A thin rectangular brass nameplate hung on his door: Sverre Fehn–Architect. That was all. I knocked, he opened the door, and I started my first job as an architect. Thirty-five years later, Fehn has finally placed this thin strip of brass into his drawer. During those thirty-five years, I listened to his stories, worked with him, and visited his buildings. In this book, it is my aim to bring to life his voice as an architect, educator, and storyteller with the capacity to transform a personal narrative and its essence into physical space.
In my first book, Sverre Fehn: The Thought of Construction
, published in 1983, Fehn was at a midpoint in his career. He had little work in that period and was able to set aside time for a publication. The background material for that book consisted of several notebooks recording conversations and interviews that took place from 1978 to 1980. Not everything in those notebooks was used or relevant at the time, since the purpose of that volume was to introduce Fehn’s work to a broader international audience.
Beginning with my early association with Fehn’s office and continuing as I taught with him at the Oslo School of Architecture until he retired in 1994, I took notes on all his lectures I attended and, whenever possible, our conversations. On and off we talked about putting together a second book, but neither one of us had the time or focus such a project required. Yet one day as I looked through some of my old notebooks, it became clear that without an effort to transcribe, organize, and make the connections between my notations and Fehn’s work, this information would be lost. When I finally set to work, I discovered I had boxes of notebooks not only on Fehn’s lectures but also on his friends and colleagues, which gave further depth and immediacy to the material. But the most rewarding discovery has been to find that my notes correspond to and compliment his sketches, which have always been an essential tool in his creative process. From: Chapter 1, Midsummer Frames
Very few Scandinavian architects educated just after World War II have been able to capture the Nordic tradition and transform it into a vibrant modern architectural language in the manner of the Norwegian architect Sverre Fehn. 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. 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. The result is a fresh identity for each project and, behind that, a conceptual framework that is equally surprising and demanding.
For many years, situating Fehn’s talent and impact within modern Scandinavian architecture was not clear. He was born in a remote and, at the time, poor country, but this isolation was also an advantage in that he met the world outside with energy and curiosity and without expectations. Today, he has gained a place alongside other important figures in architecture and has influenced a new generation of Scandinavian architects through his years as a teacher. Yet this recognition has been slow to take hold at home in Norway. Sverre Fehn’s work has the same meticulous workmanship, clarity of construction, and use of material found in the best of prewar Scandinavian architecture and design. It is a heritage he has always respected but at the same time has reworked and added new layers. Fehn’s creative process is rather complex. He edges around a given topic or project, nearing it by way of a myriad of poetic stories, phrases, and sketches, and through this process strips the constructive thought down to its most basic state. Conceptually, he places material in two distinct categories: material as mass, most often represented by concrete, and material that through its intrinsic nature carries a precise or clear set of dimensions, most often represented by wood. Parallel to this deliberation on material, Fehn considers a range of inventive stories and images. At the point he is able to bring a particular story into his material concept, a creative resistance force belonging to structure evolves. A conscious use of sequential movement is also part of this plot. And similar to the best in Scandinavian architecture, the architect deems catching light and bringing it into an interior spatial presence more important than focusing on the view out.
Excerpted from Sverre Fehn by Per Olaf Fjeld. Copyright © 2009 by The Monacelli Press. Excerpted by permission of The Monacelli Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.