Rolf Thorsen, CEO of Oslo S Utvikling AS. Image: OSU

Transforming the waterfront into a vibrant retail destination

“Oslo S Utvikling is currently undertaking a vast development in Bjørvika, a previously neglected part of the downtown area, adjacent to the Central Station.”

By Rolf Thorsen

As more cities envision turning their waterfronts into destinations where people want to live, work, and enjoy their time, the question of how to best develop these distinctive areas has arisen. Waterfronts are inherently public assets, and their success lies in the placemaking initiatives they produce and the communities they bring together. The retail element plays a critical part in supporting this aspect. After all, as all property developers know, the age-old adage “build it, and they will come” no longer rings true as fierce competition and the advent of e-commerce have made consumers increasingly selective, not to mention picky.

Oslo S Utvikling is currently undertaking a vast development in Bjørvika, a previously neglected part of the downtown area, adjacent to the Central Station. Spreading over 900,000 sq m, it will be an entirely new inner-city district, located right on the waterfront and overlooking the Oslo fjord. Our current focus project, Bispevika, will largely be made up of housing and offices, supported by retail across the entire ground floor area.

Its location on the waterfront makes the Bispevika development unique in many ways, and, as such, it presents some distinct challenges. Whilst it is strategically located at the inner-most part of the bay and, therefore, relatively protected against the elements, it is prone to windy weather during the winter months, which has required cleverness when it comes to architecture and planning. For example, streets and roadways have been laid out in a pattern that is crooked, rather than straight, to mitigate the wind’s impact. On the bright side, its south-west-facing location means it gets an abundance of sun hours and fresh breezes during the warmer months, which makes it a perfect spot for summer outings.

As a crucial part of the Bispevika experience is the presence of water, there will not be any privatization or closing off of the water in Bispevika: It will be kept free and open for everyone. Stairs and jetties will allow people to go swimming easily, there will be facilities for boats and even beaches – a total of three beaches with unique characteristics, including a sand beach next to the Opera House. Furthermore, water will be used sculpturally by means of a series of fountains, which will also invite children to play and have fun, and, in winter, the water will be turned into an ice rink. For those who do not want to get their feet wet, extensive outdoor seating areas some 20 m behind the waterfront will provide an opportunity to enjoy the fjord views over a cup of coffee, a cold beer, or dinner.

On the retail side, a solid offer consisting of a mix of shopping, dining, and leisure will ensure there is something for everyone in the area. Bispevika will boast some of Norway’s greatest cultural institutions as neighbors, and this will be complemented by a retail offering focused on Scandinavian brands, independent retailers, and great food and beverage. Restaurants and cafés will be peppered across the development, from signature chef restaurants to coffee houses.

As shoppers increasingly move away from traditional shopping centers in favor of alternative retail destinations where they can spend the day combining shopping with leisure and dining, a waterfront development offers the ultimate placemaking opportunity. Through clever use of public realm complemented by a solid retail offering, any waterfront can be turned into a bustling neighborhood where people will truly want to spend their time – and their money.


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