Sverre Fehn’s notebooks | Borja López Cotelo

These clear mornings of June they disguised the city of Oslo. Closing the eyes, allowing that the Sun should warm the skin, one could believe that he was in Palermo, in Smyrna, probably enclosedly in Cadiz or Tangier. But at the end of the street there was a green foyer that we had to cross every day: the discreet Nasjonalmuseet was guarding the labyrinth of notebooks in which Sverre Fehn left fragments of the map of his thought. There they passed the hours, deciphering hundreds of notes, thousands of drawings.

Sverre Fehn’s sketch

This one is only one of these sketches, the most insignificant chance: far from the metaphysical depth hidden in different many, maybe do not represent any more than a desire.
One of these desires that only we have in the summer evenings.

Nevertheless, as we observe it, it turns out difficult to prevent that the imagination begins his uninhibited game of associations.
We can feel in these figures to the man drawn by Him Corbusier as measure of all the things; we can, then, imagine last evenings for the Fehn in Paris, visiting the study of the Rue de Sèvres together with his wife Ingrid. We can continue looking behind and glimpse even Picasso or Cézanne; we can think about Jeanneret’s debt with the cubism.
We can recognize, on the contrary, in the men outlined by Fehn the fingerprint of the petroglifos that the first Normans carved in the rocks; and to think, inevitably, about the symbolic capacity of every outline, in the last reason of every line that we draw.

Though maybe all that is not any more than a delirium.
One of these deliriums that only we have in the first evenings of autumn.

Sverre Fehn

A día clar of 1986, to the awakening, Sverre Fehn realized that it was going more than ten years without constructing an alone work. There were staying far the days of youth in which it seemed to be called to gather the witness of the big northern teachers, in whom it was indicated as this Great White Hopea1 that never came.

He thought then about the ephemeral of the recognition, about the changeable of the critiques, about the vacuity of the judgments. But this morning, Fehn did not have time that to lose: dozens of students were waiting for it in the Cooper Union. The architect had understood time behind that to transmit his ideas was the only way of being perpetuated. In 1971 it had begun to be employed as teacher at the AHO (Arkitektur Høgskolen i Oslo) and since then the education had occupied great part of his time. It was, before the lack of activity in the study, his great creative refuge2. The lessons given in this Sankt Olavs’s small classroom Gate had turned into a phenomenon that had come out the limits of the city, and some rare types even were crossing Europe to listen to Fehn3.

Nasjonalmuseet Arkitektur, Oslo

In the middle of the eighties, a friend called Fehn and offered him to join to the educational body of the Cooper Union in New York. It could not refuse: the one who was telephoning was the dean John Hejduk. This way, for some months, the Norwegian transmitted his particular way of understanding the architecture in this institution; in his slates I scribble again and again human figures, stars, ships and horizons that were revealing fragments of a dense cosmogony .

Later, Fehn returned to Oslo. And there, one night of Arctic winter, he understood that nothing would turn to be equal. Then it dreamed of going out for the window of his room and of flying up to New York.

Everything has an end. The trilogies, the battles, the life. To Sverre Fehn, since to Borges, it was obsessing the passage of time, the certainty of which the existence consists, we like or not, in be leaving to flow4.

If Borges insists that only the man is mortal in the measure that only he is conscious of the death5, Fehn holds that only the idea of a life beyond, to another side of the mirror in which we look every day, grants transcendency to the architecture6. The Norwegian draws crossings, skeletons, angels that ascend to the skies-, maybe, to rush later to the hells-, plans a clear line that separates the alive ones of the dead men; in occasions, even, it seems to be conscious of the fragility of this line. Then, to draw it is not so easy.

Nasjonalmuseet Arkitektur, Oslo

Whenever I look at this drawing, I cannot – do not want – to stop imagining Fehn in his Havna Allé’s house scribbling souls that start way towards the eternity, writing something illegible in the end of the paper a chill evening of 1994; affirming that the architecture belongs to the men, though the construction – exact, precise, perfect – could belong to the animals7. Then – I suspect – Sverre supports the cup of coffee in the table, capture angers, and a redeemer feels. But in this precise instant he remembers how many times have looked at it over the shoulder – perhaps do these reflections fit in some ismo? – and it yields itself to the evidence: at best, Suburbia will be remembered as Jesus of Suburbia.

Borja López Cotelo. Doctor architect
A Coruña. november 2012 – january 2013

1 This expression was used in the first years of the 20th century to designate white boxers potentially capable of turning into world champion of the heavy weight, title that between 1908 and 1915 there showed the black boxer Jack Johnson.
2 This way it names it Per Olaf Fjeld en Sverre Fehn. The pattern of thought (Nueva York, The Monaceli Press), p. 208
3 Miralles came in some occasion to Sverre Fehn’s classes, as indicates Fjeld in Ibid., 185
4 Or, maybe, paraphrasing to Checks – this fatalist portrayed by Diderot – in ‘be leaving to exist’.
5 ‘Immortal being is paltry; less the man, all the creatures are, since they ignore the death; the divine thing, the terrible thing, the incomprehensible thing is to be known mortally’, Jorge Luis Borges writes in El inmortal.
6 For putting an example, in the pagea 236 of Sverre Fehn. The pattern of thought (New York, The Monacelli Press, 2009), we can read: ‘The big constructions always develop from a concept related to the death’. The Norwegian insisted on this conviction on numerous interviews and writings.
7 Fehn holds that the man cannot create a work of architecture being based on the merely rational thought, and that this separates it from the animals: ‘ The constructions realized by the animals are racionalist: precise and immutable, they are always equal every day and every year … The way of thinking about the man, on the other hand, is not rigidly rational and logical … If the architecture is completely rational, the men turn into animals ‘, it was affirming in an interview granted in 1992, included in Sverre Fehn. Opera completa (Milán, Electa, 2007). The same idea is defended for F. Ll. Wright in his posthumous text Preámbulo a El Maravilloso Mundo de la Arquitectura (1962).

Borja López Cotelo

Borja López Cotelo, arquitecto por la ETSAC desde 2007, y doctor por la UdC desde 2013.

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