Norwegian Architecture


Norwegian Architecture

Contemporary architecture lost an unsung hero last month, when Sverre Fehn, Norway's best-known architect and the torchbearer of Scandinavian modernism, died at 84. Mr. Fehn, who combined monochromatic building materials, like concrete, unfinished wood and slate, with an intuitive sense of space, found an ideal setting for the modernist enterprise in the fjords and wooded mountains of his native Norway.

In 1997, he was the first Scandinavian to receive the Pritzker Prize, but his work remains largely unknown beyond a small group of architectural devotees.

The reason for Mr. Fehn's lack of celebrity is twofold. Many of his greatest buildings -- like the Norwegian Glacier Museum, located at the end of Norway's longest fjord, about 250 kilometers inland from Bergen -- are in especially remote parts of an already remote country. And his self-effacing persona made him entirely ill-suited to the p.r.-saturated world of globalized starchitecture.

Norwegian Architecture

Mr. Fehn forged a body of work that was essentially a private investigation into the light and landscapes he saw every day at home in Oslo. His Glacier Museum, finished in 1991 and widely considered his masterpiece, is the inverse of Frank Gehry's shimmering, towering Guggenheim Museum; it draws attention away from itself, and away from the architect, into the glaciers that dwarf it.

Last year, in conjunction with the opening of Mr. Fehn's final project, Oslo's Norwegian Museum of Architecture, the museum itself organized a retrospective of his work. "Architect Sverre Fehn" has now reached Stockholm's Arkitekturmuseet.

Glacier Museum, Norway

Architecture exhibitions are notoriously difficult to pull off. Curators, who necessarily rely on two-dimensional tools like photographs, are severely hindered when trying to replicate the three-dimensional experience of actually visiting a building, and even a well-intentioned architecture show can turn into a hermetic display of blueprints and scale models.

The Arkitekturmuseet gets around the usual problem. Its enormous hangar has the space and the light to transform photography, and the Fehn exhibition, in its current installation, is like an alchemist's feat. At least a dozen of Mr. Fehn's buildings, including several of his Norwegian villas, somehow come to life, thanks to oversize color-collage photographs, which present the buildings and their sites from different perspectives.

The collages are accompanied by the usual architectural paraphernalia, like drawings and models, which may only interest a specialist. However, anybody can appreciate the accompanying documentary film, shown in its own little theater, which dramatizes Mr. Fehn's rational approach to architecture and mystical relationship with nature.

Later this year, the exhibition moves on to Helsinki's Museum of Finnish Architecture.

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Norwegian Architecture

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