Oslo: A Design District Emerges from the Fjords

PHOTO COURTESY ASTRUP FEARNLEY2 Photo Nic Lehoux

Astrup Fearnley Museum

Oslo intends to ban all private cars from its city center by 2019. One district, Tjuvholmen (pronounced tchuv-holmen), set on a spit of land jutting into the Oslo Fjord, offers a preview. Here, only taxis and delivery vehicles can pass through an electronic gate and venture into the narrow streets of this revitalized neighborhood.

Although warehouses, docks and shipping offices have long been established in the area, its somewhat isolated location kept Tjuvholmen from taking off.

In the last decade, however, Oslo began a major waterfront redevelopment initiative and private developers stepped in to transform this former gritty district into one of the city’s most upscale cultural and residential areas.

Most visitors to Tjuvholmen arrive by buses, trams or ferries that stop in nearby Aker Brygge. From there, a five-ten minute walk leads to the little bridges that cross into Tjuvholmen, where the stunning, three-year old Renzo Piano-designed Astrup Fearnley Museum awaits.

The museum, which moved into the new building from its much smaller downtown location in 2012, houses the Astrup family’s private collection, including Norwegian and international artists like Damien Hirst, Anselm Kiefer, Jeff Koons, Richard Prince, Matthew Barney, Alex Israel, Cindy Sherman and Charles Ray.

The roofs of the three timber-cladded Renzo Piano buildings resemble blowing sails. Some of the galleries have huge windows overlooking the sea, as if you were standing on the bow of a ship.

The Thief Hotel

The Thief Hotel

To bed down in this area, try The Thief, so-named not because of its high room rates, but because 18th century Tjuvholmen was known as “thieves’ island” and served as the site for criminal executions.

As one might expect in art-filled Tjuvholmen, The Thief has its own curator, Sune Nordgren, who oversees the 100+ museum quality artworks that are displayed inside and outside the property, including Sir Peter Blake’s collages in the suites and Richard Prince’s huge ink jet on canvas piece, “Cowboy – The Horse Thief” in the lobby.

Elsewhere in the district, upscale art galleries, including Galleri Brandstrup, Galleri Pushwagner and Stolper+Friends, have arrived, along with numerous restaurants, outdoor cafes, and brightly colored, design-driven residential buildings.

Nearly all face the sea, Oslo’s most precious asset.