The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Outrage as demolition starts at Oslo’s Y-block building

Photo: Teigens foto atelier/Dextra Photo

We are outraged by the news that Norway’s government has started demolition of Oslo’s landmark Y-block building by Erling Viksjø which features two giant murals by Pablo Picasso.

We don’t normally get involved in Casework outside the UK, but it was our building of the month in May 2016 and before the Covid-19 outbreak disrupted our events programme, we had been planning to tour the building this August as part of a visit to the capital.

A letter by our Director Catherine Croft protesting at the demolition plans was published by the Norwegian daily newspaper Da Nye Meninger.

She wrote: “We regard the Y-building as a major work of C20 architecture, of international significance, both for the architectural quality of the building itself, and because of the extremely high quality of the murals by Picasso on its facade and in its lobby.  It also makes a very positive contribution to the diverse cityscape around it.”

Erling Viksjø was a distinguished architect with a particular expertise in working with reinforced concrete, and in pioneering decorative concrete finishes, a major field of research in the post war period.  Working with the engineer Sverre Jystad, he co-invented a material and process known as Naturbetong which was patented in 1955. This allowed drawings to be inscribed on both interior and exterior fair-faced concrete surfaces, at a monumental scale, by very carefully controlled sandblasting. Picasso’s Fisherman was sandblasted onto a 250 tonne section of the façade, while his floor to ceiling Seagull was sandblasted on a 60 tonne section in the lobby.   Both artworks will be removed and preserved to be installed elsewhere.

In 2011 The Y-block was scheduled to be listed for the highest level of heritage protection but this process was stopped as a result of a terrorist attack when a right-wing extremist placed a bomb in the government quarter and then went on to kill 69 people on Utoya island. Despite the bomb the building remained structurally sound, with Picasso’s art works intact.

Catherine continued: “Demolition of the building would be a major act of cultural destruction, and represent the irreparable loss of a major cultural asset of extreme historic significance.

“Although it is said that the murals will be relocated, we have not been able to ascertain where and when this will happen.   Whilst doing this would be some mitigation, the important thing is the integrity of mural and building together, and their prominent public location at the centre of the city.  That will be destroyed.”