollen, and now we have a fantastic venue. Next year’s World Championships will be a great festival”, promises Bård Folke Fredriksen.
The new Holmenkollen can also be seen as a beacon leading the way for the new Oslo under development along the shoreline of the Oslo Fjord.
I went to the Norwegian capital to have a look at the huge transformation of the city that is taking place. There will be several reports in the blog on that later on this and next week.

The new icon for Norwegian winter sports; the ski jump at Holmenkollen.

The local train will take you right up to Holmenkollen.

The top of the ski jump will hold a platform with a great view of Oslo.