Norwegian National Opera and Ballet
Giving waterfront space back to the public


Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Interior Architecture


The opera house is part of Oslo's revitalization strategy to redevelop the city's historically industrial waterfront into an active public space and was the first building to be completed in the Bjørvika area. It is built on piles in the Oslo fjord, abutting reclaimed land that extends Oslo's harbor, giving more of the city's waterfront space back to the public.

Technical details

Performance Space, Public Space, Art
Oslo, Norway

Statsbygg, The Governmental Building Agency

38 500 m2

Photo: Gerald Zugmann

2 The right to roam

An ancient custom now protected by Norwegian law, alle­mannsretten (Norwegian for the right to roam) ensures one's freedom to move unrestricted throughout the countryside. Applying this idea to the interior in addition to the exterior of a building­ that is, to the landscape and also to the architecture - removes the oppositional nature from these terms. As they become synonymous, interior and exterior spaces become continuous. It was in this spirit that our proposal for the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet was conceived.

Photo: Trond Isaksen, Statsbygg

3 Keyless structure

Like the roof plaza, the lobby of the Oslo Opera House is keyless; visitors have been free to roam its spaces at all hours since the building opened in 2008. White carrara marble seamlessly covers the roof and lobby to denote a continuous, public ground plane, also a 20 000 m2 art piece in itself. Today, the public roof plaza routinely hosts outdoor concerts and simulcasts of operas happening inside the main theater, with as many as 15,000 people attending a single rooftop event. Similarly, the lobby, with its theater-quality acoustics, serves as a venue for public performances.

Photo: Jiri Havran

Photo: Jiri Havran

5 Cleaner fjord

Construction of the Opera House has also produced other benefits. The large-scale environmental cleanup of the site, once a highly polluted industrial shipyard, has restored the Oslo Fjord to its cleanest in nearly 100 years. Healthy enough for humans and animals alike, the waters now support several active public swimming areas and more than forty returning plant and animal species. The success of this cleanup has led to national efforts to revive the coastline, deepening the impact of the Opera House beyond the scope of Oslo's masterplan and expanding the boundaries of one's right to roam well beyond the roof plaza, to the outer limits of the Norwegian shore.

6 Eight art projects and 17 artists

The National Opera and Ballet in Oslo is also one of Norway's largest public art collections, featuring eight art projects and seventeen artists. Integrated art defines much of the design. The walkable marble roof is designed by the artists Kristian Blystad, Kalle Grude and Jorunn Sannes, while the textile stage curtain was created by visual artist, Pae White. 

The perforated cladding in the lobby for the bathrooms was designed by the artist Olafur Eliasson. Chosen through an international art competition, the project allows the visitor's perception of the lobby areas to change over time and with movement around the structures. A soft light changes color while the diamond-like filagree shows differing characteristics of scale and hue when passing alongside the walls.

Visual artist Pae White's woven textile curtain for the main theatre.

The perforated cladding in the lobby for the bathrooms was designed by the artist Olafur Eliasson.

The marble roof is designed by the artists Kristian Blystad, Kalle Grude and Jorunn Sannes.

Photo: Jiri Havran

7 Interior

The interiors have been designed by Snøhetta to provide an integrated and complimentary quality to the informal and fluid forms of the public areas. The seating areas are arranged to promote comfort while the furnishings themselves are flexible and modular allowing for change over time.

The interior door handles are custom designed, referencing the ramp-like forms of the exterior.