Since moving to Norway, each time I am in Oslo I am captivated by the extraordinary two-towered city hall, Oslo’s Rådhus. Today, while in the city centre, I finally went and took some photos of the Rådhus, to share.
The current city hall is of course far from the first. There were apparently several different town halls within Christiania (as Oslo was known from 1624-1924). The old town, hall now marked with a blue plaque, is at 7 Rådhusgata and shares a corner with Dronningens gate. It was town hall from 1641-1733, and is today the home of Den Norsk Forfattersforening (the Norwegian Authors’ Union).
The present city hall was designed by Arnstein Arneborg and Magnus Poulsson. Arneborg, as well as designing the Oslo city hall, also designed the interior of the UN Security Council in New York and the Viking Skipshuset on Bygdøy, which houses the Oseberg, Gokstad and Tune viking ships. The idea for a new city hall on the waterfront at Pipervika came from Hieronymus Heyerdahl, and Arneborg and Poulsson’s functionalist design won the competition in 1918. However, it would take a long time before the Rådhus was completed. The foundation stone was laid in September of 1931, but the real work would not begin on the building until February 1933. Writing in 1948, Karen Larsen, in A History of Norway, noted that “the idea of functionalism was, of course, as old in Norway as her oldest log hut, but in its modern application this principle meant a break with all old forms, as every detail that had no utilitarian purpose was sloughed off… before long it was demonstrated, however, that the new materials, such as concrete, steel, and glass, lent themselves especially to large-scale buildings of substantial durability and real beauty.” These two qualities sum up neatly what is so powerful about Oslo’s Rådhus.
The building of the city hall from the waterfront necessitated the knocking of many older buildings, which were to be replaced by new office buildings surrounding the city hall which apparently went some way in financing the project. The second world war put a stop to the building but it was resumed after the war and finally was officially opened on 15 May 1950, to coincide with the city’s 900th anniversary.
Additions were made to the steps that ran down to the seafront in 1960 when several sculptures by Per Palle Storm were added, showing a variety of workers.
Another of Storm’s additions in the garden near the city hall was of a man drinking from a fountain, as you can see below.
On the side away from the seafront at Fridtjof Nansen’s plass, there are also wooden carvings in large panels which take their inspiration from the Icelandic sagas of Snorri Sturluson, including these two which show the Norns watering Yggdrasil – the tree of life in Norse mythology – and Embla (Elm), who along with Ask (Ash) was one of two tress given life by the Norse gods and who were the first people. These panels are the work of Dagfin Werenskiold:
There is also at present a metal sculpture which in honour Fridtjof Nansen, an arctic explorer and leader of the team that first crossed Greenland’s interior in 1888:
Oslo’s Rådhus is a functionalist building which thanks to additions speaks of Norway’s social democratic practices and its penchant for adventure and myth. It is an extraordinary piece of architecture and should be on any visitor’s list.