OSLO’S MOST IMPORTANT INTERNATIONAL MODERNIST BUILDING HAS DISAPPEARED BEFORE OUR EYES
Built in 1969, decorated with murals by Pablo Picasso and Carl Nesjar, Oslo’s Y-Block is a jewel in Norway’s International Modernism’s crown. And, yet regardless of protests by local and international activists its demolition ultimately was unstoppable and the site-specific mural is no longer in its original setting.
The local community is incensed. Activists, including Norway’s top architects, chained themselves to the building in hope of saving it. However at the end of July 2020 regardless of international condemnation, Måken (The Seagull), the first of the two murals were removed and the demolition of the Y-Block was completed by the autumn of 2020.
Oslo based photographer and activist Adrian Bugge who specialises in urban development, the environment and documentary photography, protested and photographed what he describes as an ‘engineeringly impressive, but artistically poorly-justified operation’. He notes
‘What Norwegian politicians did not appreciate was that the whole building is as historically important as the Picasso murals and that they were an inseparable part of each other. The murals were sketched by Pablo Picasso and sandblasted directly into the plastered natural concrete facade by Carl Nesjar and were completely site-specific’, but on 28 July the approximately 14-tonne Seagull mural was taken from inside the building and moved to its resting place on the other side of the government park. On Thursday, the same procedure will happen with the 100-tonne Fiskerne (Fishermen)’.
With a sense of sad inevitability, the demise of the Y-block looked like an unstoppable train and so it ultimately was. Last year the Y-block was added to a list of Europe’s seven most endangered cultural monuments by Europa Nostra and the European Investment Bank Institute.
It was clear in April, in the middle of COVID 19’S stranglehold on the news cycle, that the activists were losing their battle to save it. This prompted Ellen De Vibe, Oslo’s highly respected former head of planning and building organization, to chain herself to the front of the building. Together with other activists, she was arrested.
Located in the central square of Regjeringskvartalet, the Government quarter of Oslo, designed by Norwegian architect, Erling Viksjø, the Y-Block, a clear example of Modernism in practice was simply removed. The murals which caught everyone’s attention are now a memory They were created by Carl Nesjar and Pablo Picasso using a concrete casting technique called Naturbetong. This was also used in the construction and served to enhance the Picasso and Nesjar murals, especially the piece entitled ‘The Fisherman’ which was placed on the front of the Y-Block.
“Naturbetong was an exciting new material, which opened up so many possibilities.” Explains architect Bjarne Asp, “the sandblasted concrete surfaces is recognised as significant to Picasso’s contribution. This material is the material bond that wedded together Norwegian artist, Carl Nesjar and Picasso, who collaborated for more than 17 years. The integration of art through Naturbetong proves its unique contribution to Norwegian design and International Modernism. Only one other building in the world, the House of Architects, Barcelona, has this form of integrated art by Picasso and Nesjar in public space.”
The Y-block was a later addition to the original 1958 ‘Highrise’ building. It is understood that the demolition will save the H-block but, destroy the Y-block. Local activists believe that partial destruction of the complex discredits the integrity of the whole project.
Many find it especially frustrating because the building was very nearly saved almost a decade ago when it was almost granted protected status by the Directorate of Cultural Heritage in 2011. That year will be remembered in Oslo for the cataclysmic moment terrorist Anders Breivik wrought havoc on the city by bombing the Government district before heading to Utøya Island. Miraculously, regardless of its close proximity to the car-bomb attack, the Y-block and H-block remained structurally sound. However, the listing of the building was paused. Eventually, it was decided the H-block would remain and the Y-block would be demolished.
Earlier this year local resident Kelsey Matheson contacted Greyscape because he ‘doesn’t want to see a strong symbol destroyed.’
Mari Viksjø Grøstad, the Granddaughter of Y-Block architect Erling Viksjø. Mari sent Greyscape this message as told to Kelsey. It’s a heartfelt expression to all activists who care about the preservation of important buildings;
Asp adds, “’It’s unique qualities in the context of Norwegian architecture has drawn local and international campaigners to urge the government to halt the demolition plans before a gross error is made. This is more than a building, it is a monument to a moment and a world-class collaboration. Tearing down a building with such exceptional architectonic, artistic, historical and symbolic value is wrong in so many ways.”
‘With increasing international interest in new Norwegian architecture, I think that many around the world will be appalled and puzzled that my country is on the one hand creating, and on the other hand demolishing, regardless of the documented opposition of all the leading accademic communities.The Y-block, arguably the countrys’ most important late-modernist building, is a unique example of the collaboration between a renowned Norwegian architect, the country’s then leading artist and Pablo Picasso himself. The art is not used solely for decoration, it is an intergral part of a the spirit of the building. In sum, it speaks to the visions of modern Norway. To lose it would be tragic’
Make your views known and your voices heard:
Read this about why the Y-Block sits in the top seven at-risk buildings in the world; Europanostra http://7mostendangered.eu/sites/y-block-government-quarter-oslo-norway-2/
Find Bjarne Asp on Instagram www.instagram.com/artmorepons/
Find Kelsey Matheson on Instagram www.instagram/kelseymatheson/
Find Adrian on Instagram www.instagram.com/adrianbugge/
Follow Adrian Bugge’s Y-Blokk blog https://www.yblokkfoto.no/om-yblokkfoto
and his other work https://www.adrianbugge.no/