Oslo is the fastest growing major city of Europe. The city grows 2% each year and has grown 17% in the last 15 years.
The urbanisation process is relatively new in Norway, were living with nature is in the genes of the people. But work has brought people to the city, and the city has to provide houses for those who want to move in. The unemployment rate in Norway is very low. Although some people fear a collapsing bubble after the oil, most people don’t worry too much about the economy, Norway has oil and huge reserves from that. Oslo is ranked number one in terms of quality of life, among European large cities in the European Cities of the future 2012 report by fDi magazine. It is also the second most expensive city in the world, in terms of living expenses (after Tokio).
But there is definitely a downside to this positive story. Building production cannot keep up with the population growth. Therefor the prizes of land and houses are continuously rising. Developers, contractors and also architects make good business in this context. But to build houses that people can afford the tendency is to build smaller and denser. Of course the municipality is trying to regulate this, but the fact is that a family apartment is almost unaffordable for a regular family. One can imagine that lower income families are all pushed to the outer neighbourhoods of the city, whereas the new harbour front developments that form the main part of the city’s building land become inhabited by higher incomes and smaller households.
We have visited Sørenga, one of the newest development areas along the harbour front, close to the Opera and still under construction. Here you can buy a bigger apartment of 110m2 or even 140m2, but the costs are extremely high: 9.900.000 NK for 113m2 (ca. 1,1 miljoen euro).
Since the newly build areas are all very much concentrated along the Fjord this automatically leads to stronger segregation in the city. The new areas are hardly mixed in social terms and lack real life. This is also one of the points of critique in the debate among professionals and the public in Oslo. One of the representatives of this opinion is Johnny Aspen, associated professor at the Oslo architecture school, who talks about ‘zombie urbanism’.
The regulations for building housing in Norway are also quit strict. Bathrooms, master bedrooms and storage space in the apartment are all defined in minimum size. One of the consequences of this is, according to all the architects we have spoken is that, especially in the big mass of smaller apartments, one ends up with relatively big bathrooms, bedrooms and storagerooms and a very tiny living space with a big kitchen and just enough room for a sofa.
Another consequence is that the new areas are very dense. It is obvious that a lot of these very expensive apartments hardly get any sun, especially considering the low position of the sun in Olso. The Barcode project seems to beat all records. Although the area contains mainly office buildings, there are some housing slabs in this masterplan. MAD architects have designed an apartment slab in this area. They have tried to optimize living qualities by making very thin apartments with long facades, but these facades are rather closed and very shaded due to the urban plan. Apparently this is all well accepted in the tight housing market of Oslo. Bu it is also no wonder that all Norwegians dream of a small weekend house in the countryside, and in the middle and upper class the majority has one.
There are some other more positive stories to tell about Oslo. In terms of densifying the city the work of developer Infill is interesting. Infill limits itself to develop the leftover spaces, the holes in the city’s fabric. On these tiny spots they develop attractive architecture and high living qualities. All their projects have serious roof terraces with real grass, real trees in real soil. We visited the project Green House, that was designed by Element architects. This building definitely adds quality to the neighbourhood. A zone around the building on street level integrates private outdoor spaces, but also public benches and therefor generates interaction with its surroundings. The projects of Infill do not offer more m2 for less money unfortunatly, because they have to work within the same land prize system, but they do add quality and diversity to existing older neighbourhoods.