The Nordic Pavilion for the Venice Biennale (1958-1962), designed by Sverre Fehn to represent Sweden, Finland, and Norway, is a project that deals with Nordic identity. Fehn makes an analogy between building and storytelling and between materials and language in his work. Four years before, the architect had designed the Norwegian Pavilion for the 1958 Brussels World Exhibition, which was subsequently demolished but already used the same language. The Venice Nordic Pavilion can still be visited today in the Giardini.
Nordic Pavilion by Sverre Fehn Technical Information
- Architects: Sverre Fehn
- Location: Brussels, Belgium, and Venice, Italy
- Topics: Pavilions, Concrete, Structuralism, Blurring Boundaries
- Project Years: 1958 – 1962
- Photographs: The National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design, Oslo. / Flick Users: Seier+Seier & Thom Mckenzie / Åke E:son Lindman
I have tried all my life to run away from the Nordic tradition. But I realize that it is difficult to run away from yourself.
– Sverre Fehn in A+U, 1999
Nordic Pavilion in Brussels World Exhibition (1958) Photographs
Nordic Pavilion in Venice (1962) Photographs
Nordic Pavilion History
In 1958 a competition was held to design the Nordic Countries Pavilion for the Venice Biennale to host Sweden, Norway, and Finland. Three architects were invited: the Swedish Klas Anshelm, the Norwegian Sverre Fehn, and the Finnish Reima Pietila. In 1959 Sverre Fehn was declared the winner, and by 1962 the Pavilion was completed.
The Nordic Pavilion sits across from the Pavilion for Venezuela (literally, “little Venice”), designed by Carlo Scarpa, that eminently Venetian architect. The similarities between Fehn and Scarpa were clear. It is interesting to remember that Scarpa once described himself as “a man of Byzantium who came to Venice by way of Greece.” One can claim that Sverre Fehn is a man of “Morocco who went to Oslo by way of Venice.”
The Pavilion is a single rectangular hall of 400 sqm, open entirely on two sides. The roof is made of two overlapping layers of concrete beams one meter high in both directions: each beam is 6 cm thick and is placed every 52,1 cm. One on top of another, they form a 2-meter high brise soleil. Transparent roof elements are suspended between the uppermost beams. These plastic units impart an oriental, Venetian tone to the strict articulation. To preserve the light’s intensity, the entire building was cast in a mixture of white cement, white sand, and crushed marble. It is a nordic shadeless light.
The three plane trees inside the 446-square meter unsupported space are almost the only vertical elements. The trees intensify, as do the large walls of glass, the impression of being both inside and outside at the same time. At a certain distance, the beams seem both to collide with and evade the trees. Outside, to the left of the entrance, Fehn has kept the big old plane tree where the enormous main beam divides into a Y. It is the most vigorous gesture imaginable.
The Pavilion perfectly defines Norwegian identity:
Even today, the Norwegians are urban dwellers who are nevertheless incapable of relating to urban traditions. The idea of self-sufficiency remains, and with it, the distrust of those who claim to be more proficient in specialized areas. This results in a loss of the capacity to judge according to the qualitative parameters and to create places that are both contemporary and genuine.
– Christian Norberg-Schulz
Nordic Pavilion in Brussels 1958 Plans
Nordic Pavilion in Venice 1962 Plans
Nordic Pavilion Gallery of Images
About Sverre Fehn
Sverre Fehn (1924-2009) has long been recognized in Europe as one of Norway’s most gifted architects. Categorized as a modernist by most architectural writers, Fehn himself said, “I have never thought of myself as modern, but I did absorb the anti-monumental and the pictorial world of LeCorbusier, as well as the functionalism of the small villages of North Africa. You might say I came of age in the shadow of modernism.”