Theater of Cruelty

Y-block in infinity light

ARCHITECTURE / The State Department building, the Y-block, is reputed to be the ugliest building in Oslo. It has been hated for its brutalist aesthetics. But how much do we, or the state itself, really know about the construction and thinking behind the Y-block?


The line from the father of functionalism, the Swiss architect Le Corbusier, to Norwegian Erling Viksjø, is well known.

Le Corbusier visited Oslo in 1933 and according to Espen Johnsen (UiO) had great influence on Norwegian modernism, including architect Ove Bang, and his assistant was Viksjø. In 1940, both Viksjø's and Bang's draft were highlighted in the architectural competition for the new government quarter. In 1945 Viksjø took over this work, and several of Viksjø's ideas with the government quarter appear in an interesting dialogue with Corbusier's visionary ideas.

Still, the Y-block is not a Corbusier copy, and therefore arouses interest in the European cultural organization Europa Nostra and the world's most prestigious architecture museum Museum of Modern Art. It is in the Y-block concept that we find what is different from French modernist functionalism.

Vitruvius and Pantheon

Viksjö architecture often referred to as brutalism. The basis of the designation brutalism we find in the French beton brut, which means "raw concrete", but Viksjø's natural concrete must be perceived as refined. Viksjø's other examples are illuminated.

Corbusier's architecture was the forerunner of modernism and brutalism, but his functionalism was also influenced by the work of Roman ancient architect Vitruvius. It mattered The architectura libri decem – ten books on construction, which examine proportions and the importance of size for successful architecture.

It is easy to see that Viksjø with the Y-block relates to Vitruvius' demand for the duration and functionality of buildings.

Vitruvius' insight into architecture had an immediate effect. Only a hundred years after becoming Pantheon, "Temple of All Gods," the world's largest unarmed concrete dome, built in Rome, based on Vitruvius' theory. The Pantheon vault held the world record for 1300 years up to the dome of Florence and Michelangelo's St. Peter's Church. They were raised with Pantheon as an example.

In the middle of the Pantheon's dome we find the building's only light source, an oculus, or a light-eye, with a nine-meter diameter opening, where the sunlight flows into the dark interior like a cone of light. During the day, the sunlight roams like a circle over the seven planet gods standing in niches along the wall. The eighth niche was the entrance portal where the light circle, every day at twelve, stood directly over the entrance gate.

The Belarusian man

In Vitruvius' book II on architecture we find the first drawing of a man standing in the center of a circle, with his arms outstretched as in a T-shape, with the fingertips touching the inside of the circle.

Leonardo da Vinci investigated Vitruvius' thought of a harmonious geometry based on human proportions. In the now iconic drawing "The Vitruvian Man" ("Le proporzioni del corpo umano secondo Vitruvio", 1490), he further developed the human T-shape of ancient times to indicate a more perfect and principled geometric order of human proportions. Leonardo put the man in the X and Y positions, where the Y man's fingertips touch the inside (infinity) of the circle, while the X and T positions touch the square (matter). The new age had come. The tank mastered the material. The Renaissance spirit man was born.

Mathematical perfection

Both Vitruvius and Leonardo were inspired by the mathematician Pytagoras. All three had an obsession for harmony. Pytagoras was possessed of a mathematical perfection, the other two of the construction, with the proportions of the human body as ideal (the golden incision). And this not only in a modern perspective, but in a cosmological one, where mathematics was incorporated into a larger symbolic or allegorical order.

Vitruvius' main building body requirements were you use, formed og Venustas, ie the functionality of the buildings (utility), duration and beauty. Symmetry was important, as part of a harmonious understanding of beauty, in an orderly world.

Norway was to be built on pedagogy, art and culture, science, solidarity, economic distribution and peace, freedom and cooperation.

It is easy to see that Viksjø with the Y-block relates to Vitruvius' demand for the duration and functionality of buildings. Viksjø's effective government building had an almost infinite durability.

But what about the beauty requirement? The idea of ​​the function as beautiful in itself is the post-war beauty ideal, where beauty lies in the idea and the construction of the body, in buildings where the material is stretched to the utmost of sustainability. This is how Viksjø meets the demands of functionalism and modernism.

Corbusier and Humanism

Corbusier hunted the same as Pythagoras, Vitruvius and Leonardo.

Leonardo, who had based Vitruvius' human-like sketch to idealize the proportions of the building body, practically went himself and examined the average height of Italian men. Corbusier discovered that French modern men were on average ten inches taller than the Italians of ancient times, changing the aspect ratio in the golden cut.

Viksjø further developed Corbusier's perspective by incorporating Norwegian landscape formations and building historical aesthetics. Inspired by the pole architecture of the stave churches, both the High Block and the Y Block rest on solitary cement columns, which instead of wood carving had sandblasted ornaments. The result was French functionalism in Norwegian natural interpretation.

Photo Y-block: Mari Viksjø Grøstad
Photo Y-block: Mari Viksjø Grøstad

Where Corbusier's ideas of freedom were at the particle level, Viksjø's understanding was combined in a different kind of understanding of freedom in a larger space than molecular materialism.

During the occupation during World War II, Viksjø was put in the prison camp Grini, and his experiences there changed his perspective in a deep humanistic direction. The world was no longer organized, and the harmony could not be restored by the use of symmetry. Like the human body, the Y-block is not completely symmetrical either. Nevertheless, the shape of the Y-block corresponds to the geometry of Leonardo's construction in "The Belarusian Man". The circle is infinite.

Assembly Made By Solberg ..
Assembly Made By Solberg ..

The new Norway was to be built

The new state of Norway arose after the war in an attempt to reestablish social order. While the Danish monarchy had proclaimed "Paa Love is Land to be built", the new Norway was to be tuitioned on pedagogy, art and culture, science, solidarity, economic distribution and peace, freedom and cooperation. The country was to be built by enlightenment and formation in a public administration, not in a military system, such as during the Roman Empire.

Norway was to be built on pedagogy, art and culture, science, solidarity, economic distribution and peace, freedom and cooperation.

Prior to thatcherianism's individual-oriented societal view, the Norwegian had found another social organization. "Society" means known together as known. A new state needed a new aesthetic. The Y-block should last for 2000 years, and in the administration's architecture, the pebbles from Hønefoss were bound together in a larger formwork whole.

The spirit of the place

In a kind of modern Apollon cultivation, the Y-block originated in a new public where the god was in charge.

It is in this perspective that we must see the Y-block. In English, the building materials are referred to as concrete and concrete as concrete. The construction art of functionalism is a kind of brutal realism, where matter is dominant. It is therefore wrong to refer to the Y-block as brutalism, because it bears a stronger mark of one concrete poetry than brutalism. The Y-block is belle because it contains more aspects than just functionalist concrete.

Centrally located in Wye block we find "The Golden Spiral", the cylindrical conical staircase, constructed on Fibonacci's infinity principle. Above the stairs is the building's only skylight – as in Pantheon. The Y-block's "oculus" is a circular light opening, nine meters in diameter, covered by an octagonal cone-shaped glass. The light eye is located in the middle of the building's solar plexus. The new state, the enlightened democracy's rise to the light, was to be endless.

In its heyday Hammersborg appeared almost like a temple altitude: the Trinity Church (the spiritual), the Deichman's main library (the intellectual) and the government quarter (the laws), executed in various neoclassical styles, and with the three-point star Y-block as the unifying force for the Y-man interpretation of The genius of the place - the spirit of the place.


Marianne Solberg
Marianne Solberg
Solberg is a regular critic in Ny Tid.

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