Sverre Fehn (1924-2009) was a Norwegian architect who received worldwide recognition for his work. He is widely referred to as the leader of Scandinavian architecture in the postwar years and he was awarded both the Pritzker Architecture Prize and Heinrich Tessenow Gold Medal in 1997. Here at RISE Design Studio, Sverre Fehn is one of several architects who inspire our work. In this short post we share some detail about Fehn’s life, his well-known works, and reflect on how, like Peter Zumthor, his designs developed an aesthetic that drew on local culture and nature to create a unique experience of space.
A Norwegian, Fehn was described as always trying to ‘run away from the Nordic tradition’. After qualifying as an architect in Oslo in 1949, he went on to work with the French metal worker, architect and designer, Jean Prouvé. With a resulting interest in resolving complex problems of construction detail, he was simultaneously influenced by Le Corbusier, the Swiss-French architect, nurturing a passion for the modern design movement. Time spent in Morocco in the early 1950s also provided him inspiration from the simplicity of life in adobe vernacular houses, which are built from earth piled up in simple structures and respond to the surrounding natural environment by regulating heat and light.
After his time in Morocco, Fehn became acutely aware of the different characteristics that light can take, focussing his work on creating responsive architecture for different climates. He completed commissions for the Venice and Nordic pavilions at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, the latter of which was reminiscent of the detailed construction work of Prouvé: intersecting blades of Perspex and glue-laminated wooden beams, all held together with only 48 bolts. Five decades later, the Nordic pavilion still stands with three plane trees growing up from the ground and out of the roof.
He then completed the rest of his life’s work in the cooler, damper and mistier climate of Scandinavia where he designed country villas, an ecohouse and several notable museums, including the Norwegian National Museum of Architecture in Oslo and the Hedmark Ethnographic Museum in Hamar. The Hedmark Museum, also known at the Storhamar Barn is one of his best known works and a space designed to speculate on human nature and material history.
Relationship with the surroundings
Many of Fehn’s buildings have a strong relation with the surrounding environment, blending modernity with regionalism. The private Oslo residence, Villa Schreiner, has been called a ‘hommage au Japon’ due to its sliding doors, large windows, and the way the wooden structure is intricately linked with the nature around it. In Bamble in Norway, Villa Busk straddles a ridge and follows the natural terrain to demonstrate the strength of nature and man’s subordination to it. His Eco House in Norrkoping (Sweden) took the relationship with nature even further, using natural ingredients in construction. A wooden structural frame is filled in with straw bales mixed with clay and finished inside and out with a clay plaster. Partitions of adobe (from his days in Morocco) also feature.
You can browse a selection of Sverre Fehn’s woks on Pinterest.