Article | Last updated: 02/07/2020 | Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development
When the government decided on the main concept for the new Government Building Complex in 2014, they also decided that the High-Rise Block would be preserved, but that the Y-Block would be demolished. The decision that the Y-Block must be demolished was not easy to reach. Many considerations have been carefully assessed.
The terrorist attack on the government building complex on 22 July 2011 killed eight people and injured at least 200 people, in addition to causing material damage to various ministerial buildings. Several ministries were partially unable to operate for a short period. Approximately 100,000 m2 of built premises were damaged or destroyed. The so-called H-block (the High-Rise Block), the Y-Block, the S-Block and R4 were severely damaged and could not be used as premises for ministries.
Despite the enormous force of the bomb, it eventually became clear that the four most severely damaged buildings did not have structural damage that would necessitate their demolition. The extent of the damage inside Y-Block varied. The part of the building that was furthest away from the explosion suffered very little damage. It has therefore been possible to use this part of the Y-Block for temporary offices, storage and rigging, and to house a construction site office.
The terrorist attack was a direct attack on the government and the national administration. Symbolically, it was also an attack on the nation and the democratic principle that underlies Norwegian society. The terrorist attack demonstrated to everyone that Norway too is exposed to threats and can be the target of terrorism. This has been the backdrop to the work on planning the reconstruction of the government building complex. One of the main objectives for the development of the government building complex is to provide a safe and secure government quarter.
Debate – demolish or not?
The Y-Block has great cultural-historical value, which has been thoroughly assessed and duly weighted. The cultural and historical value of the various buildings in the ruined government building complex was well known in 2014, when the government made its decision to preserve the H-Block and demolish the Y-Block. However, the cultural-heritage value of the site must clearly also be weighed up and balanced against other factors in connection with the rebuilding of the government building complex after the devastating terrorist attack. The H-Block will be preserved, as the strongest symbol that democracy cannot be cowed by terrorism.
Prior to the decision in 2014, there was a great deal of public debate about whether the damaged buildings should be demolished or repaired. In particular, there was much debate about the H-Block, which is the main building in the complex. There was broad consensus among architecture, urban development and cultural-heritage experts that the H-Block must be preserved for a variety of reasons. There was also debate about the Y-Block, where cultural-heritage voices argued that the Y-Block should be preserved, while several urban development and architectural experts held that the Y-Block should be demolished to allow for a greener, more functional and more accessible urban space.
The decision to preserve the H-Block and demolish the Y-Block was made on the basis of an overall assessment. Great weight has been attached to the need to secure ministerial functions and keep the Ring 1 ring road, which is a major traffic artery through central Oslo, open for traffic. It was clear from an early stage that the Ring 1 ring road represents a major risk. It was assessed whether Ring 1 could be rerouted but this was found infeasible. Since it is not possible to move the Ring 1 ring road, the conclusion was that the Y-Block cannot be used for ministerial functions.
Ring 1 will be lowered and covered, but this does not change anything for the Y-Block. In order for the ministerial buildings to be adequately secured, they cannot lie directly over a road with uncontrolled traffic. There are also lateral distance requirements. The new Building A will be erected somewhat further east than where the Y-Block stands today. The distance from building A to Akersgata will be sufficient so that Akersgata can be used as a public transport route, if necessary.
Demolition of the Y-Block provides an opportunity to establish a more open government building complex and improve the outdoor spaces considerably in an area that did not previously function optimally.
The negative consequences of demolishing the Y-Block have been described in a report on cultural heritage under the proposed plan. The impact assessment considered the architectural, cultural and historical value of the building, its relationship to the H-Block and the integrated works of art “The Fishermen” and “The Seagull”. Overall, the impact of demolishing the Y-Block is considered to be very great, but will diminish if the integrated works of art can be handled in a way that preserves them and allows them to be integrated into the new government building complex.
New location for “The Fishermen” and “The Seagull”
In collaboration with Public Art Norway (KORO), Statsbygg has proposed how the art works “The Fishermen” and “The Seagull” can be integrated into the rebuilt government building complex. The government has adopted the experts’ recommendation that “The Seagull” be placed in the public entrance to Building A and that “The Fishermen” be placed in Building A above the VIP entrance facing Einar Gerhardsens plass. The Picasso Administration has approved the new locations. Both works of art will be positioned in such a way that they can be seen by the public. This means that “The Seagull” will actually be more accessible in the new government building complex than is currently the case.
Demolishing approved by the Storting
On 10 April 2019 the government presented a white paper to the Storting on the work on the new government building complex. The white paper describes the planning phases up to the present day, including the assessments and decisions related to functionality and workplace design, safety, urban development and the environment, as well as assessments related to the H-Block and Y-Block. The white paper, Report no. 21 to the Storting (2018–2019) New government building complex, has been published in Norwegian at www.regjeringen.no. The Storting discussed the white paper on 18 June 2019. The question of demolition of the Y-Block was not subject to debate beyond the fact that one opposition party (the Socialist Left Party – SV) proposed demolition of only parts of the Y-Block. The Storting approved the demolition of the Y-Block.
On 3 June 2020 the Storting debated a proposal to temporarily stop the demolition of the Y-Block. A large majority voted against the proposal. Thus, the Storting has twice approved the demolition of the Y-Block.