After two starts, am finally on a plane to Scandinavia. Ryanair, one of the low-cost carriers in Europe, uses a number of smaller airports away from primary cities, and boards/disembarks on tarmacs, even for 737s. This was the case for my flight from Paris Beauvais airport (50 miles from Paris) to Oslo, Norway. Having missed this flight 2 days ago because a security line attendant mistook my saying ‘Oslo’ for ‘Glasgow’ (a much later flight) and indicated I needed to wait, I booked today’s flight and returned to Paris by bus, losing another 140 Euros and two days off my Scandinavian itinerary. That puts Copenhagen off to a later single city excursion if it’ll fit somewhere. Missing a flight is not a good feeling, but missing one while watching your plane push back is a worse one.
Oslo is the smallest of the large cities visited so far, with a population of somewhere in the area of a half million, but still almost a tenth of the country’s population. Like Amsterdam, Oslo is a harbor city but not so dominated by water, with the main harbor leading to a bigger harbor, then to the North Sea. Downtown and Central Station lie on the Southern edge of the original city, with the train station and the Royal Palace (still today the official residence of the King and Queen of Norway) serving as bookends to the 1-1/2 mile long Karl Johan’s Gate (street), a cobblestoned pedestrian mall of upscale everything. Oslo is not without its urban vices, primarily prostitution and drug dealing, but seemingly without the violence, and it reminds me somewhat of another Scandinavian city—Minneapolis. Like Amsterdam, Oslo has a very efficient streetcar and subway system that, once understanding that all roads lead to and from Central Station, is easy to navigate. Unlike the grittier Amsterdam, Oslo's system seems to operate on more of an honor system for getting on/off.
Oslo opera House - 2005 [Snohetta]
The recently-completed Oslo Opera House (2005) is one of the latest big projects by Snohetta, a firm of about 80 currently in its Oslo headquarters. Established in Oslo about 19 years ago, this then tiny shop of 5 or so people came to prominence in 1994 when it won an open international competition for a new central library in Alexandria, Egypt, a city made famous by its ancient bibliotheque. I’d seen the Opera building in photographs and was impressed with its scale if not so much its form. As a performing arts center, it is somewhat reminiscent of the Krannert Center at the university of Illinois with its towering main hall components expressed at the exterior. Being no expert on the building type, I can only assume certain formulaic rules (not a bad thing in this case) might have been applied to both. The Oslo facility though, is more self-contained in the exterior grouping of its massing elements, and does not to me engender the same emotive response as Max Abramowitz’s 1969 masterpiece in Urbana.
At the interior, soaring public spaces around the main performance halls provide just the right scaling for lingering before and after performances, as well as the visitor experience, a trend in public venue design where this facility probably has an edge over the Krannert Center. The interior material palette is simultaneously coldish and inviting, with white-painted walls and angled columns, white marble floors, and green-tinted glazing with stainless steel sockets balanced off by honey-finished wood bulkheads and outer finish at a dramatic spiraling ramp. Support spaces (restrooms, coatrooms, etc.) are efficiently and appropriately located at spaces under the lower points of the sloping roof/terrace.
Oslo Opera House Main Entry Area
Lobby and Stairs to Performance Halls
For a relatively small city, Oslo at its edges lacks walkability (probably typical of industrial harbor cities), and the opera House, located somewhat off the center city is accessed on foot from the city by an unfortunate elevated walkway across a major vehicular artery to its waterfront site. Ultimately though, if you are building an opera house in a city of major waterways, how do you not make full use of it in your siting? Only time will tell if the Oslo Opera House maintains a position among the most discussed and studied facilities of its type. An impressive piece of work, yes, but probably not more so than many others of the genre in the long run.
Above and Below: Central Stockholm
Stockholm Public Library
Sometimes a photograph enhances the reality of its subject, and other times the opposite is true. The former is the case with Erik Gunnar Asplunds 1928 Stockholm Public Library. Having seen countless photos of this building in texts, my impressions of it were of a building in a large public square, standing unbothered by adjacent buildings, and dominating its surroundings. While a relatively well-preserved facility, It’s difficult to appreciate from a visual standpoint this facility's standing in architectural annals without considering what makes it a truly timeless piece of modern (some say neoclassical) architecture. Like Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art, the Stockholm library is at first encounter a disappointment. Situated at the foot of a bluff near the corner on which it sits, the building’s site appears to have been carved out of the edge of the bluff, necessitating a raised main floor and half submerged lower levels which, in and of itself is not a negative. What's obvious is that all of the tricks of professional architectural photography have been employed to enhance what is in fact an architecturally notable building, but not one that at its exterior is particularly impressive. The primary sin of its conservators is allowing for the low-slung one level retail (including no kidding -- a Seven-Eleven store) jammed into the sloping edeges of the site around both street corners. Whether or not this is an original feature is inconsequential -- It is baffling as to why a city so rich in historical architecture would allow for this. Any argument that this was a necessary consequense of a tricky site falls on deaf ears here, in that the the outer storefront walls might have served (and possibly did at one point) as retaining walls to a raised yard where the roofs of the retail space currently are. Perhaps a city as rich in such history is not as attuned to the necessities for preservation and context as cities lacking in quantity and stature in their historical buidlidngs collection. From all appearances, this was possibly a 1970’s response, and presumably would not occur as a response in Stockholm today.
Central Reading Room, Stockholm Public Library
Main Entrance with Unfortunately Placed Low-end Retail
Thursday, October 21, 2010
The snow has given way to a light rain as the train nears Malmo and it’s 45 degrees F in Copenhagen. Should arrive there in about a half hour from now.
Friday, October 22, 2010
Garden Circle and Monument, Central Copenhagen
Friday, October 22nd, 2010.
On a train back to Sweden, this time to Malmo to see Santiago Calatrava’s ‘Turning Torso’ tower. With a flight to Paris in under 2 hours, it’ll be a quick stop. The trip across the Oresund Strait -- a tiny thing on a map but an immense body of water in reality -- is approximately 25 minutes.
Sitting on a Norwegian Airlines jet waiting to take off from Copenhagen Kastrup Airport for Paris after completing my Scandinavian excursion. When you arrive out of breath at your empty gate to the sound of the attendant calling your name as you round the corner, you know you are cutting it close. That was the result of my deciding to take a taxi into Malmo to get a quick look at the ‘Turning Torso’ tower I mentioned earlier. The Copenhagen airport was another 20 minutes from the Malmo train station, but I decided to chance it. I’ve got a death wish like that. I could see the tower in the distance from the train station, so I asked a taxi driver, in my best Swedish, how long it would take him to get there. 10-12 minutes, he said, so of course it took 18. The driver agreed to wait while I snapped photos, even offering to take a dramatic shot up the tower with me in the foreground. It was amusing watching him lying on the ground attempting the shot with my pocket camera (I was afraid to let him use my D90). It had been a flat-out gorgeous blue-sky day in Copenhagen, but by the time I got to Malmo, it was 5:30 pm and overcast, not the greatest backdrop for architectural photography.
Santiago Calatrava, Architect
Base of Turning Torso Tower and Adjacent Gallery
Turning Torso Tower, Malmo, Sweden