Lars Gartå

Skateboarding has flourished in Norway since its 11-year ban, instituted on the basis of safety concerns, was lifted in 1989. Oslo’s skateboarders, however, lacked an indoor venue to use during the city’s snowy, frigid winters until January 2017, when the 25,080-square-foot Oslo Skatehall opened.

Designed by Oslo-based Dark Arkitekter and Copenhagen, Denmark–based skate park–design specialists Glifberg-Lykke, the building comprises two adjacent rectangular volumes, both clad in aluminum panels perforated with a pattern derived from a Morse code translation of the 1978 law that banned skateboarding. Glazed entrances at the northeast and southwest corners offer porosity and connection between the outdoor skate park and the indoors, where more than 10,000 square feet of ramps and skate obstacles await. Designed with input from the local skate community, the obstacles serve all levels of skaters alike. “It was really important … that [the skate elements] wouldn’t be designed by architects who don’t really skate,” says Arne Reisegg Myklestad, a partner and managing director at Dark Arkitekter.

Oslo Skatehall
Finn Ståle Felberg Oslo Skatehall

Architecturally, the pièce de résistance is the skatehall’s wooden bowl, elevated to the mezzanine level to preserve connectivity and flow on the main floor—and to allow skaters to move between obstacles without getting off their boards, says Merete Hoff, the former Dark Arkitekter partner who served as the project architect and now works for the agency that developed the skatehall. With excavation cost-prohibitive, Glifberg-Lykke suggested lifting the bowl to the second-level mezzanine, which skaters can access via the half-pipe and a metal spiral stair.

Nearly 50 feet long, 7 feet deep, and 27 feet at its widest, the bean-shaped bowl is supported by two tree-like columns whose curvilinear branches stretch out and cup the bowl. Each column comprises a radial array of CNC-milled spruce-and-birch plywood ribs sourced from Germany, Austria, and Poland. The plywood ribs, which are 2 inches thick and up to 10 inches deep, emerge from the concrete floor as tree trunks that stand nearly 9 feet tall, and then branch out more than 27 feet to encapsulate the bowl. Circular steel baseplates both anchor the tree ribs to the concrete floor and cap the opening of the hollow trunks inside the bowl.

Finn Ståle Felberg
Kultur og idrettsbygg

Interstitial lumber cross-members, carefully labeled with a position identification number and nailed between the rib branches, complete the lattice wireframe. The ribs tie into glulam wood beams that support the remainder of the mezzanine floor, which are supported by steel columns at the building perimeter.

For the bowl’s smooth skating surface, workers cut two layers of 0.35-inch-thick birch plywood panel on-site, laid them inside the bowl, and screwed them to the ribs and crossbeams. At the lip of the bowl, they adhered a granite edge to the wood with polyurethane glue, creating a smooth transition between the bowl and its surrounding platform. Although the other wooden skate elements inside the venue received a glazed finish, the bowl and its lattice structure were left exposed and unfinished as a nod to skaters’ use of found objects and ad hoc environments.

Finn Ståle Felberg
Finn Ståle Felberg
Lars Gartå

To design the structure, Dark Arkitektur and Glifberg-Lykke also worked with IOU Ramps, a skate ramp builder based in Fürstenzell, Germany. With the building modeled in Autodesk Revit and the skate obstacles in SketchUp, the collaboration was remarkably smooth, Hoff says, particularly given that the design phase took just six weeks. The architects provided assistance on code compliance but left most of the technical detailing, such as the slope and curvature of the bowl’s walls, to the specialists. “As an architect, you need to know a little bit about everything, but you’re not an expert in the details,” Hoff says.

All told, the bowl took a three-person crew from IOU Ramps five weeks to assemble its approximately 1,100 structural components, totaling 6,200 lineal feet of wood.

Since the building’s opening in January 2017, the timber bowl has become an iconic part of the skatehall’s brand. “Visually, it’s very beautiful,” Hoff says. “It has an organic form that I think appeals to us as people.” Serendipitously, the skatehall has also become a kid-friendly venue, with its open layout, abstracted trees, and adjacent café from which parents can watch their children.

The skatehall has been embraced by the skate community as well as by several groups that run youth outreach programs there. “The most fun part,” Myklestad says, “is that the kids and the people who are using it are happy with it.”

This article has been updated since first publication.