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Sverre Fehn (1924-2009)

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Sverre Fehn, the celebrated Norwegian architect and 1997 Pritzker Prize winner, died in Oslo on 23 February at the age of 84

Born in Kongsberg, Norway, in 1924, Fehn graduated from Oslo School of Architecture in 1949. Over the next five years, he studied traditional architecture in Morocco and worked in Paris with Jean Prouvé, meeting Le Corbusier.

This period of his life had a profound influence on his outlook. Often classed as a modernist, Fehn acknowledged the work of Le Corbusier and other contemporaries including Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright, but rejected the preceding generation’s urban perspective.

‘I have never thought of myself as modern, but I did absorb the anti-monumental and the pictorial world of Le Corbusier, as well as the functionalism of the small villages of North Africa. You might say I came of age in the shadow of modernism,’ he later said.

Fehn made his name internationally with his design for the Norwegian Pavilion at the 1958 World Exhibition in Brussels. This was followed by the much-lauded Nordic Pavilion at the 1962 Venice Biennale (pictured) and the Hedmark Museum in Hamar, Norway.

In his work, Fehn attached great significance to the qualities of materials, the interplay of light and his buildings’ relationship to the landscape. ‘We work with our alphabet materials such as wood, concrete, bricks,’ he said. ‘With them, we write a story which is inseparable from the structure.

‘When I build on a site in nature that is totally unspoiled, it is a fight, an attack by our culture on nature. 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… to see the beauty there as well.’

Fehn became a professor of architecture at Oslo School of Architecture in 1971, and taught there until 1993 while lecturing and holding exhibitions across Europe.

In recent years, a clutch of Norwegian museums won him further plaudits, including his striking Norwegian Glacier Museum at the mouth of the Fjærland Fjord, the Ivar Aasen Centre in Ørsta and the Norwegian Museum of Photography in Horten.

Fehn was awarded the prestigious Pritzker Prize in 1997. A retrospective of his work was exhibited at the Venice Biennale last year.

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