In November 2017, 3RW arkitekter were mandated by Statsbygg to design a temporary memorial in the Oslo governmental quarters, after the terrorist attack on July 22, 2011. The memorial is going to be in use in the period until the new governmental quarters have been completed. A permanent memorial will then be integrated into this development. The temporary period is thus relatively long seen from an urban development perspective (10 years) and during this period the memorial will be close to one of the largest construction sites in the country.
Prior to our involvement, Statsbygg had conducted an investigation of various sites for where in the governmental quarter the temporary memorial would be located. It had been concluded that the memorial was to be placed in Johan Nygaardsvold’s square surrounded by the Y-block, the highrise tower, the G-block (Ministry of Finance) and Akersgata. Final placement on the square were to be solved as part of the design commission of the memorial.
The design of the temporary memory was conducted through an intensive collaborative process during the period from November to mid December 2017. A very wide approach has been laid down, with a wide range of typologies and expressions discussed with the reference group in workshops. Through this process the group gradually approached more concrete concepts and expressions. In this way, a number of vital discussions about principles, expressions, expectations and anticipated use of the memorial were discussed with key actors, such as the Support Group for the 22nd of July events, AUF (Labour party youth branch) and representatives of employees in the governmental quarters. Below is a brief summary of the overall alternative design principles that were discussed.
Object or landscape and use of natural elements
Various types of installations have been discussed that could be able to manifest the memory itself. The discussion in the reference group has pointed out the many iconic elements, that were already part of the area and that represented a great symbolic value realted to the events on July 22, 2011. There was the risk that introducing new strong objects, might compete with these.
Instead, a landscaping approach was chosen, which seeks to form an urban space, and manifest the memorial through landscape elements. It has furthermore been discussed, whether some of the various natural elements, that can be found in the existing situation, should be used or whether it was appropriate to introduce new ones It is considered that the large linden trees, that form a passage from under the H-block and towards Akersgata, have an important symbolic value and narrative role; These trees stood there when the bomb was detonated and they survived. Based on this, it is recommended that the linden trees should be part of the memorial. Possible use of new natural elements is demanding with regards to the temporary nature of the memorial, and it was therefore not recommended to pursue this in the further design.
On the ground or in the air
The decision to follow a landscaping approach eliminated a number of drafts based on structures mounted in the air, either on pillars or hanging from the existing trees on the square. It was emphasized that moving under such structures could be perceived as dominant and intrusive. Many studies were conducted looking into a combination of elements on the ground and elements suspended in the air, and especially proposals where the names were suspended in the air while the memorial site itself was shaped on the ground. Again, it was considered to be too dominant an expression, and the considerable risk associated with suspending objects from the old trees on the square had to be taken into account. It was therefore consensus on to relate all the elements that should be included in the memorial, to the ground.
Scattered or concentrated
There were investigated various ways to establish the memorial as either a focused area or as the sum of many different minor elements across a larger area. It was emphasized that the area will be subject to significant restrictions in the various parts of the construction phase of the new Governmental Quarters in the coming years, and that a dispersed strategy could easily have led to unnecessary conflicts in relation to building site logistics and traffic through the area. It was also common view that by concentrating the memorial to a limited area, it would be easier to take care of it, and protect it through these demanding construction phases.
Active or passive
Various ways have been discussed to make the memorial operate as an interactive and participating part of the public space, or as more of a passive part of it.
Solutions like benches, audio installations, etc. have been explored. The discussions in the reference group point to a certain amount of doubt regarding the risk of the public misunderstanding and not perceiveing the seriousness of the memorial, and thus the risk of not respecting it. This risk is considered to be so substantial that the more interactive design proposals were abandoned. However, it was considered a great advantage if the memorial contains some elements that allow for more versatile use, like walking through the place, stopping up, maybe sitting down. This requires the memorial to have a balanced relationship between active and passive elements, the main focus being to communicate the seriousness of the situation.
Summary frameworks for the design
Based on the principle discussions that have been conducted in the reference group, the following framework provided the basis for the further design of the memorial:
• The memorial should be based on landscape approach and constitute an urban space
• The memorial should primarily relate to the ground as an arena, but the presentation of the names of the 77 killed should be designed as an object off the ground
• The memorial should be concentrated to a defined and limited area on the square
• The memorial should include and highlight the large linden trees in the square as important symbolic and storytelling elements.
• The memorial should be designed as a passive installation, the main focus being to communicate the seriousness that the site represents. It is also important that the memorial is not perceived as intrusive, and those who visit the site should do so upon a clear decision to seek it.
Concept of the memorial design
Based on the design frameworks that came from the collaborative process with the reference group, a concept was developed for the further design of the memorial. This concept was also reviewed and anchored in the reference group. The concept was based on forming a clear and defined urban space around the four linden trees closest to Akersgata. These four trees will in all phases of the construction of the new governmental quarters, be positioned on the outside of the building site. Today, the trees are situated on an urban floor that joins the Y-block, the G-block, the H-block and Akersgata. It is an area with a large amount of jobs, active facades and a lot of pedestrian traffic passing through. The area is today a busy and active urban space. When construction work for the new governmental quarter starts, this situation will change significantly. During this phase, building sites in the north and south will separate the space from the Y block and the G block, while the passage below the H block will still be open. In other phases, this passage will also be closed in relation to the planned rehabilitation of the H-block. Thus, the square with the four linden trees will have building sites in the north, south and east for much of the timeframe where the temporary memorial is to be in use. This will lead to a reduction of the program that today activates the place. An important part of the concept is thus to clearly define the urban space in a way that also works in the situation where the memorial is surrounded by construction fences on three sides.
Another key element of the concept is light. The square at the four westernmost linden trees is today a dark place in the evening. When construction sites get up and the space is reduced to a large extent, this could also help to further enhance this dark character. All the elements in the surroundings are in grayscale and heavy materials. Based on this, it has been important to establish the place of memory as a bright spot in the area. This has been followed up throughout material usage and expression, as well as the prerequisite for lighting the memory place. Light materials are selected, light concrete with glass deposits, recycled glass as loose cover material and translucent materials with integrated lighting. Overall, this will give the memorial a bright and clean expression that creates an arena where all the iconic and symbolic elements around the square are clearly exposed. The memory location consists of two main elements; the space between the trees and the name wall.
The space between the trees
A new urban floor will be established that frames the four westernmost linden trees. The new floor is established on level with the high-pitched space that is currently in the passageway that leads under the H-block. A low ring wall is formed on this level due to the fall of the site to the north and south, forming edges that can be used for sitting down. At todays passage under the H-block is today, a deck of light concrete is built, which will allow transit traffic in the phases where this is possible for pedestrians and cyclists. Between the two trees in the south, there is a corresponding concrete floor in the same material oriented to the south. This will be the location of the wall with all the names of the victims. These two concrete floors will ensure universal access to and through the memorial. The entire remaining area within the ring wall is filled with gravel made of recycled glass. The root zones of the four linden trees, are exposed today. In consultation with the arborist, it is decided to cover the exposed soil so that it will not be subjected to trampling and other stresses. It has been chosen to design a steel plate that spans freely over the terrain so that the roots and soil still get air. The plates are perforated so that water will get to the root zone. The steel plates are covered with glass gravel so that the overall expression on the square encloses the trees. The design will emphasize the trees through the new floor and emphasize their authenticity and history. The square is a total of about 14m x 16m. LED luminaires will be incorporated in the glass gravel, so that the floor will glow at dusk and darkness. The four light posts that stand at the edge of the area today are replaced by LED luminaires along the pathway, which will provide adequate light conditions for the passage through the memorial and the platform in front of the wall with the names.
The use of glass as floor material, both the loose glass gravel and the glass that is incorporated in the concrete, have an important storytelling function; One of the strong memories many survivors have told of from July 22, 2011 is that the streets were covered with glass from all the broken windows in the buildings around. This was a chaotic situation, and the broken glass communicated destruction. By using the same material in a strictly controlled situation, where material properties are enhanced, the intention is to create something beautiful from this painful story. Glass is a cultural object, that represents man’s ability to transform materials to get desired properties. A broken window on the street is useless, while the use of crushed glass as floor material allows for lighting from below which could provide a very special atmosphere on the square, thus providing new positive associations to this material. By doing this we can reprogram the broken glass, and perhaps create new positive memories of it.
The glass that is used has been processed in rotating drums, polishing off any sharp edges. It is therefore safe to touch. The glass is also used in all the cast concrete parts of the memorial, the ring wall, and the pathways. Here the glass is added by hand during the casting and afterwards sanded to a terrazzo surface. The glass raw material is obtained from the recycling industry in Norway and is a by-product.
All concrete surfaces are grinded and sanded by hand. After this they are plastered with concrete, and then sanded again, and finally treated with an agent to facilitate cleaning and prevent water penetration. The finished concrete surface shows the glass, as well as the grate that is from local quarries in Oslo, in a vivid way. Different colors, and different transparency between the stone and the glass, give a unique expression. The intention is that this expression is belonging to the place; connecting both with the rich concrete architecture surrounding the memorial, the natural stone and gravel resources found in the capital, and not least the snapshot of July 22, 2011, when all the windows were broken on the ground after the explosion in the area.
This part of the memorial is the most significant for those affected by the events of July 22, 2011, and probably the strongest element for anyone visiting the memorial. The conceptual intention of this element is to build a wall of all the 77 names, and not just write them on the wall. The names consist of 50mm high letters, carved in a transparent acrylic block that is 50mm thick. The acrylic block with all the names is mounted between two laminated glass panes that are set in a cast foundation immersed in the glass grid without any additional support structures. The glass panes are illuminated from below and will ensure light shining through all the 77 names. The wall has a height of approximately 2.3m so that even the names on the top can be touched. The lowest names are lifted a little up from the ground. The wall is 4m long and will stand as a transparent, luminous object between the linden trees with the high block in the background. In front of the wall, there are steel vases cast into the concrete floor so visitors can put down flowers. The vases are designed to collect some water, draining excess water into a closed system that leads out of the memorial. In this way, the flowers will last longer while avoiding challenges with water penetration into the foundation of wall. To protect the edges of the laminated glass panes from damage, the entire wall is fitted with a stainless-steel trim.