Two of the landmark projects planned for Oslo’s eastern waterfront – a new Munch Museum and a new city library – are suddenly threatened by muddy foundations. The library project is already delayed and running way over budget, because builders have to keep pumping water out of the unstable mud on which it’s sitting.
The Oslo City Council ended up adjourning for the summer with the problems still hanging over the waterfront redevelopment area known as Bjørvika. Some opposition politicians are so upset over the budget overruns and uncertainty of their building sites that they’re threatening to launch a new battle over whether the Munch Museum should be built after all.
“I’m not at all convinced that the city council has received relevant information,” Camilla Wilhelmsen of the Progress Party recently told newspaper Aftenposten. Her party had long opposed building the new Munch Museum at Bjørvika, opting instead for other sites in the city. Its construction is due to start in August, adjacent to the Opera House that opened in 2008, as another landmark in the redevelopment of Bjørvika..
Given the problems already encountered in building the city’s new Deichmanske Library nearby, the city government also has sought assurances that the Munch Museum won’t be built on unstable ground, too.
A report from Holte Consulting concluded earlier this year that the new library will likely end up with a price tag of more than NOK 3.1 billion, more than half-a-billion (USD 62 million) higher than budgeted because of leakage problems. The city politician in charge of the waterfront development, Hallstein Bjercke of the Liberal Party, has been strongly criticized for failing to follow up on the project and even for failing to read a consultant’s warnings last year of challenging building conditions and an overly ambitious time frame for construction. Newspaper Dagsavisen has reported that city officials were warned against building a cellar for the library as long as three years ago: “The city government managed to find the most difficult site in the entire city and then also wanted to build a cellar with a cinema,” Wilhelmsen complained. “That’s become expensive.”
Bjercke has mostly tried to shake off the criticism, claiming the library will be built “and everyone will be happy in the end.” He survived a special city hearing on the problems and budget overruns last month, but has conceded that the library project was subject to poor control. The bureaucrat in charge was replaced last spring by Eli Grimsby, the former sewage agency official who headed Oslo’s ill-fated attempt to mount a Winter Olympics in 2022.
She now hopes a new evaluation of the Munch Museum site will allow that project to proceed as planned later this year, without a cellar. “The most important thing now is to be certain that we have the correct management framework around the project and that we can identify risk factors,” she told Aftenposten. Bjercke says much the same, unwilling to let muddy challenges stand in the way of the city’s prestigious waterfront redevelopment plans.
The muddy, unstable ground in various areas around Bjørvika has caused problems for other projects as well, including the pedestrian bridge that was built over the railroad tracks to connect Bjørvika with the city’s Grønland district. The stairs leading to it on the Grønland side started literally cracking up shortly after the bridge opened in 2011. The stairs ultimately had to be replaced this spring. “Their foundation sank,” explained Tom Bratlie of the state’s Entra Eiendom property firm, citing the muddy ground in Bjørvika.
A major city sewer improvement project also ran into trouble because of the poor ground around Oslo’s central train station. Engineers told Aftenposten that in some areas where redevelopment projects are underway, they have to drill down 70 meters before hitting bedrock. The state railroad has also suffered track damage because of the unstable ground, and is filing legal claims against other developers of the area, claiming that construction work has made things worse.
Meanwhile, city officials are forging ahead with the waterfront redevelopment that began nearly 30 years ago and is popular with the public. Former harbour and industrial areas are being turned into housing and commercial areas with new public access to the fjord. A new waterfront promenade officially opened just two weeks ago, running for nearly nine kilometers from Bygdøy in the west to Sørenga in the east, with only a few interruptions around ship-docking security gates.