What We're Seeing: 'In Therapy' at Sverre Fehn's Nordic Pavilion in Venice

Norwegian architect Sverre Fehn designed the Nordic Pavilion in the Giardini between 1959 and 1962. A concrete structure of striking visual simplicity, it reflects Fehn’s preoccupation with light. The roof, designed as a two-layer brise-soleil system, distils the warm Venetian light into a distinctively Nordic variation – constant, shadeless and bright.

At this year’s Venice Biennale the pavilion hosts ‘In Therapy’, curated by David Basulto and James Taylor-Foster. The exhibition ‘addresses a common challenge faced by Finns, Norweigians and Swedes today: how can a building exist in a dialogue with its setting when that setting is so charged? … How can architecture occupy a legacy while still making progress?’

The centre of the pavilion is occupied by a step-pyramid, traditionally constructed using Swedish pine, which mirrors the rise of the building’s existing staircase exactly. In other ways, though, the form of the installation differs – the weight of the hollow structure contrasts with the solidity of the concrete pavilion. This difference, according to the curators, was designed to ‘confront visitors with an impression, however fleeting, of the state of contemporary Nordic architecture’.

Photography: © Laurian Ghinitoiu