The US government plans to sell the embassy building it’s occupied across from Norway’s Royal Palace since 1959, when its new, larger and more secure embassy compound finally opens after New Year. City officials in Oslo are already signaling, however, that the building itself will be placed under historic preservation orders.
“It’s only when the Americans actually sell the building that we legally can protect it,” Morten Stige, a department leader at Oslo’s Byantikvaren told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Wednesday. Stige said, however, that officials want prospective buyers to be well aware that restrictions will be placed on any building modifications.
“It’s important to be pro-active on this,” Stige said, so that those interested in buying the building won’t face any surprises. The historic preservation authorities want to be sure that any buyer is willing to take on the responsibilities tied to a unique property that’s already viewed as historic.
Stige said the embassy building “is one of the foremost examples of international architecture in Oslo from the post-war years. The building also has an historic function as an American embassy. Those two things together make it clearly subject to historic preservation.”
The triangular embassy building that’s also located across the street from the Nobel Institute was drawn by the Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, who reportedly said that it should resemble “a gentleman” in formal attire. The building was once open to the public, with its music library eagerly used by Norwegians who were able to borrow jazz and rock-and-roll records from it. The embassy’s openness and accessibility disappeared as security concerns rose and it instead came to be known as “Fortress America” in downtown Oslo.
The controversial security fence built around the embassy following terrorist attacks on the US will be removed. “The regulations that allowed its construction (to satisfy the Americans) are clear that it’s to be removed as soon as the building no longer functions as an embassy,” Stige told NRK.
Newspaper Finansavisen reported earlier this week that the sale of the property, which covers a city block, will be handled by the commercial real estate firm CBRE, with a goal of concluding a deal by next summer. Embassy staff will cooperate with Oslo officials during the sale process, with the building due to go on the market “when we have moved to the new building at Huseby” on Oslo’s northwest side, an embassy spokesperson told NRK.
Stige and his colleagues hope the building can return to being a form of “cultural house.” They do not support one plan floated in 2013 to turn the building into a new downtown police station. If used as an office building, the 6,000-square-meter property could fetch as much as NOK 450 million (USD 56 million).