Norwegian Wood

The curtains are raised on a new performing-arts center in a Nordic seaside town.

ALA Architects

Kilden Performing Arts Centre
Sjølystveien 2, 4610
(47) 90-58-11-11

Kristiansand, Norway

The Kilden Performing Arts Centre, in Kristiansand, Norway, doesn’t so much occupy a site as mediate a transition between the warehouses of an industrial district and the waters of the North Sea. Designed by the Helsinki-based firm ALA Architects, the new facility is meant to accommodate a symphony orchestra and theater group and serve as a new opera house.

Fittingly, the architects clad the structure’s city-facing side in anodized aluminum, but softened its waterfront edge with an undulating, canted wood surface made of local Norwegian oak. “The scale of the industrial area is quite big, so we designed the building as a factorylike box to fit in with its setting,” explains Juho Grönholm, one of ALA’s partners. “Where people enter the building, we put a windowed surface, like a human face that looks out to the sea.”

ALA had to squeeze multiple auditoriums into the building. “The program was super complex,” Grönholm says, referring not just to the performance spaces but also to the service and administrative areas. For acoustic and structural reasons, the architects arranged the performance spaces in three cast-concrete boxes, which are set next to each other. They then suspended 13,000 individual CNC-cut oak panels over the boxes; the wood bulges outward, supported by a steel structure. A nod to the long-standing Nordic tradition of woodcraft, the panels form a curving canopy and provide acoustic dampening over the lobby shared by Kilden’s performing-arts organizations. “The waves aren’t random,” Grönholm explains. “They are generated directly from the floor plan.” Audience members must slip through an opening in the wood surface to enter any of the venues. “We wanted to create a contrast between the city and the auditoriums,” Grönholm says. “On one side, there is wood and glass and the sea, but once you walk behind the oak wall, it’s only artificial lights and colors—the illusionary space of performance.”

Though the building provides an important urban and spatial transition, perhaps the most significant change it will produce is in the state of performing arts in Kristiansand. When ALA won the competition to design Kilden, in 2005, local performances were relegated to ad hoc spaces, despite dedicated local audiences: the symphony orchestra was using a local church, and the theater company had a shabby concrete building from the 1960s (the Kristiansand opera simply did not yet exist). Now, with the curtains raised on Kilden, the city is poised for its next act.

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