1st Edition

Sverre Fehn and the City: Rethinking Architecture’s Urban Premises

By Stephen M. Anderson Copyright 2023
    192 Pages 90 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

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    The urban attentions of Pritzker Laureate Sverre Fehn (1924–2009) are extensive, but as yet virtually unexplored. This book examines ten select projects to illuminate Fehn’s approach to the city, the embodiment of that thinking in his designs, and the broader lessons those efforts offer for better understanding the relationship between architecture and urban life, with unignorable implications for emergent urban architecture and its address of sociological and ecological crises. Wary of large-scale planning proposals or the erasure of existing urban patterns, Fehn offered an uncommon and profoundly vibrant approach to urbanism at the scale of the single architectural project. His writings, constructed buildings, competition entries, and lectures suggest opportunities for reinvigorating architecture’s engagement with the city, and provoke a rethinking of concepts foundational to its theorization. What is the nature of urbanity? What is the relationship of urbanity to the natural world? What is the role of architecture in the provision and sustenance of urban life? While exploring this territory will expand our knowledge of an architect central to key developments of late modernism, the range of the book and the arguments developed therein delineate far broader aims: a fuller understanding of architecture’s urban promise.


    Chapter 1 Fehn in the City: "What makes this all so alive"

    On Urbanity

    Turning to Fehn’s Urban Architecture

    Organization of the Work and Its Themes

    Chapter 2 Opened Ground

    "Dance ‘Round Dead Things"

    Of Urbanity and Exhumation

    Revealing Trondheim

    Fehn’s Urban Ground

    Of Ground, Diegesis, and Urbanity

    Chapter 3 Sverre Fehn’s Ambient Urbanity


    Ex-Urban Urbanity

    But Not Yet Greater Than the City

    Chapter 4 Sverre Fehn, the City, and the Architecture of Participation

    Strata, Structure, Street

    Fractured geometris, an urban cut

    Walking city

    Building the non-building

    The Room the City Gives

    Scales of participation

    Theatricality, architectural discord, and participation in the city

    Violence for the City

    Chapter 5 More Oslo

    The Building as Constructed and as Designed

    On Perimeter Definition, Ambiance, and Participation

    On Fehn’s Cafés

    The Nature of the Building’s Urbanity


    Appendix 1 "The Building Will Reflect the Drama of the City"

    Sverre Fehn Interviewed by Peter Mose

    Appendix 2 Lecture Transcript

    Sverre Fehn at Cooper Union, March 1980



    Stephen M. Anderson is an associate professor in Architecture and Environmental Design in the Tyler School of Art and Architecture, Temple University, Philadelphia, where he teaches architectural theory and graduate design.

    "What if a good urban solution doesn’t involve ‘fitting into existing conditions’ but adding a clear and articulate voice to barely audible communications about ways of living that could be less wasteful, more humane, and just? Read this forward-looking book to discover modern architecture’s positive contribution to the city and the cultures it embodies."

    David Leatherbarrow, Emeritus Professor of Architecture, University of Pennsylvania


    "This is a thesis that takes architectural scholarship and criticism to an entirely new level, in part because of the exceptionally sensitive talent and inventive energy of Sverre Fehn, and in part because of Anderson’s comparable sensitivity and profound erudition, influenced as it has been by the architectural phenomenologies of Dalibor Vesely and David Leatherbarrow. This is a truly important work."

    Kenneth Frampton, Emeritus Professor of Architecture Columbia University