oslo architecture sketches

I’ve recently spent 9 days in the Norwegian capital, partly on transit to Kuala Lumpur and another to see and compare the architecture on offer of this other Scandinavian capital. I remembered being awed by Scandinavia (big generalisation here) the first time I visited Copenhagen. I love the combination of clean, rational but warm interiors combined with a slightly funky attitude towards architecture as well as the typical charm of the old town all whilst integrating its natural surroundings – seems like a perfect combination that sounded too good to be true! That first visit led me to subsequent ones the following year as well as a visit to the neighbouring Helsinki (Nordic as opposed to Scandinavia some might argue). My original itinerary was to spend 5 days in total but have then decided to extend the trip a further 4 days, trying to capture as much as I could as well as taking time to sketch whenever the opportunity (weather permitted) arises. So below are some of my findings.


Aker Brygge / Tjuvholmen – This is actually the first place I went to in the city. This trendy district houses many great restaurants, bars and shops. It is also where the famous contemporary Astrup Fearnley Museum is located. What I love most however are the abundance of seating areas overlooking the fjord. In fact, where there is water, there is surely a place you could sit and enjoy the stunning view. Most of the buildings here are new and the area has a great mix of commercial and residential uses. The architecture around the neighbourhood could be described as funky and modern, save from the Onda Restaurant which looks elegant with the undulating wave-like timber roof structure as in the sketch above. One thing I’ve realised about the apartments here is that they all have balconies of differing shapes and sizes. Though the choice of colours can be a little bit dull considering the weather, it could’ve been a little bit brighter maybe?


Oslo Cathedral amer TendToTravel

Oslo Cathedral – it’s hard to miss this building. It’s located near the Sentralstasjon (Central Station) and the shopping street of Karl Johan’s Gate. I’ve drawn the domes many times as you can see above. My first drawing was the ‘cleaner’ version on the right hand side. I thought it was a bit too clean so continued on redrawing. This drawing was drawn over a couple of days. I’ve made the Sentralstasjon as my based making it possible to do so. It was very cold on the days this drawing was made!


Oslo Opera House and Concert Hall by Snohetta amer TendToTravel

Oslo Opera House – have to admit the main reason I’ve wanted to visit Oslo is to see the Opera House by Snohetta. What I’ve learnt from my travels is the power of iconic architecture brings to elevate the profile of a city. I have never previously associated Oslo with architecture – partly due to the association most people have of Norway as one of the most beautiful countries in the world instead of anything else, so the Opera House has certainly lifted the profile of Oslo as one city for contemporary architecture. What I love about this building is the idea that you could walk and sit on its roof. The idea felt liberating – for one, Opera Houses are normally closed-off institution operating in the name of culture but generally serving a smaller group of society. The sloped roof also created a massive new public space which is fun to use. It also faces sunset which is a genius idea! There’s nothing more beautiful than watching sunset at whichever height you choose to see it! The Oslo Opera House is one of my favourite buildings I’ve seen so far on my travels. When other iconic buildings define themselves through the beauty or extravagance of its facade, this one does more than that. It also serves the public – the building is freely accessible to everyone unlike other concert halls.


Interior sketches of Oslo Opera House by amer TendToTravel

Interior of the Opera House – loved the use of timber evoking the sense of being in a Scandinavian forest! The sketch above also captured the differing views of the Opera House from both the inside and outside of the building.


view from Thon Panorama Oslo hotel sketch by amer TendToTravel

Rooftop view of the city and the Opera House – this drawing was drawn from the top floor of the Thon Panorama Hotel. The view as you can see it is amazing! I’ve had the view of both the city centre and the Old Castle area from the balcony. It’s a great place to watch sunrise and sunset and I’ve spent a bit too much time in my hotel room because of it.


Royal College of Art sketch by Amer TendToTravel

Oslo Academy of Arts and the Vulkan Regeneration area – Wasn’t planning on visiting this neighbourhood until prompted by my kind instagram followers @lenamargrethe and @made_by_mills. This cool building is located within the Vulkan regeneration area right next to the Akerselva river and a series of real waterfalls! Many of the buildings here were refurbished. Love the way urban planners integrate the river into its surrounding area – on the left side of the photo are steps that connects to the park but also doubles up as a place to sit overlooking the river. This drawing above shows a well thought cool modern insertion into an old building.


Akerselva river waterfalls sketch by amer TendToTravel

Akerselva River mini waterfalls – One of the many waterfalls along the Akerselva River flowing right in the heart of the city and the Vulkan regeneration area! I’ve remembered when my airbnb host told me about mini waterfalls in the city, I took it with a pinch of salt expecting him to exaggerate it slightly just to impress. I was pleasantly surprised upon finding it. The series of waterfalls stretches a few a kilometres apart. It is a great route for walking and running.


oslo barcode project sketch by amer tendtotravel

The Barcode Project – I was looking for contemporary architecture and the Barcode Project is the place to be. I love the variety of designs from the different facades – they’re all modern but slightly funky. I believe the architecture here would represent the people of Oslo quite nicely – forward looking, open, casual and very friendly. The Barcode Project is one of the most unique urban master plan i’ve come across on my travels. The master plan calls for a series of blocks to be built between the Sentralstasjon and the fjord. Each block is separated by 12metres apart allowing for penetration of light and air through the long platforms of the train station. Despite this, the project has a fair share of criticism. The tall buildings has altered Oslo’s low rise skyline and some have argued that the designs are competing with each other – each trying to be a ‘signature’ architecture, which may become dated in the future. However, as Europe’s fastest growing capital, I believe the city needs more development allowing for businesses to expand and therefore think this project was built out of necessity and projection of growth more than anything else.


Gronland Oslo

Gronland Neighbourhood – spent a couple of days in this AirBnB apartment in the multi-cultural district of Gronland right in the heart of the city. The main reason was the view afforded from the balcony of the apartment overlooking the Barcode Project. This neighbourhood reminds me a bit like East London – a bit gritty, multi-cultural but lively – people spilling out on street on the many cafe’s and restaurants. I have to admit it’s not the Oslo I had in mind so if you’re a first time visitor and staying in this neighbourhood your perception of the city would be unfairly skewed, but that’s the reality of today’s cities – there are good bits and the lesser ones. Despite being the grittiest neighbourhood in Oslo it is surprisingly pleasant and safe like all of Oslo (some of London’s neighbourhood are a lot worse!).


Statoil Fornebu Oslo sketch by Amer TendToTravel

Statoil Fornebu building – Another building suggested by @made_by_mills I’m starting to get into this habit where I rely on my followers to give suggestions of architecture to see whenever I visit a new city. Saw this building on Dezeen many years ago but have forgotten it was located in Oslo, so was very happy to be reminded. The building is located in an open park right next to the fjord. The setting is magnificent to say the least so as the 12metres long cantilever! This is all possible because of the steel superstructure.


Holmenkollen Ski Jump sketch by Amer TendToTravel

Holmenkollen Ski Jump by Julien de Smedt – this is one of the most iconic structure of the city and one that embodies an important part of contemporary Norwegian culture – skiing competitions! It is a bit away from the city (about 30minutes or so) but it’s location on a hill provides it with an excellent view of the city. The Holmenkollen Ski Jump was originally opened in 1892 but has been rebuilt 19 times. The latest design, by Julien de Smedt was completed in 2010. The design is revolutionary – the whole facilities was integrated into one holistic diagram unlike the previous iterations where everything was in separate pavilions. Viewing it from the side, the form looks like a serpent with shiny scales rising above the blanket of snow – modern, elegant and exciting. I thought the best bit of the ski jump is the viewing platform on top of it. The view from the top is breathtaking to say the least and I had a great overall view not only of the facilities but also the magnificent fjords engulfing the city!


oslo first impressions by an architect amer tendtotravel moleskine

First Impressions – I thought I include the above sketch as well. My trip to Oslo was divided into 2 separate visits. The first one before Easter holidays enroute to Kuala Lumpur. This was my first impressions of the city – was slightly altered after an extended stay

Oslo for Contemporary Architecture – I could’ve written a lot more about this – but I’ll save it for another time. I’ve seen so much throughout my nine days and could’ve easily written an illustrative book 😉 I really took time to travel and visit places – there’s lots of contemporary architecture in the city and a lot more being built as well. If you’re an architect and looking for contemporary architecture, I would suggest you visit the Harbour area (where the Opera House sits), the adjacent Barcode Project – lots of cool and funky architecture rivalling Copenhagen for its eccentricity!, the Tjuvholmen district as well as the Vulkan regeneration area.

Oslo Museums – for such a small city, there’s so many museums on offer. I’ve visited a number of important ones like the Astrup Fearnley, The Nobel Peace Centre, Munch Museum, Norwegian Folk Museum, Fram and Kontiki Museums and many others.


Oslo Pass sketch by Amer TendToTravel

Oslo Pass – This is by far the most valuable purchase a visitor could have when visiting the city. The pass granted free access to the public transportation network (Note: you’ll need a separate ticket to go to and from the airport), free access to most museums (all the important ones included) and discounts on dining / shopping options (never tried using this though). But the most important thing it does is saving time – a valuable thing if you’re in the city a couple of days like most people.

oslo architecture sketches

Disclaimer – I have visited Oslo for 9 days mostly under my own expenses. However Visit Oslo has kindly provided me with a 2 nights accommodation at Thon Oslo Panorama Hotel and a 72-Hours Oslo Pass. I had free reign of what I’ve wanted to write/publish – most of my sketches were published through Instagram during my visit. And all views are of my own.

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