Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
The transit project is part of an effort not only to better connect a far-flung corner of the city, but to brand a development site as sleek and forward-looking.
Nordic countries are going through a bit of a subway building boom at the moment. All of the region’s capitals excluding Reykjavik are getting major new connections, with Stockholm launching a new metro in 2020, and a new link orbiting the center of Copenhagen opening in summer 2019. Oslo is slightly behind its neighbors, but the Norwegian capital now has a new, six-station Fornebu line due to start service in 2025.
As renderings released this month reveal, Oslo’s new line will likely make up for its tardy arrival with striking aesthetics and high profile designers. Among the architects announced for the line’s terminals is one of the biggest and splashiest in the world, Zaha Hadid Architects, whose two stations for the line should be one of the most high profile designs from the studio since the death of Hadid herself in 2016. The other four stations on the line will be designed by Gottlieb Paludan, Asplan Viak, and Mestres Wåge Arkitekter.
The metro extension is being built because Oslo is scrambling to capitalize on one of its few suitable large scale development sites. For years, the peninsula at Fornebu, southwest of the city center, was home to Oslo’s main airport until it closed in 1998. Since then, the peninsula has gradually reframed itself as a place for office and residential development. When the current masterplan for the area is complete, the peninsula will house workplaces for up to 20,000 people and homes for up to 6,000—likely to be more valuable because of their proximity to one of Oslo’s wealthiest suburban areas. The metro is part of an effort not only to better connect a far-flung corner of the city, but to brand a development site as sleek, and forward-looking.
The stations designed by Zaha Hadid Architects (in conjunction with Norwegian firm A_lab) for the new link appear to continue the legacy of the house style created by the late Hadid. The design for the station at Fornebu Senter, for example, features a dramatic entrance with a sweeping roof that curves above a sunken, glass-covered concourse, all of it set in hillocky parkland that, scraped with paths, looks as if it’s been scratched by a giant cat. The result recalls such existing Hadid set pieces as Baku’s Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center, albeit altogether more modest in intention and scale—and positively demure next to ZHA’s designs for Riyadh’s metro. In a nod to Oslo’s pro-bike and car-free aspirations, the station’s roof is also the route for a bike lane and walkway across the site.
The aesthetic of the news stations, ZHA says, is inspired by the gradually eroded landscape of Norway’s mountains, fjords and glaciers. Sure enough, the station planned for Fornebuporten opens up beneath a glass roof in the sidewalk in a way that recalls the surface of a lake or even an ice crevasse. There are other, more obviously transit-related influences on show, such as station platforms that echo the barrel vaulting of Washington D.C.’s metro system.
There’s a clear message in the choice such a high profile studio for the job. Oslo already has its fair share of shiny contemporary architecture ensembles including a Snøhetta-designed opera house. Moving into the future and away from an oil-powered economy, its key asset is less likely to be a concentration of landmarks will be less important than its quality of life, specifically its aspirations (and those of its country) to be one of the greenest, cleanest places in the world. In this context, what makes more sense than ensuring the public transit system itself is a form of monument?