Norwegian Architecture Museum (Oslo) – Sverre Fehn

A concept of dialogue between masters of two different eras is made clear by walking in and around the Arkitekturmuseet. It is a conversation between Christian H. Grosch and his 19th century Christiania and Sverre Fehn and his poetic modernism of the 20th Century.

Looking at the Grosch building, it clearly belongs in the era of Early 1850’s Christiania/Oslo, an era that was beginning to stake claim in an independence from Sweden and Denmark. During a period of state building, elements from Romanesque Revival architecture were appropriated (such as is the case with many countries developing a national identity in the 19th Century). Typical elements such as the cornice, pediment, and triglyphs are used but expressed in such a way/thickened so that the shadows cast become elements of ornamentation. This is a technique that can be traced to Karl Frederich Schinkel, a tutor and mentor to Grosch in his years in Germany, who used a similar technique in his extremely moving Neue Wache monument in Berlin.

The central figure and the dialogue between masters becomes the Ultveit-Moe pavilion. Where stone structures Grosch, Fehn returns the dialogue with glass. Fehn however does not abandon the use of heavy materials, but incorporates them almost as ornamentation. Four exquisitely detailed columns hold up a concrete roof, surrounded on all sides by a structural glass façade, a gap between the two speaks to the dialogue being played out. Exterior concrete walls form another interstitial space between light and heavy, tectonic and stereotomic, between 19th and 20th centuries. Instead of forming structure, these concrete walls isolate views into and out of the pavilion, providing an interstitial space between busy street and museum. Construction process and joinery become ornamentation, recalling the Romanesque motifs of Grosch. The same is true of the structural glass façade; a singular material is ornamented through use of steel brackets for the structural fins and the connection of the laminated glass sunshades to these structural fins.

The dialogue between Fehn and Grosch is played out in both similarities and differences, almost as if Grosch was asking the question and Fehn created the answer, using similar materials in different and somewhat unexpected ways to create both a stand-alone pavilion and one that makes itself whole with Grosch’s bank building. Without Grosch’s building, this dialogue becomes lost, as every answer must have a question.

This dialogue allows for the pavilion to be of a specific place and time, but also to enhance/be enhanced by its historical context from two separate eras. Fehn speaks with Grosch, creating a conversation between 19th and 20th/21st Century, while allowing references of the 12th Century and Christiania into the conversation.

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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.