A herd of elephants in Mali. Carlton Ward Jr Susan Canney, University of Oxford The challenge of conserving wildlife while…
Mari Lending and Erik Langdalen
Paperback | 7-1/2 x 10-1/4 inches | 296 pages | 367 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-3037786390 | 45€
Sverre Fehn’s Nordic Pavilion in Venice is a masterpiece of postwar architecture. The young Norwegian architect won the competition for its design in 1958 and the building was inaugurated in 1962. Through six decades, the beloved structure has been mired in phenomenology, poetry, and the personal memory of the select. Looking at the archives, a very different story emerges.
In minute detail, this book presents the history of the origins and making of the Nordic Pavilion; spanning from the geopolitical context in an increasingly tense Cold War atmosphere, to the aggregates in the concrete of the audacious roof construction, to the iconic trees, many of which had already died before the second exhibition in 1964.
Sverre Fehn, Nordic Pavilion, Venice. Voices from the Archives documents the extensive cast involved in the making of the Nordic Pavilion, spanning from kings, prime ministers, bureaucrats, ambassadors, museum directors, architects, and a myriad of artists’ associations, to Venetian dignitaries, engineers, gardeners, lawyers, and plumbers. The pavilion was conceived and built against the backdrop of friendships and animosities, power play and diplomacy. The detours and disappointments, the successes and failures of the Venice affair make a prism in miniature to understand the mindset and conflicting ambitions of the Nordic countries in the 1950s and 1960s. Richly illustrated with previously unpublished images, among them many photographs taken by Fehn himself, the archival evidence also sheds new light on one of the great Nordic architects of the recent past.
The importance of the existing trees in the conception of the pavilion is evident when opening the book’s front cover. The first eight pages present full-page photographs taken by Fehn on a site visit in September 1958. They give the impression of a nearly impenetrable section of the Giardini with a thick canopy of leaves overhead. The photos give way to drawings from Fehn’s competition entry, which are presented on foldout pages and show how the plan relates to the neighboring USA and Danish pavilions, how the roof structure accommodates the tree trunks, and how Fehn envisioned the character of the area under the roof, among other things. Following them is a translated transcript of a December 1960 meeting with Fehn and the building committee for the pavilion, a meeting that anticipated “most of the issues that arose during construction,” according to editors Mari Lending and Erik Langdalen.
Most architects will be drawn to the trio of chapters that discuss the main elements of the pavilion in detail. “Trees” deals with everything from the frustration of curators who had to deal with a gallery space bisected by a row of trees to the measures that have to be taken this century so the three surviving trees do not damage the slender concrete beams (first spread, below). “Floor” delves into the actual surface of the ground plane (now light marble, originally dark slate) as well as its foundation and the storeroom extension made in the 1980s. “Roof” discusses the main element of the pavilion’s architecture: the overlapping grids of narrow concrete beams capped by fiberglass sheets that give the “interior” an even illumination.