Five years after the shooting by Anders Breivik at Utøya in Norway, where he killed 69 people, mostly teenagers, Utøya Memorial Pavilion, Norway has been transformed into a place that tells the story with stark, stirring power.
Last summer the Labor Party’s youth camp opened for the first time since the massacre, on July 22, 2011. “We would not allow that dark day to overshadow the nice and bright memories of past camps or future weekend youth meetings and social events,” said camp organizer Emilie Bersaas.
The cafe building where the Norwegian terrorist Breivik shot 13 people in 2011 has been enshrined within a new learning center by architect Erlend Blakstad Haffner.
More than 1,000 students enrolled for three days of seminars on politics last July, and private visitors included NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, a former Labor Party leader who was Norway’s prime minister at the time of the massacre.
The open windows, tilting out from the walls of a black wooden cabin, are the very same windows through which teenagers jumped, fleeing the bullets of the terrorist inside this small café building.
Blakstad Haffner has spent the last five years on the rehabilitation of the tragedy-stricken island. The biggest challenge has been finding a way to both preserve and conceal the café together with the Workers’ Youth League (AUF), which has held its summer camps on the island for the last 60 years. “They wanted to tear everything down and totally erase the memory of what happened,” he says. “It was too traumatic for them to keep any reminders.” It’s understandable that they wanted to remove all trace of the existing buildings and erect new ones.
Today, however, the cafe building now stands like a piece of forensic evidence in this woodland vitrine, chopped and sliced in a process of architectural editing, so that only the rooms relevant to the events of that day are left standing. A piano stands in the corner – some of the victims tried in vain to hide behind it.
“This is a story of both survival and death,” explained Blakstad Haffner during an exclusive tour of the site. “Our task was to give this place a new beginning, but also to take care of the memory.”
The new building, called Hegnhuset, roughly translated as “safeguarded house”, has a double-layer facade, creating a sheltered cloister around its perimeter.
A screen of 495 wooden posts marches around the outside of the building, marking the number of survivors of the attack, and forming a cloistered walkway between the outer and inner facade where 69 structural columns symbolize the number who died here.
Inside, there are two levels. On the upper floor, the remainder of the cafe block appears to have been frozen in time. Bullet holes mark the walls and the furniture, while the windows left open, show where people tried to escape.
Rotated off-axis with the charged relic it houses, the Hegnhuset is aligned with a new cluster of barn-like buildings that stand nearby, providing spacious facilities for the camps and other conferences held here, in a loose courtyard arrangement. A dining room, auditorium and library enjoy lofty nine-meter high pitched-roof spaces, where tall bookshelves brim with volumes by Marx and Mandela, Tito and Trotsky – who spent the summer of 1936 on Utøya (which appropriately means “outer island”), after fleeing Stalin and winning asylum in Norway.
Mani Hussaini, the president of the youth group, believes that a good balance has been found in constructing buildings and restoring old ones, describing the reopening as “an important step” for going forward after the events of 2011.
Many of the the island’s traditional red-and-white wooden buildings have also been renovated, and construction of new conference and meeting rooms has also been completed. A bright circular steel memorial engraved with the victims’ names has been given pride of place among pine trees on a secluded spot overlooking Tyrifjorden, the surrounding lake.
Also the parents of the victims, who were sidelined in these early discussions, had other ideas. To destroy the only surviving trace of the place where their children died was too much too soon. “It seems the AUF did not understand the force of grief,” said Åsne Seierstad, author of a bestselling book about the massacre, to the Guardian when the summer camp first returned to the island last year. “For traumatised young people, it was all about moving on. That mistake destroyed a lot.”
“You wander between the dead and the living. It represents those that survived that day, and who carry that memory with them every day,” said the architect.
In 2012, Breivik was convicted of mass murder and terrorism and was given a 21-year prison sentence that can be extended for as long as he is deemed dangerous to society — which legal experts say likely means he will be locked up for life.
During the fourth anniversary commemoration ceremony in Oslo, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said that July 22, 2011, will remain a dark day in the country’s history for “scenes of evil and heinous acts” and that the victims are “remembered with love” and will never be forgotten. She later inaugurated a July 22 Center, which shows how the assailant carried out the cold-blooded attacks — an initiative some opposed on the grounds that it was too poignant.
The Guardian has ranked the Hegnhuset among the top 10 buildings of 2016
The Oslo Trade Union Confederation acquired the island in 1933 and later donated it to the AUF, transforming it from the holiday home of a former Conservative minister into a place where future Labor leaders would cut their political teeth.
Utøya Memorial Pavilion, Norway, written by Tor Kjolberg