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Blue, green and the city in between

The “Blue and the Green and the City in Between” - the Fjord City of Oslo - exhibits the combination of the vibrant feel of an innovative city in growth, while at the same time maintaining its roots with nature. Over 90% of its inhabitants live within easy reach of an open green area, and nearly 9 of 10 school children walk, bike or use public transport to go to school.

The bottom line is that Oslo is truly a city that is in balance with nature, protecting and preserving the surrounding “marka” (countryside, mountains and forests), and at the same time having sensible and sustainable building development policies that continue to attract new residents from near and far.

This balance adds to the quality of life here greatly, with surveys showing that the majority of the inhabitants in the city strongly identify with the nature surrounding them. At the same time, the Fjord City is positioned for an economic boom during the next decade, when the population will grow by several hundred thousand.

The Bygdøy peninsula with the Kon Tiki and Fram museums, and Holmenkollen with the ski jump seen from the Oslo fjord on a sunny summer’s day.
© VisitOslo / Nancy Bundt

Nature’s Playground
The city’s unique position between the eastern mountains of Norway and the Oslo fjord is accentuated by 10 rivers that flow through Oslo, rivers spanning the city from east to west. The most well-known river is Akerselva, a historical and beautifully renovated area once home to the most densely built industrial zone in Europe. Now, it is home to cafés, dwellings, concert halls, small creative businesses, and a wealth of sightseers, joggers and bicyclists. The Architect School of Oslo and the National Academy of the Arts has moved into former industrial premises on both sides of the river, with the new campus one of the most spacious in Europe – and a true blend of nature and architecture.

Twice yearly, in the fall and in the springtime, the river is colourfully lit with spotlights and artistic elements from high up at its source in Maridalen and all the way down to the city centre. Tens of thousands make the traditional walk to admire the combination of nature and art. Long-term city plans includes continuing to make all ten rivers increasingly accessible, including the partially tunnelled river of Alna that will be reopened for the enjoyment of the population. The rivers and waterfalls are especially spectacular in the spring and autumn, when the river banks seem to barely contain the raging flow to the sea.


The city is never far away.
© VisitOslo / Nancy Bundt

The mountains around the city provide a natural playground for the people of Oslo, with hundreds of kilometres of bicycle paths (spring, summer and fall) as well as downhill and cross-country ski runs (wintertime); in addition to lakes and streams where swimmers, fishing enthusiasts, and others can literally walk out their front door in Oslo, hop on a tram and within half an hour be well off in the natural surroundings of the city. The city planners continue their processes in making nature even more accessible – without jeopardizing the balance between man and nature.

The Oslo Triennale 2010
The Oslo Triennale 2010 will be the fourth in a series of international architectural triennales arranged by the newly created Oslo Triennale. The timing for this event is especially appropriate with the stunning developments currently taking place at Bjørvika and other areas of the city.

As with previous Triennales, the general goal is to establish a highly profiled international arena for architecture that challenges traditional thinking and seeks to explore, debate and engage a wide range of perspectives, creating a greater knowledge and awareness of architecture and urban development among professionals and the population. The curator of the Oslo Triennale is Bjarne Ringstad, co-founder of the architecture firm Code, and the Executive Director since 2000.

The Oslo Triennale 2010 will be arranged in collaboration with the National Association of Norwegian Architects, NAL, Oslo School of Architecture and Design, Norsk Form, OAF (Oslo Association of Architects) and Oslo Teknopol. As with the previous triennales, the Oslo Triennale 2010 will be a non-profit arrangement relying substantially on independent efforts, public funding and private sponsors. The long-term ambition is to make the Triennale into Northern Europe’s most important arena for dissemination and debate on current architectural and urban challenges.

Keeping the Balance

  Developments are underway all over the city, most visibly at Bjørvika – the new “City within the City” (see the separate article). This will be the centre for culture; with the Norwegian Opera and Ballet, the Munch Museum, the Museum of Culture, the Deichmanske Public Library, and other cultural attractions, all balanced in harmony with the sites of the first settlements which originally founded the 1,000 year-old city.

Ellen de Vibe is the Director for the Agency for Planning and Building Services, the city organization tasked to manage the building activities and development of the city. The “Blue & Green” balance is extremely important to Ms. de Vibe, while at the same time ensuring that the opportunities for careful development are in place. The city development of the Bjørvika section of Oslo is an excellent example of such planning – integrating the east side of the city with the west.

According to Ms. de Vibe, “For centuries the city of Oslo has been socio-economically divided between east and west by the river Akerselva that meets the fjord at Bjørvika. The eastern side has traditionally not been as affluent as the west – making for a traditional separation. The development at Bjørvika is based on the strategy of establishing an ‘axis of culture’, where the culture buildings will make up a ‘network of pearls’, connecting east with west.”


Growth, Planning & Aesthetics
The creative educational environment in the Oslo region is making an important impact on Norwegian culture – and beyond. Oslo National Academy for the Arts plays an considerable role, and within the specific genre of architecture, it is the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO) that is an infuential learning institute in the Oslo region, offering education in the areas of architecture, industrial design, landscape architecture and urbanism. AHO’s Rector Karl Otto Ellefsen is convinced of the positive impact of the excellent work being done here in the city; and the positive effects of work both by established architects, and the young up-and-coming talents.

As Ellefsen indicates, “The architecture here is a combination of creativity and talent combined with four guiding parameters that include a clear environmental focus, a balanced urban development process, a clear governmental role, and the ongoing stimulation/creation/transfer of knowledge. This ‘Oslo School’ is as much an attitude as it is a style, something that will be well displayed in the 4th Oslo Trienniale in 2010.” (See sidebar)

The architecture in progress includes the Opera and Ballet House (architecture by Snøhetta) and the National Museum of Architecture (architecture by Sverre Fehn) already in place; and soon to be joined Renzo Piano (Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art); Lund Hagen (the Deichmanske Library); and Juan Herreros (the new Munch Museum).

City development is not without its challenges. Trained as an architect and with vast experience in urban planning, she is well aware of the potential pitfalls involved. According to Ms. de Vibe, “The city is well prepared for an expected ‘boom’ period during the next 10 to 20 years, keeping the goals of maintaining our status as capital with sustainable development that is characterized by economic, social and cultural growth. Everything must be in balance with nature, and nature’s ability to sustain growth.”

Feel on top of the world, skiing high above the rooftops of Oslo. After skiing, downtown is only 20 minutes away!
© VisitOslo / Glen Philip Hagen

The Oslo School
One of the new stars in the architectural firmament is Snøhetta, based in Oslo, which projects include the National September 11 Museum Memorial Pavilion in New York City; the Alexandria Library in Egypt; renowned for its maintaining a strong and distinct relationship between landscape and architecture.

Snøhetta’s work lies at the heart of the “Oslo School”, with its roots in legendary work of the late Sverre Fehn, Christian Norberg-Schulz and others, with the primary characteristics that include the use of natural-based materials; a close and intimate relationship with nature; inventiveness and curiosity; and working with wood as a central element in the architecture process. Other firms such as Jensen and Skodvin; Jarmund & Vigsnæs and many others are continuing to make their mark, and their work is resulting in synergies felt far outside of the region. This ‘Oslo School’ is vividly visible in the ongoing development of this city of diversity.

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