One of my favorite quotes of Sverre Fehn’s references the Hedmarksmuseet in Hamar and how it interacts with the past….and as such I was greatly looking forward to seeing the museum and what many consider to be Mr. Fehn’s master work. I wasn’t disappointed, and the Hedmarksmuseet is easily one of the highlights of my trip.
“My most important journey was perhaps into the past, in the confrontation with the Middle Age, when I built a museum among the ruins of the Bishops’ Fortress at Hamar. I realized, when working out this project, that only by the manifestation of the present, you can make the past speak. If you try to run after it, you will never reach it.”
From “Every man is an architect” 1997 Pritzker Prize acceptance speech)
The Hedmarksmuseet struck me in a way that few buildings have, the last being Kahn’s Kimbell Museum. It wasn’t an immediate wow factor; mouth agape and spinning around in awe of the space you are in like the Kimbell, but a wow factor that came to be as I delved into the layers of history, and Fehn’s interactions with those layers.
For what seems to be a very simple two-story barn (Fehn interacts with the regional vernacular in his enclosing structure set atop the ruins of the Bishops’ fortress), the Hedmarksmuseet is very topological with a number of floors and floor heights that create a ramp through the building that adjusts and varies according to the fortress ruins. This interaction with vernacular typology ends as Fehn denotes between old and new, natural opening in the ruins become doors and windows, layers of new gently applied to old.
The same can be said of the exhibition “ramp”. Lightly touching the ruins, the ramp weaves through the body of the museum and fortress yard, taking you on a flowing journey though the history of the site, without dictating the pace, sequence, or even direction. The same story is told regardless of if you enter the ramp via the fortress yard or by the ramp at the lobby leading to the exhibition wing.
The graceful and respectful interaction with the ruins shows Fehn’s intentions of creating a harmonious whole, yet have clear distinction between old and new, much like the Norsk Arkitekturmuseet in Oslo. I am reminded of a similar museum dedicated to Roman ruins and antiquities in Merida by Rafael Moneo approximately 10-15 years after the completion of Hedmarksmuseet. In Merida, Moneo showed a very heavy hand, deciding that the museum he was building was more important than the ruins and antiquities it was to house. Whereas Moneo simply drops new onto old without much regard to the old, Fehn creates a graceful conversation with the ruins of the bishops’ fortress, in where New and Old touch lightly, with clear distinction, and where without Old, there cannot be New.
If you go to Oslo, you must take the train to Hamar (about an hour or so) to see the Hedmarksmuseet. The museum helped fortify my views on how I use history and context in my work, and is a must see for anyone embarking on an architectural tour/pilgrimage through the Nordic countries.
Look for a post on the Aukrustsenteret next week, which documents the life and creations of Kjell Aukrust, a noted Norwegian illustrator and author. If time permits I will post a blog about my time in Bergen as well.