Old Embassy Building

The former United States Embassy in Oslo was designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen. Saarinen, designer of the St. Louis Gateway Arch and the TWA Terminal at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, also designed the U.S. Embassy in London for the State Department. Necessary security measures and changing demands have somewhat altered the appearance of the Embassy building and its use. The following describes the building as it was when it opened in 1959.

A Cooperative Project

In 1947 the United States Government purchased a lot for its new Embassy at Drammensveien 2. Through a subsequent agreement with the Norwegian Government, however, it was decided to place the building on the triangular lot bounded by Drammensveien, Løkkeveien and Hansteen gate. The official ground breaking ceremony took place on February 10, 1957; the building was “under tak” for the “kranselag” celebration held on April 25, 1958; and the official opening ceremonies were held on June 15, 1959.

Built for the American Government under a contractual agreement with the Government of Norway, the project was planned and supervised by the Office of Foreign Buildings of the Department of State. Here in Oslo a building committee of representatives of both countries was appointed to oversee the construction of this joint Norwegian-American enterprise, including the then Norwegian Riks Architect and the Director General of the Norwegian Ministry of Finance.

The construction of the Embassy was paid for by the Norwegian Government from funds which accrued to the credit of the United States as a result of the Lend Lease settlement including the military relief program and the adjustment of wartime claims following World War II. A final settlement between the two governments took place with the delivery to the United States Government of title to the property at Drammensveien 18, together with the completed Embassy, in exchange for delivery to the Norwegian Government of the title to the property at Drammensveien 2. The construction costs were estimated to run approximately 9.5 million kroner (roughly $1.3 million at the time).

The Building

The triangular building consists of four stories and a basement and is 59 meters by 47 meters by 47 meters. The structure was designed so that the exterior walls, the façade, actually help support the weight of the building. This type of construction differed from the contemporary trend of office buildings in which the façade is a more decorative covering or skin of metal, glass or stone. Furthermore, the flat surface has been broken by the in-an-out play of the fenestration effects of the building. There are 577 separate windows.

The material for the exterior walls is a form of crushed concrete and labradorite which has been cast, cut, ground and polished. Though resembling natural labradorite, the artificial stone – which is a Norwegian product – is superior in strength.

Over the main (center) entrance on Drammensveien is a 12-by-9-meter canopy built of steel and concrete. It extends across the sidewalk and projects over the curbing, and provided a cover for persons stepping out of automobiles at this location. The flagpole erected on a stand in the center of the canopy is 13 meters tall.

An unusual feature of the Embassy building is the enclosed, center courtyard which is four stories tall. It is four-sided but fits neatly into the triangular form of the outside walls. The courtyard is covered by a suspended ceiling constructed in three-dimensional, triangular designs. The lighting from the ceiling will be a combination of direct daylight and artificial light. Two of the court walls are constructed in a brick-grill pattern, covered by white adobe paint. The other two walls are formed by striking vertical teak wood ribs extending from the second to the fourth floors. In the center of the court is a 5-by-5-meter pool. Both the floor of the court and the main entrance lobby are made of Italian travertine, while the wall facings in the main entrance and around the halls are made of stucco marble.

Almost all of the furniture in the building when it opened was made in Norway, from designs of Knoll Associated and constructed by the Norwegian firm of Tanum.

USIS Library, Movie Theater and more

The eastern entrance toward Hansteens gate gave access to the United States Information Service (USIS) Library and auditorium. Visitors applying for visas or seeking other consular services used the consular or western entrance at the corner of Drammensveien and Løkkeveien. Today all visitors come through the main entrance in Henrik Ibsens gate.
Extending along the entire second floor of the Drammensveien (now Henrik Ibsens gate) side of the building was the USIS Library, which was open to the public. The seating capacity for Library patrons was 66.

In the basement there is a hexagonal auditorium to accommodate audiences of about 100 persons, designed for lectures and film showings arranged for the Norwegian public by USIS. From a projection booth in the back, four film projectors showed motion pictures on the electrically-controlled roll-down screen. A sound system installed in two of the front walls was used for the popular USIS record concerts.

The information above is excerpted from the original brochure made by the Department of State for the opening of the U.S. Embassy building.