Skådalen Skole by Sverre Fehn

Skådalen Skole is located on the Holmenkollenåsen on the outskirts of Oslo. After getting off the metro in Skådalen you are more or less surrounded by nature. Following a path from the station southeast bound you reach the entrance of the school in just a few steps. The first part you see of Skådalen Skole is a rectangular, red-coloured brick building with round-shaped protrusions on the side walls.

Behind this building which is the more active part of the school there are more structures  located on the hillside, such as several dormitories, a sports and swimming hall, a pre-school, a cafeteria with a kitchen and a big sports field in the middle of the site.

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Plan and sections

The school was built as a boarding school for deaf and hearing-impaired children in the 1970’s and the whole complex was finished in 1975.

When Sverre Fehn’s drafts for the new school for deaf were published the parents of the pupils were protesting against a new school building, because there the old existing building had to vanish. After the completion of the structures in 1975 the old school, which was located on the present sports field, was torn down.

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Old school building

Sverre Fehn put much effort into this school for deaf children. His intention was to create an appropriate surrounding for the children. Fehn tried to implement the complex room schedule for this school as best as he could, he had installed furniture like shelves or sinks in various heights for the different grades. He also designed some special furniture just for these buildings and carefully considered the visual connections among windows and light-flooded rooms, which he believed to be very important for people who “hear” with their eyes and who have to observe a lot.

Little did he know about the reality of working with the hearing impaired, who are incredibly sensitive to some sounds and to visual information, and get easily distracted in such and open and varied environment!

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Light rooms

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Many windows for visual connections

So all these interesting features could not hide the fact that the building did not function as well as anticipated, and that for the public there was too much concrete in a school for children. The Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet wrote in 1975 an article about that scandal with the headline “Betonghelvete for døve barn”, that means “Concrete hell for deaf children”.

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Dagbladet, 1975

Fehn was very sorry that the public was so critical of the building he cared so much for. This turned into a big career setback for him, and even in exhibitions about Sverre Fehn’s this projects is never mentioned.

Few years after its completion, the school staff painted all exposed concrete walls in white and installed false ceilings to improve the acoustics of the space and cover the concrete.

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Painted concrete walls

But in fact when entering the buildings 40 years after completion again, the first things that come to someone’s mind are the warmth and light that originates from that place.

Despite all the concrete, which you can still recognize behind the white coat of paint, within these walls there is such a heat that the concrete does not have a cold effect. Furthermore the false ceilings for covering the concrete surface emphasize the corridors low height.

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Low-ceilinged corridors

Needless to say that I have never been in that complex in the original state, but now that the students have vacated the building, it is conceivable that all the corrections made after completion are no longer necessary and that the buildings can be brought back to their original condition for a new inhabitant that can embrace Fehn’s vision.