Fehn’s teacher, Arne Korsmo, was an important early influence. During a trip to Morocco in 1952-53, Fehn encountered the elemental architecture that would set the tone for his further development. In Paris a year later, he worked and studied with the important French architect Jean Prouve and absorbed all he could from the works of Le Corbusier. Such international exposure helped him reconcile the most sophisticated architectural approaches of his time with uncomplicated and popular ways of building.
Fehn and a colleague, Geir Grung, made a breakthrough in 1955 with the modernistic Økern Home for the Elderly, in Oslo. Three years earlier Fehn and Grung, along with seven other young architects and Arne Korsmo, had founded PAGON ("Progressive Architects’ Group, Oslo, Norway") and begun the struggle to promote modern architecture.
At the age of 34 Fehn gained international recognition for his design of the Norwegian Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World Exhibition. In the 1960s he produced two works that have remained highlights in his career: the Nordic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale and the Hedmark Museum in Hamar, Norway. The museum may well be Fehn’s greatest achievement. It marked his move away from pure modernism and toward a more personal architecture of his own creation.
From 1971 to 1977 Fehn saw his concept for the Skådalen School for the Deaf come to fruition, its many buildings positioned discretely in the sloping terrain of northern Oslo’s Holmenkollåsen. In recent years Fehn has produced a string of highly acclaimed museums in Norway: the Norwegian Glacier Museum (1991) in Fjærland, the Aukrust Centre (1996) in Alvdal, the Ivar Aasen Centre (2000) in Ørsta and the Norwegian Museum for Photography (2001) in Horten.
Fehn drew a large number of remarkable private homes, including Villa Busk, which was declared an official landmark soon after its completion in Bamble, Norway, in 1990. He was also recognized as a designer of highly original exhibitions, such as one featuring medieval church art in 1972 and another, called the Chinese Soldiers Exhibition, featuring ancient terracotta figures. Some of his most innovative work has been for architectural competitions, many of which he has won. Unfortunately, few of the winning concepts have been realized.
The architect’s highest international honour came in 1997, when he was awarded both the Pritzker Architecture Prize and the Heinrich Tessenow Gold Medal. His conceptual gifts were complemented by excellent drafting skills and a unique and poetic ability to express himself. He was a professor at the Oslo School of Architecture from 1975 to 1995 and was an honorary fellow of Norwegian, Finnish, Scottish, British and American architecture associations and institutes, as well as the royal academies of Copenhagen and Sweden. In 1993 he received the Gold Medal from the French Academy of Architecture and in 2001 he became the first recipient of the Grosch medal, an award established to commemorate the works of Norway’s seminal architect from the era of nation-building. Sverre Fehn was also made a commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav.
Sverre Fehn’s most recent work, the Norwegian Museum of Architecture, opened in Oslo in the spring of 2007. The museum is housed in a classic-style bank building from 1830 that was remodelled to include the addition of a separate exhibition pavilion.