Reinterpreting Fehn in 1:1——-“Ode to Osaka” by Manthey Kula

1. Fehn in Fehn in 1: 1

Ode to Osaka, the exhibition currently in view at the National Museum in Oslo, works with different kinds of media (drafts, pictures and models)to help people understand the Osaka World Expo in 1970 and its connection to the well-known Norwegian Architect Sverre Fehn. The most impressive part of the exhibtion is Fehn in Fehn in 1:1, Fehn’s unrealized design for a pavilion built by Manthey Kula architects for the exhibit.

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Sverre Fehn’s drawing

The original design for World Exposition in Osaka addressed the theme of pollution. Fehn’s concept consisted of two inflatable forms, in which the fresh air would stand in contrast to Osaka’s heavily polluted air outside. “An existing wood structure—is filled with two balloon-like structures of transparent canvas, one on top of the other”. However, Fehn did not win the competition and the design was never realized .

2. Original design and reinterpretation

The work raises the very interesting question of how to treat such realization of Fehn’s work by another architect.

For instance, the form and the principal concept come from Fehn’s draft. The changes in air pressure in upper balloon influence the lower and bigger balloon, which makes the room “breath”.

However, it is also a work of Manthey Kula architects, having made so many decisions from paper to construction. For example, the architect had to choose the location and materials, design the structure, detail the canvas balloon, decide where and how to put the pneumatic equipment, and so on. So the work is based on the understanding and translation of the original design by means of the second person.

Experiencing in the room in person, I can say it is very inspiring for visitors to compare Fehn’s drawings to the real construction. In addition, one may also unconsciously compare between piece built by Manthey Kulaone’s and own imagined construction based on Fehn’s drawings.

models by Sverre Fehn

models for built pavilion (2015)

To make space breath

1. Light and Transparency

By using a thin plastic membrane, translucency helps strengthen the breathing quality of the space. The degree of transparency is a relates to the amount of light and information one may want let in: not too clear to get noisy views of the outside, nor too opaque to make space concrete. Thus one can perceive the rough color and shape of objects outside without unnecessary details.

As the photo below shows, white transparent canvas makes sunlight inside feel soft and edgeless like fog, contributing to a misty atmosphere. 

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2. Space and Sound

Before entering the core space, visitors have to go through a transition room, which is built to balance air pressure, as if entering a space station.

To highlight the “man-made air” theme, the two air-filled chambers contain air free of outdoor pollution. A gigantic fan controls the air pressure of the upper chamber to provoke the movement of the core space. When people gets in or out, making air pressure decline, the machine works to keep the pressure stable.

I am not quite sure how clear the difference in the quality of the air between inside and outside is. But when adding more air, the machine makes sounds that easily attract one’s attention. With the sound and slow changes in shape, the room breathes, in and out, just like a human’s lung.

All in all, there is a delicate balance when the machine is working, the sound is not too loud or too low, just perfect to make everyone stop talking and search for the changes in the air and space.

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3. Scale

Decided by objective reason, the size of the balloons adjusts to the four pillars in the room. Compared to Fehn’s drawings and models, Manthey Kula’s pavilion is smaller and more moderate in scale. The space is tight and centripetal because of the size and shape of the room. I cannot help to imagine what the space would be like if it was the original size -which, for me, is one of most interesting parts of the exhibition: to imagine the one envisioned by Fehn and to spot the differences. 

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Photos of exhibition by Jingyi Zhang

Photos of drawings and models from Internet and library

Buliding progress video: Ode til Osaka