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Performance lies in every detail. Kilden Performing Arts Centre on the island of Odderøya, Kristiansand, is one of Norway's biggest cultural projects of recent times.

This unique venue combines a 1,185-seat concert hall, a 708-seat theater and opera hall, plus two smaller halls. The building is the new shared home for Agder Theatre Company, Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra, and Opera Sør.

In addition to its important cultural role, Kilden is an iconic landmark for the southern region of Norway. Its undulating wooden facade, resembling a theatrical curtain, contrasts dramatically with the industrial quayside location. But the building's beauty is much more than skin deep - in fact, almost everything about it goes beyond the ordinary.

The design, by Finland's ALA Architects, was selected from 98 entries in an international open competition. That's an unusual story in itself - ALA's four founding partners were recent graduates at the time. When their entry was chosen, they had to act quickly to build the firm of 20 they have today. The winning design successfully combined an iconic appearance with outstanding practicality.

Crossing the divide

The rippled curtain of Kilden's facade is a striking visual feature. It also has an important symbolic function, says ALA Architects founder Samuli Woolston, marking the transition between everyday reality and the realm of creative fantasy.

"We wanted to bridge the divide between the audience and the performers," Woolston says. "When you walk through this curtain, you're already on the side of fantasy. You're walking into the performance. Everything in the building reflects this idea. The exterior surfaces are easily understandable as materials - oak, glass, aluminum, natural stone. But inside, it's all about color and light. There's a dramatic change of atmosphere when you cross the threshold."

The realm of the imagination is balanced with an industrial practicality. "This is fantasy meets factory," Woolston says. "The layout is very straightforward and logical. All the halls are set out in one row, with audience spaces in front and performer spaces behind. The logistics are simple and direct, which is essential in a building that must meet so many combined demands."

Built for sound

Acoustics is naturally a central concern for a venue of this nature, and the choice of utilitarian materials such as concrete was an advantage. "Concrete is a bit unusual for a concert hall," Woolston says. "You see a lot of wood paneling, but that's often more about tradition than acoustic science. Concrete has excellent acoustic properties, including the mass you need to reflect bass sounds well. All four halls have adjustable acoustics, with additional sound absorption available when needed."

The corrugated oak wall in the main foyer is also specially constructed for acoustics. Five-millimeter gaps between planks allow the ROCKWOOL insulation behind the paneling to absorb excess noise from the foyer area.

Energy-saving design

Minimizing environmental impact was an important consideration in the design. The building is connected to the district heating and cooling system, and no space was made bigger than necessary. Windows are angled to capture maximum sunlight, and the black alloy surfaces absorb and release heat energy. High-performance insulation materials, such as the facade's ROCKWOOL insulation, are a key element.

Many of the construction materials have been sourced locally. The facade is local oak - historically important as the city of Kristiansand was founded on the export of oak in the 17th century - and aluminum was supplied by a factory just across the fjord.

Pioneering performance

As well as looking avant-garde, the facade represents something of a technical breakthrough for the timber construction industry, and may well have a significant influence on future projects. AF Gruppen, the main contractor for the Kilden project, gave local timber specialist Trebyggeriet the task of planning and executing the corrugated structure and the building's timber side walls.

ROCKWOOL insulation was specified for the facade, ensuring that the tough demands for thermal performance, fire safety and quality would be satisfied.

The original idea was for the facade to be built in place. But Trebyggeriet proposed a different strategy - prefabricating the timber elements. Their approach would combine traditional craftsmanship and materials with the latest 3D modeling techniques and computerized CNC milling technology.

Around 3,600 m2 of oak wall was prefabricated in 125 sections. To do this, Trebyggeriet joined forces with boat builder Risør Trebåtbyggeri, drawing on the wood-shaping knowhow of traditional boat building. The facade has a deceptively smooth exterior: there are actually over 100,000 screw holes across its surfaces, filled with bungs like the hull of a boat.

Too big for road transport, the prefabricated sections were transported to Kristiansand by barge and hoisted into place using cranes and winches.

Assembling the construction and achieving a flawless finish was a feat that required an unusual level of planning and coordination between the different contractors involved. A critical factor, for example, was ensuring that the timber elements matched with holes drilled for mounting in the steel construction prefabricated by Ruuki in Finland.

Reasons to smile

Since its inauguration in January, 2012, Kilden Performing Arts Centre has hosted a busy schedule of events. It's a world-class venue and a cultural focal point for the south of Norway. But iconic status aside, the building provides something that architect Samuli Woolston feels is often overlooked in modern urban architecture - happiness.

"Architecture should make you happy," he says. "People appreciate expressive buildings, with the additional layer of character and emotion that architecture can bring. It's about thinking of how we can give something back to society, beyond just the most functional solution. That's always possible to some extent - regardless of the budget."
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Projects like these make it very easy for us to explain the benefits and architectural freedom you can achieve using Jansen Viss curtain walls in steel. Congratulations to the architects!

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