Norwegian Glacier Museum (Fjærland) – Sverre Fehn

Now that my travels are over and I am settled back in Indianapolis, I can now begin to blog about my travels in Norway. The first in a series of blog posts about Sverre Fehn or Norwegian architecture (there will be a post or two on Snøhetta’s work) is on a museum of Mr. Fehn’s that didn’t stand out for the way the exhibits work with the architecture, but the way it fits into the amazingly beautiful landscape that surrounds it through the concept of the museum being a rock left behind as the glaciers retreated.

A rock deposited by the Flatbreen glacier, the Norsk Bremuseum sits at the edge of both Fjærlandfjord, and the mountains and glaciers of Jostedalen National Park. A cast concrete body contrasts with an almost soft landscape, as the mountains here are softened by thousands of years of glacial movement.

Fehn very deftly allows the roof to become public space here, alluding to the notion of one climbing the “rock” to get a better view, and with the mouths of Flatbreen and Bøyabreen nearby, one can certainly argue that there aren’t very many views that can top what is seen at the Glacier Museum. The entry sequence becomes akin to hiking on a glacier. You can take the stairs to the roof/hike on top of the glacier or you may take a cave-like entrance to see the exhibits/hike below the glacier in a run-off tube.

Immediately inside the cave-like entry, a sculpture speaking to the temporality of the glaciers halts visitors. While the Glacier Museum is built as a rock, standing in the meadow for thousands of years; glacial ice is contrasted with an eroded piece of granite alluding to the one constant that envelops us all, change. If you pick up the book Sverre Fehn: Intuition, Inflection, Construction; Steven Holl wrote a great forward on the Bremuseum and more specifically on the change alluded to by the sculpture.

Inside, the ceiling, edges and skylights are very topological, as if taking cues from the shaping of the underside of the glacier against rock. In few instances does wall meet ceiling at a right angle. The central skylight dips into the space and then recedes towards the glacial tongue exhibit.

The café opens up to the landscape, with its glass curtain walls contrasting against the site poured body of concrete, breaking off of the central axis as if it were an opening into the underbody of the glacier, similar to the caves that bring meltwater down to glacial fed rivers at the foot of Flatbreen.

After Mr. Fehn won the Pritzker Prize in 1997, the museum called him for another commission. This wasn’t for the addition that came in 2007, but for an outhouse. The outhouse continues the concept of a rock left by the glacier, and is quite possibly the best designed outhouse I’ve seen. It goes to show that there isn’t a project too big or too small for an architect to take on.

I quite enjoyed the Glacier Museum for its beauty and the way the concept of the museum integrates not only with the program of the museum, but the way it integrates with the landscape; proudly sitting on the edge of the plain between the fjord and glaciers, not forced but naturally placed as if time and Mother Nature deemed it so.

Look for a more detailed look at the Glacier Museum with architectural plans, sketches and photographs in my book The Story of Building: Sverre Fehn’s Museums to be published this fall.

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Josh Mings

Architect and painter. Columbus, IN born, New Orleans educated, Chicago living and trying to leave the world better than I found it.