Fitting tribute: Blakstad Haffner Architects unveil latest piece in Utøya’s rebuilding

Fitting tribute: Blakstad Haffner Architects unveil latest piece in Utøya’s rebuilding

In the days following Norway’s 2011 Utøya massacre, tens of thousands of people converged on central Oslo carrying roses. It was a moving response, and a powerful act of defiance that impressed the world over. Remembering the young victims of the tragedy would not mean compromising the country’s values, said Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who instead called for ’more democracy, more openness and greater political participation.’ Five years on these words still ring true, as another key piece of Utøya’s delicate rebuilding is unveiled.

’Hegnhuset’, or ’Safehouse’, is the most central and important structure for Utøya’s future use: a memorial and learning centre on the site of the cafe building where 13 people were killed. Designed by Blakstad Haffner Architects, who have been working closely with the Labor Youth Party and an international resource group on the entire island rebuild, the new building both honours and preserves the areas of the building directly affected by the massacre, adding a ’protective cover’ – a new roof supported by 69 wooden pillars – to the landscape.

Erlend Blakstad Haffner explains that while the horrific attack left only a few physical traces on Utøya, the most visible ones were found in the cafe building. ’These carry with them important memories and stories. We wish to keep these traces for the affected families, for those who were there and for the Norwegian people who have stood together with AUF in the mourning. And we wish to keep these traces for posterity, so that new generations can learn and take responsibility for safeguarding our democracy.’

In designing Hegnhuset, Blakstad Haffner has ’protected’ both areas of the assembly halls where there were 13 casualties, and the restrooms where 19 survived. Across these the new structure has been laid in a distorted angle, to match the axis of the other new buildings they are currently erecting on the island. ’It represents and clarifies a shift, a new historical layer and a new chapter on the island’s history,’ he says.

The 69 wooden pillars, representative of those who lost their lives on that fateful day, have bodily dimensions and stand together as characters – surround the original structure and creating a new interior space. Around this is a fence composed of 495 outer poles, representing the people who survived the tragedy on Utøya, and who carry the thoughts and memories of this day for the rest of their lives.

The cloister that results filters the entry into the building through a charged spatial sequence, while retaining visibility and transparency. ’But it is also a fence with direction and reticence, and clear entries and exits,’ says Blakstad Haffner. ’One feels trapped in the building’s symbolic constituents; entrenched but seemingly free. Openings to the outside are constant but the way there, in and out, is difficult to find immediately.’ The random openings both emphasise the chance in the choices that were made on the 22 July and give the answers they were not getting.

Jørgen Watne Frydnes, managing director of Utøya, and the man responsible for its rebuilding, explains that while the national memorials by artist Jonas Dahlberg at Sørbraten (Memory Wound lies 1 km north of Utøya on the mainland) and in Oslo should reach out the general public, ’the memorial on the island itself should be for those directly affected; a more private space.’ The intention was to create a calm and worthy memorial to honour those killed, those who survived and those who were marked for life. ’We now have a beautiful place for remembrance. A place created together with those affected. A place that honours the 69 persons brutally taken away from us. A place offering comfort. And a place for new generations to make sure we never forget.’

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