‘Demanding’ to keep Opera clean

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Norway’s national Opera House became an instant landmark when it opened less than five years ago. Now it’s already being placed under the protection of a state historic preservation order, while state officials struggle to simply keep it clean.

Norway’s relatively new Opera House in Oslo is showing signs of wear and tear after just four years. Algae stains the marble where it meets the fjord, for example, and some of the marble plates have loosened and even fallen off near the waterline. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Even before its opening in April 2008 came reports in newspaper Aftenposten that portions of the building’s white marble exterior were yellowing. Air pollution mixed with freezing temperatures during the winter were taking a toll on the material chosen to adorn the Opera House. Today, after four years with millions of people walking all over the distinctive building on the waterfront, it’s easy to see more yellowing, coffee stains and even the remains of thoughtless visitors who drop and stamp out cigarette butts on the marble surface.

Aftenposten reported Thursday on how a visit this week also revealed more stains, loose marble, algae growing where the marble slopes into the fjord and even large weeds and other unwanted vegetation growing between the marble plates. State officials contend that visitors from all over the world unwittingly bring seeds and soil with them, for example in their footwear, that can fasten itself to the organic marble.

State officials are also struggling to clean up after all the millions of visitors who are attracted to the waterfront landmark. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

“We live in a city and then it easily gets dirty,” Hege Njaa Rygh of Statsbygg, the state agency responsible for maintaining state property, told Aftenposten. “It’s a challenge to keep the Opera clean.”

Rygh claimed that cleaning and maintenance generally “goes well,” aided by a vaskebil (a small vehicle akin to a street cleaner), but it can’t be used in freezing temperatures. “And in freezing temperatures, it’s so damp and slippery that soot in the air really fastens itself to the building,” she said. “Then it’s even more difficult to keep it clean.”

Neither the leaders of the Norwegian architectural firm that designed the Opera House, Snøhetta, nor city officials are satisfied with the state’s cleaning and maintenance efforts, which are funded through a budget amounting to NOK 20 million (more than USD 3 million) a year. Costs rise after special outdoor events are held at the Opera, such as when thousands of screaming fans swarmed over the building to catch a promotional concert by singer Justin Bieber last spring.

The Opera remains one of the most important buildings in Oslo, according to local officials, and a new preservation order stresses the need for ongoing maintenance. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Kjetil Trædal Thorsen of Snøhetta conceded that maintenance depends heavily on the weather, but said that he thinks cleaning and maintenance seems “a bit slow” at times. Hallstein Bjercke, the city politician in charge of cultural affairs, said he wants a clean and well-maintained Opera at all times.

“This is among the city’s most important buildings for those who visit,” he told Aftenposten. “It’s important that such a landmark remains in good shape.”

Norway’s national preservationist, Jørn Holme, clearly agrees, and that’s what prompted him to move forward with the historical preservation order (fredning) for the building even though it’s so new. Crown Prince Haakon was to be among those at Thursday evening’s preservation formalities just before a concert by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

“We don’t put too much emphasis on the yellowing, because marble will change over time,” Holme told Aftenposten. “But fredning is, among other things, a stricter reminder about the need for good maintenance of the building.”

The preservation order will apply to the building’s exterior and its immediate surroundings, along with the Opera’s lobby and main auditorium. It won’t apply to the stage itself, the Opera’s smaller auditorium or its backstage areas and workplaces, which likely will need to be modernized and modified over time.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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