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Sverre Fehn Is Named the 1997 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate

Sverre Fehn, a 72 year-old architect who lives and works in Oslo, Norway has been named the 1997 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. In making the announcement, Jay A. Pritzker, president of The Hyatt Foundation, which established the award in 1979, quoted from the jury's citation which describes Fehn's architecture as "... a fascinating and exciting combination of modern forms tempered by the Scandinavian tradition ..." Fehn is the twentieth architect in the world to be selected for his profession's highest honor which bestows a $100,000 grant when the formal presentation is made on May 31 in Bilbao, Spain. 

Pritzker Prize jury chairman, J. Carter Brown, commented that Fehn's work "... embodies the Pritzker Prize ideal of architecture as art." And from fellow juror, author Ada Louise Huxtable, "Sverre Fehn represents the best of twentieth-century modernism ... this is a unique life's work of extraordinary richness, perception and quality." From juror Charles Correa, a much honored architect from Bombay, India, comes the praise, "... a wonderfully lyrical and inventive architectonic language which, like all true art, is both rigorous and deeply humane." Juror Toshio Nakamura, editor and architectural writer from Japan called Fehn's work "... remarkably specific in his approach to design in terms of its regional inflection, material, imagination, and implied geometry ..."

Most of Fehn's work is in his native Norway, with Sweden and Denmark taking a close second. In 1958, he gained international attention for his Norwegian Pavilion at the Brussels World Exhibition, and again in 1962 for his Nordic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

In recent years, two of his museum projects have captured widespread attention: one completed in 1991 is the Glacier Museum built on the plain carved out by the Jostedal Glacier at the mouth of the Fjaerland Fjord. The museum is the center of a panorama formed by the steep mountainsides and the fjord with the glacier on top. A second project, the Aukrust Museum, celebrates the work of a famous Norwegian painter/writer, named Kjell Aukrust. Both of these projects were preceded by another project called the Hedmark Cathedral Museum in Hamar, Norway, which was completed in 1979. The latter is the site of an early fourteenth century manor house and bishopric. Fehn built in and around the ruins to preserve this historic site. 

He has designed numerous private residences, a home for the elderly, the inspiration for which he credits Mies van der Rohe, and many other types of buildings. One of the more controversial is the enlargement of the National Theatre of Copenhagen, where critics have hailed the design as having "... the magnificent spaciousness of cathedral-like character." 

Bill Lacy, executive director of the Pritzker Prize, quoted further from the formal citation which states, "Eschewing the clever, the novel and the sensational, Fehn has pursued his version of twentieth century modernism steadily and patiently for the past fifty years. With one carefully designed project after another, he has displayed a virtuosity and creativity that now ranks him among the leading architects of the world."

Lacy, who is an architect himself and president of the State University of New York at Purchase, added his own comment, "Fehn's architecture is poetic, thoughtful, even sentimental—bold and at the same time humble. Not since Louis Kahn has an architect been so enthralled with materials and their architectural consequences." 

Fehn was one of the post World War II generation of architects who emerged from the Architectural School of Oslo, receiving his diploma in 1949. At that time, Finnish architect Alvar Aalto was a strong influence on European architecture, and in particular, Arne Korsmo, one of Norway's leading architects. Korsmo became a great friend and mentor to Sverre Fehn now lives in a house designed by Korsmo. 

The prize presentation ceremony moves to different locations around the world each year, paying homage to historic and contemporary architecture. This year, the award will be given in the nearly completed Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in the Basque Country of northern Spain on Saturday, May 31. Designed by 1989 Pritzker Laureate Frank Gehry, the building is scheduled to be completed for a formal opening in October. It has already been hailed by King Juan Carlos of Spain as, "... the best building of the twentieth century." This is the second consecutive year that the prize ceremony has been held in a construction site. Last year, it was presented to Spanish architect José Rafael Moneo at the unfinished Getty Center, designed by yet another Pritzker Laureate who received the award in 1984, Richard Meier.