U-turn taken on disputed ‘Y-blokka’

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Norwegians seem to either love or hate the low-rise Y-shaped office building that was damaged in the bombing of the state government complex in Oslo in 2011. Now the building known as “Y-blokka” has won another reprieve from the wrecker’s ball, after the government reversed its most recent decision not to evaluate any more appeals over an imminent razing.

This is the building, once dubbed among the ugliest in Oslo, that’s been the subject of great debate in Norway since it was damaged in the bombing of government headquarters in 2011. Plans call for it to be razed, with its artwork by Pablo Picasso and Carl Nesjar to be preserved and remounted on a more secure high-rise that will house government ministries. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Monica Mæland, the government minister in charge of the highly disputed project, quickly rejected a request last week from Oslo’s county governor to re-evaluate the government’s decision to tear down the sprawling low-rise and build a new high-rise in its place. The new building will be part of the new complex finally due to start rising at the site of the bombing eight years ago.

Mæland and her conservative government colleagues aren’t the only ones keen to preserve the building’s art designed by Pablo Picasso, raze the rest of the building and get on with the long-awaited rebuilding the government complex. Both the opposition Labour- and Center parties also have approved tearing down the 50-year-old Y-blokka after years of evaluation and political debate. There’s thus a broad political majority both in Parliament and on Oslo’s city council to replace Y-blokka with a new, larger and more secure building to house government ministries.

The county governor declared last week that plans to tear down Y-blokka were legal, but she asked the government to re-evaluate them given public opposition to the project. Various groups have been demonstrating for months to preserve the entire building.

Mæland said no, and that the plans to raze would proceed.

Threats of civil disobedience
Opponents including several architects and top cultural officials such as museum bosses won’t give up their fight and promptly warned of civil disobedience. “We expect the government to re-think their decision,” Gisle Løkken of the national architects’ association NAL told newspaper Dagsavisen. NAL had filed a complaint over the city’s approval to raze Y-blokka, as had the International Council on Monuments and Sites, which advises UNESCO.

Demonstrations have been regularly held outside Y-blokka, most recently featuring among others Tone Hansen, director of the Henie Onstad Art Center and leader of Norway’s national cultural council (Kulturrådet). She and others have lately been wearing striped shirts at their protest demonstrations in honour of Picasso.

“We now need to become more aggressive in our opposition,” Hanne Sophie Claussen, one of the organizers of Support Action for Y-blokka, told Dagsavisen. “We are absolutely evaluating civil disobedience.” That could take the form of linking themselves together to physically hinder destruction of the building.

before the bombing

The former ministry buildings at the left in this photo have already been razed, or will be, while those planning the new government complex want to make better use of the space occupied by “Y-blokka” (lower right) since it opened in 1969. The highrise in the center, which formerly housed the justice ministry and Office of the Prime Minister, was badly damaged but survived the bombing and will be rehabilitated. PHOTO: regjeringen.no

Others have grown weary of all the protests, with one commentator even calling them “hysterical” and reminding opponents that the building landed on a list of Oslo’s 10 ugliest buildings compiled by the civic booster group Oslo Vel in 2008. Another proponent of the razing is Ulf Grønvold, an historian and former director of the Norwegian Architecture Museum who recently told newspaper Aftenposten that the building never fit into its downtown setting and was a “failure from Day One.” Grunvold said the state now had “a golden opportunity to correct a difficult urban situation.”

State officials have always had plans to dismount the Picasso drawing that Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar sandblasted onto one of the building’s walls, and remount it on the new buildig. There have never been plans, as incorrectly reported in a British magazine, “to bulldoze a Picasso.” It’s also been pointed out that Picasso merely allowed his drawing to be used for Nesjar’s outdoor art project, and was not physically involved in the project.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported late Wednesday, however, that all the noise has prompted Mæland and her government colleagues to evaluate “new aspects” of the case including allegations that tearing down Y-blokka could violate international conventions. There’s been no decision to postpone razing, for which no date had been set, but the practicaly consequence of yet another evaluation will do just that.

“Maybe the last word hasn’t been spoken,” Hanna Geiran, Norway’s riksantikvar who in charge of historic preservation, told NRK. She’s among those opposed to tearing down Y-blokka and said it will “be exciting” to see what happens now.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund