Erling Viksjø, Carl Nesjar. Government Quarter – Artistic integration in the Government District Buildings

The following task is an analysis about the Integration of art in the Government buildings district in Akersgata, Oslo. All the research is focused on the sandblast murals by several artists in the concrete walls of H-block and Y-block.

After the attacks on July 22 2011, both buildings are under threat of being demolished, and the famous Picasso’s murals could be the only thing that saves them in the end. But behind these façades there is a unique collection of rare pieces by Norwegian artists that, from my personal point of view, deserves to be known and studied.

Government buidlings in Oslo

Government buidlings in Oslo

 Viksjø / Nesjar / Picasso

Both buildings were designed by Norwegian architect Erling Viksjø, whose lifework includes public projects in Norway such as the Bergen City Hall.

Viksjø is also known for the invention of Naturbetong, a type of concrete that was used in the construction of the Government District. The idea behind this material is very simple: by exposing the maximum amount of aggregate –mainly rounded granite-, the final surface is covered with small pieces of stone, which give the concrete a different final result.

At the same time, the figure who was in charge of the development of the murals was Carl Nesjar, a Norwegian artist who had recently been developing a system to sandblast murals in concrete by using a high pressure hose to blast sand into walls.

Viksjø’s naturbetong seemed to be the perfect test field for these new artistic techniques. It may not be surprising that the two men used to be very close collaborators. Bakkehaugen Kirke in Oslo is also an example of this fruitful working relationship.

Nesjar and Viksjø wanted Pablo Picasso to be part of their new project. The Norwegian artist met him in France during the 50s, where he could explain his ideas about turning some Picasso’s drawings into concrete murals using a new technique. Picasso seemed to be interested in it, and, although he never came to Oslo to see the murals, he allowed Carl Nesjar to create more of them after seeing pictures of the final result.

Erling Viksjo's Naturbetong

Erling Viksjo’s Naturbetong

Artist Carl Nesjar/ photo: Carl Nesjar's Archive

Artist Carl Nesjar/ photo: Carl Nesjar’s Archive

The murals

Why did Nesjar and Viksjø choose very specific artworks for the new complex?

An answer to this question could be their desire to explore the possibilities of naturbetong, but there is more.

After World War II, Norway started the construction of a new social-democratic state, based on welfare and progress. These ideas had to be reflected, in some way, in the new Government Headquarters.

Almost all of the murals inside H-blokka were designed by young, modern, experimental and basically unknown artists from Norway: young people from the country looking towards the future. Also the murals in the southern façade of H-blokka, designed by Viksjø himself, symbolize the different ministries in the new government.

And what about Picasso’s drawings? Summarising: while the seagull, the beach and the fishermen are an allegory to Norway’s special relation to the sea –“a nation of fishermen”, in Nesjar’s own words, the Satyr and Faun remain us that Norway is a country with a culture and mythology long before Christianity.


Analysis (Infography): click in the image for full resolution


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Concrete Quaterly nº 44. The Cement and concrete Association, January 1960 (naturbetong)

Picasso. Oslo. Catalogue of the Exhibition with the same name. Articles by Karin Hellandsjo, Jean-Louis Androl, Sylvia Antoniou.

Arkitekt Erling Viksjo. Hallvard Trohaug 1999