Demolishing an “Emotional Landmark” in Trondheim, Norway

by Elin Andreassen (photo) and Hein B. Bjerck (text)

As part of the on-going modernization of the St. Olav’s Hospital, the High-house (Høyblokka), the initial core of the hospital is being demolished. The hospital has expanded around its old capital building, and a green lung is planned at the site. The tooth of time, and new demands in the wake of the ever changing ideals, demands and regulations of a how a hospital should be, have rendered Høyblokka dysfunctional.

Normally, the Trondheim citizens would not include Høyblokka in their list of the town’s landmarks – the cathedral Nidarosdomen, the Student Society, the Tyholt TV-tower, The Gate of Happiness on a bridge crossing Nidelva, and not least, the Rosenborg Football Stadium. On the contrary – many will probably label the old hospital building as ugly. On a general level, the removal of this building is hardly considered to be a loss.

However, this is also yet another example of how our normally silent and next to invisible material companions are brought to light in their dysfunction and removal. This is the basis for the “Høyblokka post-mortem”. The research project focuses on materiality and memory, and is initiated and directed by Barbro Rønning at the Department of Art and Media Studies, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). This is part of “PerFormativity”, a “new interdisciplinary research focus on the role of performativity in contemporary art, communication and knowledge formation, a meeting of practical work and theoretical reflection”. A vital part of “Høyblokka post-mortem” is a memory blog, and a performance in front of the half-demolished building that highlighted its role as an “emotional landmark” (cf. photos).

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Not all users will miss it:

“Thanks to nurse Sissel who made my mother’s stay at the hospital a little better for her. She was together with us when she died. Calmed the situation. Afterwards everything became so quiet. Me and my sisters went outside to the roundabout to be picked up. It was strange to see the cars driving and that people acted as normal. Didn’t they know what had happened today?

Many years later my eyes are still drawn to that window in the third floor. A square black hole. Sad. It was there she had died. Strange to think about, but soon it is gone, and I will not miss it.” (Memory from Trude, 2011-01-29, our translation).

On the macro level, the Hospital is an institution that represents normality – sickness, birth, death are mundane happenings. However, this is very different on the individual level. Høyblokka has been of pivotal importance in peoples’ private lives, a site of crisis, trauma and revival, life and death, sickness and health, miracle and catastrophe – a place where profound episodes in peoples’ real lives have taken place – not symbolic representations, rituals and entertainment. It is one of the few places where we have not been spectators – it is a place where we have been in the center of action with the highest stakes – the life and health of ourselves and our closest. It is a place where many have experienced heavenly joy and dark despair – everything but normality and indifference.

During all this, our attention tends to circulate around the dramatic episodes themselves, calming nurses and competent doctors, the wonders of life saving medicines and miracle machines designed to overtake vital bodily functions during critical moments, get well cards, flowers, the care of friends and relatives, and the unfair meaninglessness of pain, loss and death. Now, at the termination of the structure that contained all this – things are channeled back, and brought to light as collective memories. In parallel with the building’s grotesque appearance in its disintegration, Høyblokka has evolved into a very visible “emotional landmark”.


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