Halvard Solness is a middle-aged master builder of a small town in Norway who has become a successful architect of some distinction and local reputation. One day while having a visit from his friend Doctor Herdal, Solness is visited by Hilda Wangel, a young woman of 23, whom Doctor Herdal recognizes from a recent trip that he had taken. The doctor leaves, Solness is alone with Hilda, and she reminds him that they are not strangers– they have previously met in her home town 10 years ago when she was 13 years old. When Solness does not respond immediately, she reminds him that at one point during their encounter he had made advances to her, had offered her a romantic interlude, and promised her "a kingdom", all of which shebelieved. He denies this. She gradually convinces him, however, that she can assist him with his household duties, and so he takes her into his home.
Solness is also the manager of an architectural office in which he employs Knut Brovik, his son Ragnar Brovik, and Kaia Fosli. Kaia and Ragnar are romantically linked, and Ragnar has ambitions to become promoted in his architectural vocation, which Solness is reluctant to grant or support. Solness also has a complicated relationship with his wife Aline, and the two are revealed to have lost children some years ago as a result of a fire. During this time, Solness builds a closer tie with Hilda while she is in his home, and she supports his architectural vocation and new projects.
During the construction of his most recent project which includes a towering steeple, Hilda learns that Solness suffers from acrophobia, a morbid fear of extreme heights, but nonetheless she encourages him to climb the steeple to the top at the public opening of the newly completed building. Solness, inspired by her words, achieves the top of the tower, when he suddenly loses his footing and crashes to his death on the ground before the spectators who have arrived for the opening of the new building. Among the spectators standing aghast at the sight, only Hilda comes forward as if in silent triumph. She waves her shawl and cries out with wild intensity.“My—my Master Builder!”