Melgaard’s ‘death house’ delayed

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Artist Bjarne Melgaard faces more frustration in his efforts to build his controversial “House to Die In” near and even on parts of the former homesite of another Norwegian artist, Edvard Munch. Now Melgaard, who’s been working on the project with Oslo architecture firm Snøhetta, has been ordered to supply more information about it before Norway’s national Directorate for Cultural Heritage (Riksantikvaren) will decide whether it can proceed.

This image suggested how Bjarne Melgaard’s “House to Die In” would lie in the terrain at Ekely. Some local officials support it because they think it could become a new tourist attraction in Oslo. PHOTO: Snøhetta ASA

Melgaard wants to build the unusual house where he intends to die on parts of the grounds where Munch lived, worked and also died on Oslo’s west side. The area is called Ekely and Munch’s own house was controversially torn down in the 1960s. Only Munch’s former atelier remains, along with open space where he painted many of his famous works, and neighbours and other artists are fighting hard to prevent Melgaard from building on it.

Riksantikvaren, which serves as Norway’s state historic preservation agency, is charged with protecting Ekely. Only it can grant the dispensation from existing preservation orders that would allow Melgaard to build. Now its officials say they lack sufficient documentation for the project in order to make the necessary assessment.

“We must ensure that the project is adequately illuminated before a decision can be made,” said Hanna Geiran, a divisional director at Riksantikvaren.

Riksantikvaren had been expected to issue its long-awaited assessment after Melgaard’s project was approved by city preservation officials but strongly opposed by other artists and those living and working near it. Opponents claim it will spoil the area where Munch painted many of his landscapes.

News bureau NTB reported Wednesday that the state-controlled Riksantikvaren ended up basically returning the project’s application to the city preservation agency, Byantikvaren, with demands that those opposing the project will also be able to react to the new documentation sought.

Riksantikvaren is especially seeking illustrations of the proposed main entrance to Melgaard’s project, a study of the consequences of excavation at the site and an evaluation in accordance with Norway’s laws governing diversity in the nature. The project’s underground entrance, a reflecting pool and an underground studio are the portions of the project lying within the protected area around Munch’s former home.

The project has generated heated debate and, earlier this month, a torchlit protest organized by artists, authors and others trying to keep the area as it is. While they’ve claimed, even on Christmas Eve, that Melgaard should “go find another place to die,” Melgaard has responded in kind, with harsh assessments of his opponents.

He still faces other obstacles, including zoning and building permits from the city and political evaluation from the City Council. One thing is clear: Opinions remain strongly divided and no construction will begin any time soon.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund