ARCHIVE - Wardrobe volumes
Closed competition for an art project in the public foyer
Bjørn Nørgaard wishes to enhance the strong architectural aspect of the foyer with the addition of 4 classical sculptural materials and forms of expression. The aim is to activate the 4 building volumes, so they stand out as a contrapuntal centre of gravity in the high, light-filled room.
The artist suggests that each of the 4 volumes is clad in a different material – stone, clay, iron and plaster. These in turn will be treated in different ways, creating relief images and patterns in different techniques. One of the volumes is to be clad with basalt panels. A varied, abstract, repeating pattern of characters and symbols referring to the world of opera is to be carved into the stone. The second volume is to be clad with panels of roughly modelled clay, creating a composition of musical staves, texture and colour in coincidental formations. The cladding of the third volume is to be modelled in plaster and cast in iron. It consists of a wide range of shapes and configurations – a veritable encyclopedia of form. The fourth volume is to be clad with plaster which is cast over horizontal profiles to represent ornamental infinity and calm.
This proposal reflects the artist’s deep understanding of the many ways in which materials can be treated, using classical artistic techniques. The exuberant wealth of imagery and techniques used to treat the surfaces of the volumes create variations that can be appreciated over time.
Nørgaard has succeeded in his aim to activate the four building volumes. They will indeed stand out as a contrapuntal point of gravity in the light, transparent, abstractly-conceived foyer. Each of the objects is given its own material and surface identity. The volumes have a strong material, organic character and a visual weight and presence. The use of materials and visual language contrasts with the architectural language, which (in the foyer) aims to be as abstract as possible - as reflected in the use of materials and detailing. The visual language chosen by the artist contrasts with this, giving the space its own history, with clear references to music and human activity.
Anish Kapoor has chosen one of the walls on one of the 4 building volumes as the site for his project. His proposal consists of a double-curved, concave mirrored surface that will fill the wall. Oslo Mirror will measure approximately 6m. x 3,5m. with a maximum depth of 1m. The mirror will be precision-made – it will have an optically perfect surface.
The curved mirror distorts and reverses the image it reflects. It also contributes to and extends the experience of the space it occupies and reflects. The artist’s intention is to create a sense of wonder and curiosity in the viewer – to engage visitors and to make them reflect upon where they are - offering them a new experience of their spatial surroundings.
Kapoor’s proposal is simple, elegant and impressive. This object extends the overall impression of the foyer’s abstract character, by carefully considered use of material, in terms of concept and as an activated plane in the space. The sculptural mirror is placed in an optimal position in the space. Distance to the mirror plays and important role with regard to the way the reflected image appears – from a distance the image it captures is reflected upside down, but from closer up the image is distorted in another way. The sculptural mirror will create an ever-changing, living composition in, and of the viewer and the foyer. The object itself will challenge the gaze as well as the way the visitor experiences the space it inhabits and the world in general. It will undoubtedly contribute to a shift in the way the visitor thinks, reflects and allows him/herself to be surprised. This is the artist’s intention – and it is also one of the purposes of the building.
Elmgreen and Dragset begin by putting forward an argument: They believe that the foyer does not need an applied or an integrated art project – a new visual layer. According to them, the 4 existing building volumes already constitute a significant piece of design, creating a clear dialogue with the surrounding architecture.
The artists propose instead to finish off these already existing volumes with a layer of white cement, and to continue their art project in the urban environment of Oslo.
Elmgreen and Dragset’s proposal consists of an appropriation of the 4 building volumes in the foyer. They propose to rebuild these forms in the same material, size and surface design, in an urban location in Oslo. The interior design of these volumes is a continuation of the formal principles behind Snøhetta’s design concept, with the addition of references to the American minimalist sculpture tradition, Nordic design and Functionalism. The artists utilise such ideas as displacement, transparency and multiplication, so that familiar elements appear in new constellations and contexts.
The pavilions will be venues for basic leisure activities. Each of the 4 volumes will have its own inner design and content. Due to practical and climatic considerations, 3 of the pavilions will be covered by a roof with circular overhead windows. One of the pavilions will be a multi-functional activity room with a folding table-tennis table. Another will contain a sauna/steam-bath with showers. The third will be a labyrinth that can be used as a play area for children and a romantic meeting place for adults. The fourth volume will be a closed garden without a roof that focuses upon the contrast between inside/outside.
Elmgreen and Dragset have chosen a range of activities and a design concept that reflects upon the conditions that characterise the ways in which individuals behave and utilise public spaces. The local inhabitants would have unlimited access to the pavilions, and the ways in which they are used could be further developed in collaboration with those who use them, thus opening for a socially dynamic continuation of the project.
The artists would like the pavilions to be built where the need is greatest – a place that would not immediately suggest itself as a site for a sculpture, public artwork or “high” culture. The artists themselves have suggested 3 different locations: Holmlia, Sognsvann or Gamlebyen/Etterstad. The diverse social characteristics of each location would open up for various interpretations of the project. The four volumes, both those inside the Opera House, and those located outside, would be clearly marked with signs, informing viewers of the site of the “twin volumes”.
As public artworks, the pavilions would be a non-monumental reminder that such cultural categories as leisure activity and high culture are traditionally quite separate. The physical presence of the pavilions in different urban locations would generate a dialogue in which information and layers of meaning could be mediated through new communication channels. The interactive pavilions would function partly as autonomous works, but the users would also be conscious of the fact they represent the Opera. According to the artists, this might awaken a new interest in the activities of the Opera House itself. On the other hand, those who frequent the Opera House would also be aware that the four volumes of the foyer were living a different life somewhere else in the town. The 4 volumes in the alternative urban location would be a tribute to the Opera/Opera House, whilst those located inside the building would be a tribute to the city.
Elmgreen and Dragset have delivered a convincing proposal that combines a complex, conceptual and artistic idea with a strong social engagement. Their proposal reflects and mediates an attitude to both architecture and art in public spaces, as well as being firmly anchored in the artistic tradition that their own particular artistic practice is part of. By copying and placing the foyer volumes in a larger urban context, by filling them with user-friendly, positive functions and possibilities, and by making them accessible for public use, Elmgreen and Dragset highlight the sharing of a collective benefit – represented by this public artwork. The desire to collaborate with those who use the pavilions, strengthens the generous social and democratic aspect of their project. Another important factor is connection between fine culture and popular culture – the artists represent these as equally important ideas.
Over the course of time, the project will develop an image of fine culture and popular culture – in the Opera House itself, the 4 volumes will be cared for and maintained, whilst the 4 volumes place in the city will bear the marks of the way people choose to use them, as well as the ravages of the Norwegian climate.
The project will undoubtedly increase people’s awareness of the Opera building and opera as an art form. It will also offer food for thought for the public visiting the Opera House.
The jury agree that Elmgreen and Dragset have presented a well thought out, generous, dynamic and interesting art project.
Olafur Eliasson’s starting point is the way in which one experiences the building, the spatial situation and the sloping roof that defines the dynamics of the area where the 4 differently shaped volumes are located. The roof surface is interpreted as a large block of ice or glacier and the space immediately under this as a slow, almost glacial movement that changes according to the way in which the “sheet of ice” moves towards the waterfront. Eliasson’s proposal is inspired by the quality and character of the spaces, crevices and tunnels one finds under glaciers and ice floes – the life under, and inside the ice before it collapses dramatically, suspended in another, slower time sequence where only minor, sudden movements and vibrations are detectable. Under the pressure of an icecap, water moves and freezes into different formations. The growth of ice crystals is organized in accordance with the heavy, suspended mass of ice above. Eliasson is also inspired by the ripples and waves that form in the sea at the edge of the large building that slopes down to the water’s edge – the patterns they create are similar to vibrations or sound waves.
The artist proposes to cover 3 of the volumes with a geometric, punctured, three-dimensional structure that is based upon the growth pattern of ice crystals, ripples in water, or vibrations from sounds such as the cracking of ice. The structure consists of wooden cladding, installed with a gap of approx. 30cm. in front of the existing concrete walls. The cladding stretches down to the floor and opens up towards the ceiling.
Through the holes of the patterned, punctured cladding, white light with a slight green tone will fade and pulse almost imperceptibly up and down the wall. This will create a three-dimensional, variable optical effect.
The artist proposes to clad the fourth volume (which is located partly inside and partly outside the building) with mirror in order to emphasis the sloping roof, and the connection between inside and outside. The mirror will on the one side reflect a solid, static mass, whilst the other side will reflect fleeting, bypassing images. The mirror represents a state of change – between liquid and frozen, just like the seasonal changes that take place in the Oslo harbour.
Eliasson’s intention is to create a floating, or hovering environment with materials and immaterial elements that illuminate the sloping ceiling surfaces. It will give the impression of a suspended state – a feeling that we are either at the beginning of a long standstill – like an ice age – or about to collapse. It seems as if the volumes, or boxes are about to stretch higher or contract and make the space more dense. The tension between the immaterial elements such as the light reflections, the water and the spatial dynamics will enhance the public’s experience of the foyer of the Opera House and will contribute to a sense of expectation regarding the opera performances taking place deeper inside the building.
This proposal reflects the artist’s in-depth understanding of the spatial situation in the foyer, which is articulated and interpreted in a convincing manner. The proposal is a very beautiful observation of the distribution of the weight-bearing elements in the building and an interpretation of the tension and fragility that exists in the relationship between the roof and the floor. The organic, geometric, punctured three-dimensional cladding is detailed, varied and complex. The fact that the structure is not made to fit each box, but is stretched over each one individually, means that the cladding describes the form of each particular volume, emphasising the differences between them. The variations that ensue as a result of this will create different lighting patterns in relief, differences with larger and smaller apertures and varying distances between the open and closed areas. Optical curves and spiral movements will occur, according to the shape of each volume. In addition, the reflective, back-lighting will give play upon positive/negative aspects, giving an extra dimension to the project. The spatial perspectives will also vary according to each volume and the position from which one views them.
The jury agrees that the public will experience the volumes as floating, illuminated spatial elements with a richness of detail that contrasts with the larger lines, planes and forms that already exist in the space. The way the project is constructed in layers suits the building. The concrete elements will vibrate with light, produced by the secondary structure. The fourth volume has been given a different cladding because it has a different spatial location. The mirrored volume will represent a material contrast to the other three volumes, but is nevertheless a continuation of the same idea.
Eliasson has delivered a proposal that utilises all of the four building volumes. His intention is to re-work the space beneath the ceiling, creating an illuminated, hovering space that signifies a state between collapse and standstill. The idea is well conceived and well thought out in every detail.
The proposal should be developed in collaboration with the architect and the building authorities in order to clarify the technical and practical aspects of the project.
The competition proposals will be exhibited in Arkitekturmuseet from 1st – 8th March: Nasjonalmuseet /Arkitekturmuseet, Kongensgt. 4, Oslo.
Opening hours: Monday closed, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday: 11–17, Thursday: 11–20, Saturday and Sunday: 12–16
Last updated 23.10.2008