“A number of families of these teenagers wanted what was left of the structures on the island to be as they were when their children died because that was the last connection they would have to their kids physically,” explained Greenwald. “On the other hand, there was a desire to take the island back and rebuild. These felt like irreconcilable expectations. And that is something that certainly we understood intimately from the experience of creating our own project here in New York City.”
“I think that's really the key challenge,” said Clifford Chanin, Executive Vice President and Deputy Director of Museum Programs here. “How do you take people who have been so suddenly and grievously damaged by this terrible loss and put them into a process where they can hear each other? Or they can turn to professional outsiders and, over time, trust that we have something to add to this.”
Greenwald and Chanin both traveled to Norway in 2014 to be part of the discussions around the design of a proposed memorial on Utøya island. By then, the cafeteria building on Utøya—where 13 of the murders took place—had already become an unofficial shrine to the victims, with families leaving flowers, pictures, and other tributes. The group brought on architect Erlend Blakstad Haffner who came up with the plan to incorporate the cafeteria shrine into the memorial design.
The final result was called the “Hegnhuset,” meaning “protected house” or “house that is embraced.” Surrounding the preserved shrine in the cafeteria building are 69 columns, one to commemorate each of the victims. These are enclosed or “protected” by 495 wooden slats, representing the number of people who survived the attack. The design embraces life and death, survival and loss, paying tribute to those who were killed and acknowledging the survivors’ trauma and indelible memories, as well as their strength and resilience.
Around the memorial are new buildings and facilities that were rebuilt. This space functions year-round as a learning center, welcoming people from around the world to gather and discuss contemporary issues in the fight against violent extremism.
There is also a clearing in the woods overlooking the fjord with a suspended circular metal sculpture engraved with the names of each victim. There are stone seats around the circle, inviting people to reflect and remember.
Greenwald and Chanin returned to Norway this spring to visit the memorial sites again. They attended workshops on the role memorials can play in preventing extremism and spoke on a panel with fellow historians of memorialization James E. Young and Edward Linenthal about learning from other memorial projects around the world.
“I'm so moved by the fact that, first of all, they invited us to be a part of this conversation,” said Chanin. “But they recognized even before we did that the expertise we gained from having worked on the 9/11 Memorial was very applicable to what they were dealing with, and that they could benefit from our hard-earned experience.”
“And I think that's what they have benefited from; they've been looking to us to say that what they're going through is not unique,” said Greenwald. “There are models for what they’ve been trying to achieve that have been successful. Consider lower Manhattan and how we were able to accommodate both commemoration and rebuilding. Side by side, they integrate, and both contribute to renewal.”
By 9/11 Memorial Staff