Y-blokka. It is not just about the murals.

On the 22nd of July of 2011 two sequential terrorist attacks left 77 people dead and an inedible scar in Norway’s history. The Government Quarter was one of the two places where the event took place -nine people were killed by an explosion. Later, the same terrorist killed 69 more people at the Utøya island youth camp.

The bombing in Akersgata damaged several government buildings, including Erling Viksjø’s emblematic “H-blokken” and “Y-blokka.” What to do after a terror attack is a sensitive issue and it unleashed a long debate between to sides: restoration and protection of the “historical brutalist building” or destruction of the “ugly concrete building”?

Before the bomb, both buildings were waiting to be listed for historical protection but the tragic events on the 22nd of July changed their destiny. After some protest and negotiations the “H-blokken” also known as “The High-rise” was saved, but the “Y-building” has not been  so lucky and awaits demolition.

Between the arguments in favor of the demolition we can find economic and security reasons. Designing and constructing a new building would be more efficient and possibly less expensive than restoring the existing one, and after the attack, having a road passing underneath the building has created some concerns.

However, there are still more reasons to keep the building than to tear it down.  The artistic and cultural value of Viksjø’s building is inestimable, not only because it has two Picasso wall murals on its walls, but also because of the concrete pioneering techniques that were developed for its construction. ”Naturebetong” leaves the final surface covered by rounded stones by exposing the maximum amount of agregate and making possible the creation of decorative patterns.

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Naturebetong making

The two wall murals are the first collaboration between Carl Nesjar and Picasso, that would continue more years. But, it’s not just about the murals. Actually, under a demolition scenario, they may not necessarily be in danger of being destroyed. The problem starts when we know that their aim was not to be just simple decorations, but an inherent part of the structure, making the separation mural-building pointless. The ”Y-blokka” is a rare example of an integrated or total work.

At a greater scale, both buildings are also a part of a whole. The “H-blokken” and “The Y-blokka” constitute a concept of a high-rise combined with a low volume, this means that they were designed to be together, complementing each other. Demolishing one means destroying the sense of the urban composition.

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High-rise low volume combination

The Ministry of Education and Research offices, also known as the “Y-blokka” is not only an example of Brutalist Architecture, but a symbol of the perseverance of the democratic and socialist values and a memorial of a catastrophe that would never be forgotten.

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Source images

Elisa Ricoy Castro. (2016) Y-blokken.

Digitaltmuseum.no (2016) DigitaltMuseum (online)

Sources

Hallvard Trohaug. (1999) Arkitekt Erling Viksjo.

ArchDaily. (2014) Professionals Roar in Norway: Unique Architecture Under Threat from Government.