Bjørvika - city within a city

Oslo is in the throes of a major urban transformation. Museums will move. A new commercial business district will be erected. And all will come together by the seaside at Bjørvika, site of the first settlements which originally founded the 1,000 year-old city.

The city plans to develop close to 1 million square metres of residential, cultural, commercial, and office space at the eastern part of the Oslo fjord out of the old industrial port area of Bjørvika and into a thriving new centre. This is one of the biggest waterfront projects developed in Europe at the moment. The current heart of the city is located on the western side at Aker Brygge, the old shipyard area that was built into a high-end residential and commercial business district in the 1980s, a stone’s throw from Oslo City Hall and the National Theatre.

Aker Brygge will be a minor development compared to the grandiose plans that the city has laid out for Bjørvika. The municipality has rebranded Oslo the “Fjord City” and begun a harbour restructuring project stretching 10 kilometres along the fjord inner-city coastline that will shift the power base from the trendy western part of town around Aker Brygge eastwards to Oslo Central Station and Bjørvika.

The Opera House was the first iconic new building to rise in Bjørvika. This area is currently subject to a major urban development
© birdseyepix.com/Christopher Hagelund


Integrated Urban Planning
The first major sign of this renewal was the completion of the new National Opera and Ballet House in April 2008. Once a dreary quay, a stunning glass and white marble cultural monument now overlooks the Oslo fjord with its bold and modern design. The architect behind the marvel is Snøhetta, the Norwegian company also known for the Alexandria Library in Egypt and the planned National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York. The Opera and Ballet House was recently awarded by the international jury at the World Architecture Festival (WAF) in Barcelona for the culture category.

The next great development will be the completion of a huge new commercial business district behind the Opera House known as the Opera Quarter, previously known under the design concept the Bar Code because of the long, narrow plots of land and staggered eaves of the buildings. It’s an architectural cacophony; no building will have the same materials as the one next to it. No building will look the same. The first tower to go up was a sleek, glass upside down U-shaped building for PriceWaterhouse Coopers. Next to it, a Spanish stone façade will house Visma, followed by a building for the Norwegian insurance group KLP. DnBNOR, Norway’s largest bank, will move into three buildings by 2014, bringing together its numerous offices that are currently scattered throughout the city.

New Commercial Business District
Within the next eight years, up to 16 buildings in the Opera Quarter will house 10,000 workplaces, 450 apartments integrated among the buildings, and 20,000 square metres of restaurants and shops, the single largest collection of living and working space in all of Oslo. It will also be among the tallest with 17 stories, roughly 67 metres tall, more than double the height of the average building in town.

“We are the new commercial business district,” said Paul Lødøen, Chief Executive of Oslo Utvikling AS, the developers behind the Opera Quarter and one-third of the Bjørvika area. “In Norway, the Opera Quarter will be our skyscraper.”

The plan is to make the area a 24/7 live and work community where people can choose to raise a family in the city near their jobs, or commute easily from the suburbs directly into the central railway station. There will be office buildings, apartments, museums, parks, restaurants, shops, kindergartens, a new school, an underground parking system, and little car traffic. The city is re-routing the sprawling highway system that divides the central station from the seaside and building a new tunnel underneath the fjord that will connect the western part of the city to the east at Bjørvika by 2010. There will also be a footbridge from the Opera Quarter into Grønland that will connect this edgy, multicultural neighbourhood known for its varied ethnic restaurants and artsy cafes, with the new commercial business district at Bjørvika and Oslo Central Station.

“You can do like it is in New York and live in New Jersey,” said Lødøen. “You can take the train from Fredrikstad (100 kilometres south of Oslo) directly into town.”


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Cultural Epicentre
That will just be the beginning. There are talks of building an aquarium by the Opera House and plans to move the Historical Museum (Kulturhistorisk Museum). They might as well given that they found 15 old Viking ships under the Opera Quarter while constructing the project. There are already plans for building a new Munch Museum, Stenersen Museum, and the Deichmanske Main Library alongside the Opera House and many more residences and offices. By the end of this grandiose project, there should be housing consisting of 5,000 apartments and 20,000 workplaces in the entire Bjørvika area.

“An important goal for restructuring Bjørvika was that we would create a living community for the joy of the whole city, with a blend of housing, offices and art and cultural institutions that will attract locals, national and international visitors,” says Stian Berger Røsland, Governing Mayor of Oslo, in connection with the 2008 decision to move the Munch and Stenersen museums down to Bjørvika and the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design to Vestbanen, the old western railway terminal station.

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