Government Quarter

Denne artikkelen omtaler et sted

Åpne i Oslo bykart
The government has approved the restoration of The Highrise. At the same time, it has been decided that Y-Block is to be demolished, but that the decorations of Pablo Picasso and Carl Nesjar are to be preserved. Photo: Astrid Ledang / Oslo City Encyclopedia

Government Quarter (Regjeringskvartalet), The, a large office complex for executive government offices. The first building dates from 1904, but the major expansion came in the 1958-96 period. A final stage of the building was completed in 2012. After the terrorist attack of 22 July 2011, only the Ministry of Finance and the buildings on the west side of Akersgata have been in use as government offices.

The expansion until 2011

The Government Quarter first comprised the area between Akersgata, Arne Garborgs plass, Grubbegata and Apotekergata, later also the blocks on the east side of Grubbegata and gradually on the other side of Akersgata. The highrise block has the address Akersgata 42. The square in front of the Government Building is called Johan Nygaardsvolds plass, the square between the blocks of buildings in Grubbegata behind Møllergata 19 is called Einar Gerhardsens plass.

Until the 1950s, the Empire Quarter (Empirekvarteret), the former National Hospital, lay here. When the National Hospital moved in the 1880s, plans were advanced regarding a governmental building here. In 1891, the architect Stener Lenschow won an architectural competition with an H-shaped building that presupposed demolishing the Empire Quarter. One wing, that facing Apotekergata, was begun in 1898, but because of illness, the winner of the 2nd prize, Henrik Bull, took over the project. The building was completed in 1904, a large granite-cladded office building with art nouveau details and national elements. The rest of this planned government building was never completed. The building was awarded the Houen Diploma in 1904. It was restored and converted for use by the Ministry of Finance in 1978.

When the issue arose once more in the 1930s, much had changed, and a new competition was announced. Four participants were judged as equals, and one of them, the architect Erling Viksjø, had a draft proposal with a large sheet block across the old building. The war delayed the project, but after the war Viksjø’s plan was chosen. This presupposed the clearance of the Empire Quarter, which led to the the city’s most violent demolition debate ever. The old wall buildings were taken down in the 1950s and The Highrise was raised in 13 storeys, 48.5 metres high – it was completed in 1958. Here for the first time a new concrete facade involving sand-blasting called Naturbetong was used. The interiors were artistically decoated by Kai Fjell, Tore Haaland, Carl Nesjar and Pablo Picasso, Inger Sitter, Odd Tandberg and Erling Viksjø. The Highrise was initially built in three storeys in 1990, popularly called the ‘Syse Ceiling’, a reference to the then prime minister, Jan P. Syse (arch. Per Viksjø), so that the present height is 56 metres. Until 2011, the building contained the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Justice and Public Security.

In 1962, the Military Hospital was demolished, and in 1970 the so-called five-storey Y-Block was designed by Viksjø’s Arkitektkontor A/S, this structure also with Naturbetong. At the same time a ‘lid’ was bplaced over Arne Garborg’s Square. The wall decoration towards Akersgata was designed by Pablo Picasso and carried out by Carl Nesjar. This is where the Ministry of Education and Research lay. The so-called S Block with facades in red tile that was erected where the prison behind Møllergata 19, close to Youngstorget Square, had lain was completed in 1978 (arch. Viksjøs Arkitektkontor A/S). It housed offices for the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Health and Care Services. It was demolished in 2019.

The fourth building phase (R4) was built as a long block facing Grubbgata, it all designed by Viksjøs Arkitektkontor A/S. Among other things, it had a landing place for helicopters on the roof and contained offices of the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy and the Ministry of Trade and Industry. It was demolished in 2019.

The fifth building phase (R5) involves large sections of the Akersgata/Teatergata/Munchs gate quarter. Its address is Akersgata 59 and it was built in 1994-96 (arch. Torstein Ramberg A/S) in a modernist style. On the inside, there is a large, circular light wells? (lysgård) plus four smaller ones of varying design. The second floor is reserved for common functions, including a canteen, partially situated in the old Togagården (Teatergata 2). Here there are offices for the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation, the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy and the Ministry of Children and Family Affairs.

The sixth building phase (R6) involves Keysers gate 6-8 and Teatergata 9. It began to be implemented from June 2012 and was designed by BA Arkitekter AS. R6 houses the Ministry of Health and Care Services and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. On the square in front of Teatergata 9 stands the artwork ‘Grass Roots Square’ by Do Ho Suh.

The terror attack on 22 July 2011

Provisional monument after the terror attack of 22 July 2011. It consists of a wall with the names and ages of the victims, as well as a ‘floor’ of bulldozed glass. Photo: Astrid Ledang / Oslo Byleksikon

On 22 July 2011, the Government Quarter was exposed to a terror attack in which eight people were killed. A car bomb was used which resulted in considerable material damage to the buildings in the quarter.

S Block and R4 were so badly damaged that it was decided to demolish them. The controversy since then has been about what to do with The Highrise and Y-Block. The government has approved the restoration of The Highrise. At the same time, it has been decided that Y-Block is to be demolished, but that the decorations of Pablo Picasso and Carl Nesjar are to be preserved. The decision to demolish has met with strong resistance, and the situation for Y-Block is, as of 2019, still unclarified.

The Welcome Centre for 22 July opened on the same date in 2015 as the old vestibule in The Highrise, precisely where the bomb exploded. It is a strong reminded ot the destruction wrought by the terror attack. A provisional place of remembrance was officiallyu opened on 22 July 2018 between The Highrise and Akersgata. A permanent location is planned in the area.

Parts of the Government Quarter, including The Highrise, were being declared heritage buildings prior to 22 July, and, together with Y-Block, they are regarded as the most important monuments of political developments in Norway since the war. After the terror attack the issue of declaring them heritage buildings has been suspended.

The time after the terror attack

The ministries affeacted by the terror attack have had other temporary premises after 2011. The Prime Minister’s Office is at Akershus Fortress, the Ministry of Justice is in Nydalen (Gullhaug torg 4), while the Ministry of Culture is located at Grubbegata 1. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has offices at Akersgata 64. The Ministry of Education and Research is at Kirkegata 18, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries at Kongens gate 8.

The other ministries were not directly affected by the terror attack: Finansdepartementet has remained at Akersgata 40, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is located on 7. juni-plassen and the Ministry of Defence at Glacisgata 1. The Ministry of Climate and Environment was at Myntgata 2 for some years, but moved to Kongens gate 20 in 2015 (it was originally intended for this ministry to move to R6).

Comprehensive plans exist for the building of a new government quarter, but none of them have been implemented. An architectural competition for a new quarter was won in autumn 2017 by the architect amalgamation Team Urbis, but as yet the project has not been started.