Sverre Fehn - Norway
Nordic Pavilion
Venice
1958 - 1962


The famous Nordic Pavilion in Venice by Sverre Fehn is the result of an architectural competition, and is considered to be a key work in the oeuvre of the Norwegian architect. Originally there were invited Klas Anshelm from Sweden, Reima and Raili Pietilš from Finland and Sverre Fehn from Norway to draw up plans for the so-called ‘Nordic’ pavilion. The competition asked for a space, which would be able to unite a triumvirate of nations within a single building. In 1959 the proposal by Sverre Fehn was selected, and soon after the decision, Sverre Fehn's design was praised in the Svenska Dagbladet: “stunning simplicity [...], without too many architectural overtones”. As his Pavilion for the Brussels exposition, the Nordic Pavillion in Venice is carried by the same idea as the Barcelona-Pavilion by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - the amalgamation of modernism and classicism. The pavilion is a simple building, classic in its basic rules and its structure. This building is often considerd to embody Nordic architectural traditions, but Sverre Fehn himself tried to transform and invert these traditions. Sverre Fehn completely removed two of the building's four boundary walls, getting a space which is anything else than traditional, as a closed space which shuts out the elements would be a typical vernacular in Norway. Even the roof is dissolved into a grid of slender beams to be essentially open to the sky. As mentioned the architect used slender concrete lamellae instead of heavy timber beams. The lamellaes are pigmented to glow in the sunlight, resulting in the light characteristics which were often described to be Nordic, and which are considerd to be a metaphor for sunlight falling on a quilt of snow. Sverre Fehn used a combination of white cement, white sand and crushed Italian marble, resulting in a material which is responsible for the qulity of light of incredible intensity, tranquility and most importantly - steady homogeneity. Through this material and construction, the warm Mediterranean light ist distlled into its 'Nordic' variation, creating a nearly shadowless space. With his design for the Pavilion in Venice, Sverre Fehn did not seek to mimic a Nordic vernacular. The Nordic Pavilion, situated in the giardini of the Biennale di Venezia within an uninhabitaded and fragmented context, the building exposes a more complex architectural attitude, trying to rewrite the sense of a ''Nordic'' architecture, adapted to the Venetian climate. The complex spatial gesture of the Nordic Pavilion is composed of only few simple architectural elements: roof, wall, stair, beam and the ground. The Nordic Pavillion is not only an assemblage of the mentioned parts but the culmination of an orchestration of spatial ideas and atmospheric intentions. The 'roof', which is more like a collection light wells, consists of two layers of concrete brise-soleil. Preventing a monotonous appearance, the rigidity of the grid is interrupted by a series of openings through which the three remaining internal trees (originally there were seven) punctuate vertically through the construction. The lamelleas are only six-centimetres thin and one meter heigh, two layers of lamelleas are superimposed, creating a plane of two-metre deep pockets, arranged at a ratio of 1:2. These lamelleas span the space in a single span. Sverre Fehn once stated, that he wanted to do nothing more than to 'construct a roof to protect the paintings and sculpturs from direct sunlight', as the building was first intended to work as a gallery.