Tuesday, August 5, 2008



It is always a relief to leave Milan, there is something suffocating about the city, it could be the still stale hot air or the conservative attitudes or a breathless combination of both. Riding in a taxi through the empty streets and dawn light of Milan the sense of excitement of traveling to Oslo was amplified by the pleasure of leaving Milan for a period of time. Arriving in the beautifully designed airport of Oslo Gardemoen designed by Aviaplan was refreshing and filled with obvious and subtle signs of so many things which make Italy so different from much of Europe and announced my arrival in Oslo.

Thanks to June who was super helpful and made my trip to Norway fantastic I scored a rare last minute ticket for the Oya Festival which is where I spent most of the week sitting in the rain on the grass drinking beer, watching great bands and meeting lots of people and feeling very holiday. The line up was great with Jose Gonzalez, Grinderman, Sigur Ros, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and NERD. Sigur Ros was as sublime as people had said and left me feeling elated and weightless. The biggest discovery was the quality of Norwegian bands of all types of genres from the beautiful Ane Brun to the indie rock of the Alexandria Quartet who we saw in a super small bar with about as many people as you could squeeze into a telephone booth and it was great fun to the insane Animal Alpha. We also managed to see Cut Copy and the Presets and I felt a glimmer of Aussie pride. It was a long and very enjoyable week of music.

Oslo is a suprisingly small city filled with an unusually high proportion of anonymous 20th century architecture for a capital and unbelievably expensive, the most expensive city in the world according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. The city sits on the coast with the water on one side and tree filled hills surrounding its perimeter. Reminders of Norway's maritime past and awesome natural landscapes beyond which unfortunately I did not get to see and will hopefully return to explore soon. The natural landscapes not the past. That isn't possible.

The new Opera house by Snohetta is an impressive piece of contemporary architecture whose not illegibly subtle cultural references to the mountains, glaciers and the country's relationship to water and also typology coupled with a dignified yet limited palate of materials carefully finished in different ways; the changes from rough to polished, cut and ground stone expressing the changing nature of materials, make it an meaningful cultural building. The foyer made me think of Alvar AaIto's 1938 Finnish Pavilion in New York, but he was Finnish and I don't understand the relationships of the Scandinavian countries which people had try to explain to me, so stopped thinking about it. The building was very inspiring, made more so by the positive reaction of those who I spoke to about the building and by the way it displayed architecure's ability to communicate cultural ideas and establish a relationship to place. I had left my sunglasses at home and was pleased whilst walking up the marble clad sloped roof whilst blinded by the bright white light when the sun came out from behind the clouds felt a similar sensation to walking on a snow covered slope. Unfortunately I only got to see one building by Sverre Fehn which was very nice and achieved many of the qualities that were so interesting in the work of Snohetta but felt more natural and effortless.

Oslo is also home to the Nobel Peace Prize and my ignorance of the origins of the prize and it's intention was nearly complete. The interior design was disappointing but the content fascinating and left me feeling inspired, a little bit pathetic and somewhat daunted by what people are capable of doing.

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