Room for Art
Architect: Sverre Fehn
The room is square, the glass ceiling provides even skylights. Two walls are covered with photo wallpaper with Fehn's pavilions in Brussels and Venice. In front of these are two showcases with small models of the same two pavilions and exhibited drawings and sketchbooks. Paintings by Knut Rumohr are on another wall. One of Fehn's chair designs is on display on a low podium. In the middle of the floor is an activity bench without a backrest where the public can sit down and build a puzzle of the stool from Fehns Villa Norrköping.
Sverre Fehn was Norway’s most famous architect, both at home and abroad. He once said that architecture is about giving form to what is already within us. Fehn received many prizes and commendations for his work, including the Pritzker Prize – a kind of Nobel Prize for Architecture.
Professor Per Olaf Fjeld, an architect who worked closely with Sverre Fehn for many years, explains that nature was always important to Fehn.
Per Olaf Fjeld:
You could see it in the way he chopped wood, you could see it in the way he turned towards the light and the wind, and in his understanding of where these things came from. This respect for nature was a natural part of him. But his architecture was in no way intended to copy nature, it wasn't intended to tell us about qualities possessed by nature. Rather, the architectonic space was intended to complement the space of the natural world. And in doing so, the intention was to create an interaction that in many ways would enhance the power of both nature and the architecture.
Capturing light was a recurring theme in all of Sverre Fehn’s projects. As a result, Fehn’s museum buildings are not always the easiest of spaces in which to put objects on display. Instead of creating enclosed gallery spaces, he chose structures that allowed daylight to enter.
Per Olaf Fjeld:
Perhaps the clearest example of his precision is the Venice Pavilion. You enter the Venice building and it strips you naked. Your attention is captivated by the arresting architecture, but then your thoughts begin to wander and you start to question what you are —and what you are not — in the present moment.
His buildings have an effect on us, just as he wanted the art displayed in his buildings to have an effect on us. In addition to designing several museum buildings, Sverre Fehn was also active as an exhibition designer.
Per Olaf Fjeld:
Fehn was very interested in objects, and generally took questions about how to display objects very seriously. This was because he thought that every object had its own life, a life that must be respected. His aim was to display objects in ways that would bring out the spirits of the object themselves.
Sverre Fehn was a role model for a whole generation of Norwegian architects. He was a professor at the Oslo School of Architecture from 1971 – 2004, and spent as much time on teaching as on designing buildings and exhibitions.
Martin Dietrichson worked with Sverre Fehn for several years, and was also a student of Fehn at the School of Architecture.
There’s no doubt he had a very strong influence on many young architects. His lectures were always packed, and his approach to teaching was really very different to the other members of the faculty. The students loved him. And if you ask architects who are in their fifties, sixties or seventies, they will all talk about Fehn as the most exceptional teacher they ever had.