Oslo Science City was recently launched illustrations by the Danish architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG).
The University of Oslo’s area on Blindern will be transformed into a so-called green corridor with, among other things, extensions, extensions, green continuation and roof gardens.
But what happens to the buildings on Blindern?
Espen Johnsen is a professor of art history at the University of Oslo and an expert on the architecture of post-war modernism in Norway. He points out that the university buildings on Blindern fit into a large number of exposed buildings from the post-war period.
– Many people experience buildings from the 1950s and 1960s as outdated. Therefore, they risk being torn down, transformed or rehabilitated, says Johnsen.
In very few cases, they are preserved and preserved, or returned to their original design, he adds.
– In Øvre Blindern, there is a 1950s-60s campus that is unusually well implemented. Many have criticized it for being a stone desert, but it can also be seen as an elegant, abstract composition of well-proportioned buildings with all, space and green areas.
The architecture tells history
The university area and the buildings there were designed by several Norwegian architects, including Leif Olav Moen.
Espen Johnsen believes that the mixture of high and low blocks tells of what was a modern idea at the time: The welfare state of Norway should provide university education to the people.
The buildings gave the various faculties their internal expressions of power, at the same time as the students were given reading rooms and canteens.
– If you put in many new homes, the area can be read in a completely different way. Many will say that it adds new interesting qualities, such as revitalizing the area and giving life in the evenings. But you lose some of the original campus idea. The architecture tells part of the story of the University of Oslo and the post-war reconstruction of Norway and is a cultural monument, Johnsen believes.
– Therefore, a conscious choice must be made. In Norway, we are extremely happy to build something new. We have far less tradition of conservation.
Johnsen points out that the professional environment around architectural and art history is small in Norway. Thus, knowledge of architectural history is generally low.
– Important decisions can then be made on the wrong basis. Some see a building as pure pragmatism, as something that should work. Others see it as an aesthetic object that can also have a content. I think this also reflected the debate about the Government Quarter, he says.
Erling Viksjø: The brain behind the Government Quarter
In 2020, Johnsen published the book «Erling Viksjø – experiments in form and concrete». Viksjø was the architect behind the Government Quarter.
After the bombing of the Government Quarter on 22 July 2011, there was much debate about whether one of the buildings in the quarter, the Y-block, should be demolished or preserved.
This has made Erling Viksjø better known, and he is today one of several Norwegian post-war architects with a certain international interest.
Other well-known names are Sverre Fehn, Christian Norberg-Schulz and Arne Korsmo.
In the book about Viksjø, Johnsen was concerned with uncovering a form of meaning behind architecture, through, among other things, following the planning process behind the construction of the Government Building.
To understand the ideas behind it, he had to understand which actors were active at different stages. At the same time, he had to understand the architect’s rhetoric.
– You have to investigate which guidelines change the projects, but also whether the architect rhetorically uses some visual presentations that the recipient does not understand the scope of, Johnsen explains.
To understand the ideas behind Høyblokken, he studied hundreds of drawings and documents, in parallel with simultaneous media coverage.
– Some drawings belong to the architect’s so-called inner creative process. Other models and drawings are deliberately designed to try to convince the viewer or customer.
– It will be a form of mapping to understand translated contexts. Once you have that information, you look at these buildings with new eyes. You see something different than you saw before.
Interaction between architecture and sculpture
Among other things, Johnsen has spent a lot of time studying Viksjø’s competition draft from 1940, «Vestibyle». He has looked at the interplay between architecture and sculpture was emphasized early on.
In the competition draft, the sculpture outside the Y-block was a pillar crowned with a horse and a plow, with a man behind. The sculpture, which was realized in about the same place, became Picasso’s work “The Fishermen”. The motif symbolized the same thing, namely a working people with a close connection to nature.
– Seeing the sculptures is important both for those who experience the building from the outside and for those who sit inside the administration and look out, says Johnsen.
Believes the decoration was lost
He calls the high-rise block and its radical brutal concrete surfaces a “geopolitical synthesis” that expresses something Norwegian and something international.
The shape of the high-rise block has references to South America: Brazil was a pioneer in public ministry buildings in the high-rise block form. At the same time, Viksjø took in the typically Norwegian, both in the choice of material with Norwegian river gravel in the natural concrete and in the decoration with nature abstractions and method and style expressions that referred to the stave churches.
– Also engaging the communist and peace activist Picasso was a very charged political move. In sum, I have tried to show that there are opinions in Viksjø’s building that enrich our understanding of them.
When it was finally decided to demolish the Y-block, Picasso’s decoration with “The Fishermen” was also lost, even though it will be placed in the new complex.
– There was such a close interaction between architecture and sculpture that the meaning of moving the artwork disappears.
Espen Johnsen: Erling Viksjø. Experiments in form and concrete. Book published by Pax publishing house2021 Summary on the publisher’s website.