The Government Quarter in Oslo: A Place of Diversity That Calls for Unity

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Architectural diversity of the Government District in Oslo

          When you are a regular tourist visiting Oslo, unaware of the event that took place in  Regjeringskvartalet, Oslo’s Government Quarter, on July 22nd in 2011, you can walk through the district without noticing anything extraordinary. The place might just look like any other one in Oslo, composed of buildings from different periods that are today under renovation. But if you stand still and observe, you may feel uncomfortable: the Quarter is nowadays an oddly quiet place.

ARCHITECTURAL DIVERSITY

          This place is indeed heterogeneous because of the length of the buildings’ erection. Ninety years elapsed between the construction of the G-block, “the Old Block,” and the R6 building, the most recent of all. Seven edifices were erected  and another was renovated to welcome the different ministries of the Norwegian Government. There is a large difference of styles between the eight buildings, each one presenting the characteristics of a decade. First the size and shape of the buildings are very different. For example, the small and curved Y-block surrounding the 17-storey rectangular H-block. Then, we can also notice some great changes between the facades even though most of them have a similar and strict rhythm designed by Erling Viksjø and his son. Between the roughly carved granite facade of the G-block; the stone, metal and glass of the R5 building, and the naturbetong (rough concrete) of the H-block and the Y-block; we have a great variety of materials reinforcing the feeling of heterogeneity. Most buildings are also exhibiting some art pieces, some being integrated in the walls like the Picasso mural in the Y-block or Vikjø’s design in the H-block. The Government district stands as a witness to the evolution of architectural styles during the 20th century. And this building history is not yet finished. Indeed, a debate is on about what to do of the existing buildings damaged after the bombing and what to build instead.

SOCIAL UNITY

          If this diversity seems obvious when you look at Regjeringskvartalet, this is not what the Norwegian people express when they talk about it. To them, this district formerly a symbol of power is now a wound in their History. The bombing that took place in 2011 has left everyone in a state of fear and shock for several months. The Government Quarter became a place of gathering and remembrance. Time seems to have stopped then and there. Newspapers still dated to the day of the attack and one the pavilions showing physical remnants and video testimonies of the terrible event. As they themselves say, every Norwegian knew, closely or not, someone who was in the Government District or on Utøya island on the 22nd of July, so everybody felt concerned.

          The debate that has followed continues to give importance to the place : some wanting to save those representative buildings and others wanting to replace them and start anew.  Remembrance against renewal, diversity against unity. Regjeringskvartalet is and will remain a subject of discussion and urban evolution for a few more decades.

Map showing the remaining buildings after the bombings of 2011 and the diversity of the facades
Map showing the remaining buildings after the 2011 bombing and the diversity of their facades

Architects of the different buildings : Henrik Bull, Erling Viksjø, Per Viksjø and Torstein Ramberg.

Construction dates : from 1906 to 1996.

SOURCES :

STATSBYGG, Regjeringskvartalet 1906-1996 : The Government Administration Complex, Oslo, Statsbygg Edition, 1996.

RIKSANTIKVAREN, Regjeringskvartalet : Riksantikvarens utredning om verneverdi og ny bruk, Oslo, Riksantikvaren Edition, 2013.