Colour Concept Architecture: Nordre gate, Grünerløkka, Oslo

Text: Hedda Gray Lægreid
Photo: Einar Aslaksen

On March 31 1961, the doors are opened to Regina Theatre in Nordre gate 18b. It is the city’s first custom built cinema. The architect Harald Aars adorns the facade with a triumphal arch, demanding the building to be taken seriously. The Greek inspired columns in the facade almost take the breath away from the working class – for better or worse. The building is screaming for attention and provokes neighbours. Several decades later, a new building causes a headache on the block: a row of houses with the address Nordre gate 9.

Light, air, and beauty

It appears that Grünerløkka has embraced the ideal of the 1900’s: Light, air, and beauty. The soul of Løkka is colourful, daring, and brimming with character.

In Nordre gate, you can still find the triumphal arch, but there is competition in the neighbourhood. The tables have turned – who is provocative now? Within just a stone’s throw lies Nordre gate 9, another new building. As with the Regina Theatre in the 1900’s, the neighbours find that something’s amiss. It doesn’t quite fit, the colour is bleak, and it is smeared with plenty of careless graffiti. Nordre gate 9 is confused, unfitting, and anonymous – like a teenage boy feverishly trying to find his place in the schoolyard. Recently though, KOI developed a colour concept for the facades in shades of green, blue, orange, and pink. The result got residents and neighbours to celebrate euphorically. The secret? Grünerløkka’s soul was safeguarded.

The black sheep

Before KOI came into the picture, a bland, greige colour had caused a headache and desperation among residents and neighbours. Originally, the building was not supposed to be painted at all.

Architect Ragnhild Jordtveit was responsible for sketching the building, before it was sold to another developer. – This was a project that switched owners halfway through. I was leading the project from sketch all the way through to the building application. It was designed with a facade of untreated wood, which was supposed to turn grey over time, with black details, Jortveit explains. But instead of untreated wood, the developer chose to paint the buildings in a colour reminiscent of wood. This was a weird choice, Jortveit thought. – If the building had to be painted at all, I myself would have painted it in any other colour than greige.

When I caught wind of how KOI Colour Studio had solved this, I sent a message to KOI’s creative director, and told her that I thought the building had turned out absolutely stunning, and that I was really happy that it turned out like this in the end. I’m all for more colour in the city, Jortveit concludes enthusiastically.

The search for an identity

Inspiration for new colours for Nordre gate was found in the surroundings, from Grünerløkka’s existing identity and history. That way, the project won’t be out of fashion or outdated any time soon. Quite to the contrary, it will merge with its surroundings as a dignified, timeless iteration. By elaborating on the architecture, colours, and material use of the local area, new architecture can harmonise with the old.


— Architecture evolves, and that is exactly how it’s supposed to be. Colours and materials, however, they are more or less stable over time. In our projects we aim for a contemporary solution, but with historic references. If we disregard historic use of colours and materials, our cities, and other spaces we work with, will end up lacking identity, Thurmann-Moe explains.


Colours with meaning

On a summer day in 2020, friends and neighbours Kine Sæthern and Caroline Hitland sit in the backyard of Nordre gate 9, drinking wine. Hitland has followed KOI on Instagram for a while, and has noticed the Badebakken project: a large mass of modern buildings, where the colour palette was developed by referencing the history of Oslo, combined with contemporary hues.

— It looked really wonderful, and completely right. I got very enthusiastic, and started observing other contemporary buildings and blocks. They all looked the same. It was boring, grey and beige. It almost seemed like they had all used the same colour, as though they had all grudgingly agreed on it, without much afterthought, Hitland says.

The neighbours decide to go all in, they just have to get rid of the anonymous greige colour. A hue that simply doesn’t work on the row of houses, and makes it look alien in its surroundings, according to Hitland.

In the middle of the summer break she contacts KOI Colour Studio, gives them free reigns, and almost begs for help. It was a request we simply couldn’t say no to. A perfect opportunity to show that it doesn’t take much to transform contemporary architecture and make it fit in with its surroundings.


A community service

Now, every time Kine Sæthern unlocks the bright blue door to her apartment in Nordre gate 9 she feels happy. Really happy. It’s like the final piece of the puzzle has finally been found.

— I can’t praise KOI enough. We have gone from living in a anonymous, and slightly ugly, new building, to being completely exuberant. I’m simply put very proud to live here! I feel that in many ways they have provided an act of community service here, Sæthern says laughing.

Her neighbour Caroline Hitland agrees. After seeing the enthusiasm among neighbours, shop owners, and passing strangers on the streets, she invited KOI and colours into her home as well.

— When approaching from Vulkan, our row of houses is the welcome committee of Grünerløkka. It’s really important that our building reflects the identity of this part of town. After KOI got the facades painted, I got very emotional and decided to ask them to develop an interior colour palette for my home. They have a holistic approach to colours. I have been very aware of how a space is supposed to make you feel, how a building is supposed to make you feel. It’s so important, I’m really pleased, Hitland says enthusiastically.

We’re back outside the former Regina Theatre, and the building no longer appears to be an intensely beautiful and stunning outlier, paving the way for a new era. In a way the Greek inspired building blends gracefully in with the rest of Grünaløkka’s bustling and quirky identity. In a newspaper article from 1916, however, the journalist describes the building as modern and writes: “They should hang up some pictures on the walls, that way it may appear more pleasant…”

And maybe it really is that simple? The new colour concept of Nordre gate 9 shows, how carefully curated colours can transform a contemporary building and make it fit it – and make it, not unimportantly, pleasant.


Customer Sameiet Nordre gate 9
Year 2020