Spotlight: Sverre Fehn


Nordic Pavilion in Venice. Image ©  Åke E:son Lindman

Nordic Pavilion in Venice. Image © Åke E:son Lindman

1997 Pritzker Prize laureate Sverre Fehn (August 14th 1924 – February 23rd 2009) was a leader in Post World War II Scandinavian architecture. “His work has an intuitive confidence in how to use the Nordic landscape and its particular light conditions within the built culture, and yet throughout his career each period has reflected a refined sensitivity to international changes and attitudes in architecture,” said his close collaborator Per Olaf Fjeld. “It can be compared to a poetic work conceived on an isolated mountain by a writer with an uncanny, intuitive sense of what is going on in the towns below.” [1]


Sverre Fehn. Image via <a href='http://www.pritzkerprize.com/laureates/1997'>Pritzker Prize</a>

Sverre Fehn. Image via <a href='http://www.pritzkerprize.com/laureates/1997'>Pritzker Prize</a>

Nordic Pavilion in Venice. Image ©  Åke E:son Lindman

Nordic Pavilion in Venice. Image © Åke E:son Lindman

Along with other alumni from the Architectural School of Oslo, Fehn was involved in international architectural discussions, notably through CIAM (International Congress of Modern Architecture) and its Scandinavian branch PAGON (Progressive Architects’ Group, Oslo, Norway). However, it was through his Norwegian pavilion at the 1958 World Exhibition in Brussels and his Nordic pavilion for the Venice Biennale in 1962 that he first gained international recognition.


Norwegian National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/iammadforit/5619178375'>Flickr user iammadforit</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a>

Norwegian National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/iammadforit/5619178375'>Flickr user iammadforit</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a>

Norwegian National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/iammadforit/5619179701'>Flickr user iammadforit</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a>

Norwegian National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/iammadforit/5619179701'>Flickr user iammadforit</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a>

The Nordic Pavilion exemplifies how Fehn reinterpreted elements of traditional Norwegian architecture when assessing a project site, and the nature of its materials and light. Instead of creating views out, the architect focused on catching light and giving it a spatial presence. The roof, made of two grids of thin concrete lamellae, brings in the homogeneous light typical of Nordic landscapes. Openings within the grid also allowed the preservation of existing trees as distinctive elements of the project; in Fehn’s work, heavy and ascetic materials like concrete or bricks were often juxtaposed with wood to recall the natural elements of his country.


Hedmark Museum. Image © <a href='https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Domkirkeruinene-Hamar.jpg'>Wikimedia user Torstein</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en'>CC BY-SA 3.0</a>

Hedmark Museum. Image © <a href='https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Domkirkeruinene-Hamar.jpg'>Wikimedia user Torstein</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en'>CC BY-SA 3.0</a>

Alongside numerous residential projects, Fehn spent his later career designing museums. Notable projects include the Glacier Museum, the Aukrust Museum, and the Hedmark Museum, where he continued to explore the relationship of buildings not only to their natural context but to their specific sites. 


Hedmark Museum. Image via <a href='https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Domkirkeruinene-Hamar.jpg'>Wikimedia user Houshuang</a> (public domain)

Hedmark Museum. Image via <a href='https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Domkirkeruinene-Hamar.jpg'>Wikimedia user Houshuang</a> (public domain)

Hedmark Museum. Image via <a href='https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bishop_castle_Hamar.jpg'>Wikimedia user Jensens</a> (public domain)

Hedmark Museum. Image via <a href='https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bishop_castle_Hamar.jpg'>Wikimedia user Jensens</a> (public domain)

For Fehn, there is an inevitable confrontation between nature and man-made structures. When considering how to ground his project to earth on a delimited base, Fehn’s work seeks to negotiate this conflict between the building and its untouched surroundings.


Norwegian Glacier Museum. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/boscdanjou/6040530144'>Flickr user boscdanjou</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a>

Norwegian Glacier Museum. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/boscdanjou/6040530144'>Flickr user boscdanjou</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a>

Norwegian Glacier Museum. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/boscdanjou/6043529367/'>Flickr user boscdanjou</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a>

Norwegian Glacier Museum. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/boscdanjou/6043529367/'>Flickr user boscdanjou</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a>

Check out the thumbnails below to see Sverre Fehn’s work featured on ArchDaily. Fehn’s complete bibliography can also be found at the Pritzker Prize website.

References:

  1. Per Olaf Fjeld, Sverre Fehn: The Pattern of Thoughts (New York: The Monacelli Press, 2009), p. 9.

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