I appalled myself in Oslo recently by finding its American Embassy very beautiful. I say appalled, but really I was thrilled and weirdly elated. This felt like, if not a thoughtcrime, then at least an internal glitch, a synaptical misfiring, my finding the American Embassy in Oslo very beautiful, indeed the most beautiful building in the city – perhaps an early symptom of some ravaging neurological disorder, like the onset of conservatism. I felt obliged to chastise myself; hence the thrill/weird elation of imagining I was being subversive. This was a chaotic intervention, a negation of utility. I profaned the very spirit of the building by finding it beautiful. If we’ve reached that point in Western civilisation when Cold War-era American Embassies are extracting aesthetic petites morts from unwitting tourists then – well, I wondered whether should go up to the guard-post to turn myself in.
The American Embassy in Oslo was designed by one Eero Saarinen and opened in 1959, a charcoal-grey triangular prism lying on its face like a toppled icon of some retro-sci fi dictatorship. They seem to go in for this kind of shape in the dark North. Which obviously says something profound about the Scandinavian psyche – something about cleanness and belligerence, violence latent in crisp geometry (though I note, with regret for my thesis, that the Toblerone is a Swiss invention). So much is suggested by the building itself. Approaching by any of its apices – whether at the junction of Lokkeveien and Hansteens gate, or coming up Henrik Ibsens gate from the Nationaltheatret, or turning onto Henrik Ibsens gate from Parkveien – you feel borne down upon, axed, bisected. Its symmetry is ruthless: the whole city seems, for a moment, to swing open like a trompe-l’oeil diptych from the hinge of its central wedge. Or, to stretch the sci fi theme, it almost resembles a static tableau of the star-gate-warp-scene-thing-bit in 2001: A Space Odyssey: just as, in the film, the fabric of space gets scissor-slit down a vertical crux and all the acidified rainbow-ejaculant of eternity comes kaleidoscoping past the viewer’s ears, so a good hard stare at an apex of the American Embassy in Oslo will produce a sensation of simultaneous falling-down-forward and flying-backward-upward and sideways toward all imaginable points, the air hardening smoothly around you, concrete colonising the interstices of your brain like a neurotransmitter.
By the way, the appropriate thing now would be to look back at the photo at the top there and say no, it’s just a triangle, it doesn’t fucking look like any of that, it’s a triangle. And it is. But we have to justify ourselves to ourselves somehow. At any rate, there was a lot of dead air beginning to whistle through this blog, and now there are words instead, all kinds of them. I was going to say something about the windows but now I couldn’t be bothered. They’re good, anyway.