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1998: A Conversation with Sverre Fehn: Three Museums

Nicole Irene Johnson, B.S.'90, M.Arch.'93, worked for the Dutch architect, Jo Coenen before joining the Polshek Partnership Architect, LLP in New York city in 1996. Over the past three years, she has worked on the new addition to The Museum of the City of New York, the renovation of The Smithsonian Institution Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in Manhattan. Presently she is a member of the design team of the Scandinavia House: The Nordic Center in America which will house the headquarters of the American-Scandinavian Foundation and a Scandinavian cultural and business center. Nicole is a member of the Architectural League of New York and the board of Trustees for the Edvard Grieg Society, promoting Scandinavian Music and Culture in New York City.

Progress Report by Nicole Johnson

"To run after the past is a futile pursuit. Only with the manifestation of the present can the past be induced to speak"
—Per Olaf Fjeld on the Hamar Museum, Sverre Fehn: The Thought of Construction, p.133.

For the unseasonably cold summer week of July 6, 1998, I traveled by car through Norway to see the public projects designed by Sverre Fehn, an architect whose buildings fully succeed in capturing his poetics. In Norway he is not considered a Modernist pre se but his work is authentic and has caused controversy among government building officials and thus has long been rejected despite its embrace by the public and by critics abroad.

The week began in Oslo, home to the architecture office of Sverre Fehn. He has built several magnificent houses and a few institutional projects outside of Oslo, but there are, as yet, no public buildings designed by Fehn in the city in which he works. Seeing projects in Oslo served as an introduction and provided a context in which the majority of the population of Norway was living. Once outside of Oslo, and en route to three museums he has designed I was able to see the context and influences of his work - the inspiration.

A few roads led me through the countryside to the towns that host this architecture of rigor. Those roads wind through extremes of landscape, through extended mountain tunnels, up into glaciers randomly spotted with cairns and back down to sea level. The sky was continuously changing throughout the days, from overcast to sunshine, from blue-gray to pink to black. The mountains and fields of yellow flowers reflected on the fjords doubling the intensity of the dominant colors of this country's Nature. Stopping at several Stave Kirke, the oldest constructions in Norway, along the way was helpful to understand the construction language visible in the work I was to see.

The three museums that I visited were the Hamar Bispegard Museum built in 1970 in Hamar, the Glacier Museum built in 1991 in Fjaerland and the Aukrust Museum built in 1996 in Alvdal. In an illustrated lecture and a short film of these buildings made as part of the study I will discuss works, the comments of the their users and those of Sverre Fehn himself.

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