Sverre Fehn, 84, Architect of Modern Nordic Forms, Dies
Sverre Fehn, whose talent for applying Modernist ideas to traditional Nordic forms and materials earned him the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1997 and made him the most prominent Norwegian architect of the postwar era, died Monday in Oslo. He was 84.
The death was confirmed by Jacob Fehn, his grandson.
Mr. Fehn spent a lifetime ingeniously reconciling the urban Modernism he absorbed from mentors like Jean Prouvé and Le Corbusier with his reverence for age-old construction techniques and natural materials, and with his love of the Norway landscape.
“I always thought I was running away from traditional Norwegian architecture, but I soon realized that I was operating within its context,” he said on receiving the Pritzker Prize. “How I interpret the site of a project, the light and the building materials have a strong relationship to my origins.”
This philosophy was reflected in the Nordic Pavilion at the 1962 Venice Biennale, a concrete structure built around trees, with openings in the roof to admit natural light; and in the Glacier Museum (1991) at the mouth of the Fjaerland Fjord in Norway, which Mr. Fehn conceived as a rock lying against the surrounding mountains.
“When I build on a site in nature that is totally unspoiled, it is a fight, an attack by our culture on nature,” he said. “In this confrontation, I strive to make a building that will make people more aware of the beauty of the setting, and when looking at the building in the setting, a hope for a new consciousness to see the beauty there, as well.”
Sverre Fehn (pronounced SVAIR-uh Fen) was born in Kongsberg, Norway. After graduating from the Oslo School of Architecture in 1949, he joined with several peers to form Progressive Architects Group Oslo Norway, the Norwegian branch of the International Congress of Modern Architecture. The group pledged allegiance to Modernist principles but searched for a Norwegian means of expression.
While traveling in Morocco in the early 1950s and studying the local vernacular architecture, Mr. Fehn developed a new respect for the realities of construction, as opposed to abstract forms, and for the importance of poetry and instinct in architecture.
“The use of a given material should never happen by choice or calculation, but only through intuition and desire,” he told Per Olaf Fjeld, the author of “The Thought of Construction: Sverre Fehn.”
After his Moroccan adventure, Mr. Fehn worked with Prouvé in Paris, where he met Le Corbusier. In 1952 he married Ingrid Loberg Pettersen, who died in 2005. He is survived by a son, Guy, of Fyn, Denmark, and four grandchildren.
In 1954 Mr. Fehn returned to Norway and established an architectural practice. He first came to international prominence with his design for the Norwegian Pavilion at the World Exposition in Brussels in 1958, a softened, more organic version of Miesian Modernism incorporating pine, plastic and concrete.
In 1971 he became a professor of architecture at his old school, renamed the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, where he taught until 1995.
Relatively few of Mr. Fehn’s designs were realized, and nearly all his work was done in Scandinavia. When he received the Pritzker Prize he had completed 11 buildings, among them the Storhamar, a converted barn that forms part of the Hedmark Museum (1973) in Hamar, and the Aukrust Museum (1993-96) in Alvdal, devoted to the painter Kjell Aukrust.His final years were marked by a burst of activity. He designed the Oslo headquarters of the Gyldendal publishing house, which was completed in 2007, and the Norwegian Museum of Architecture, which opened in March 2008 with a retrospective exhibition of Mr. Fehn’s work.