Sverre Fehn. Pavillion of the World’s Fair in Ōsaka – Space in space in space (in space?)


Exhibition space is supposed to be the contrary of its content. Exhibition space should not be the flashy, parametric room in which every wall and seam and bolt and window screams silently through their sheer formal nonconformity: »Here I am! Look at me!«. The main focus of it ought to be to not pull much attention from the things exhibited.

Space, when standing in it, is not observable in its whole for the human eye. It is, in contrary to pictures, statues, photos; concave in its nature—spanning around us, taking up our complete field of vision. That is why space is so dastardly hard to exhibit in a 1:1 scale. Clever imaging methods may be able to depict more than the eye can take in, but the feeling of space is lost nontheless.

Sverre Fehn’s draft for the pavillion of the world’s fair in Ōsaka was of an even more special nature. The original design already tried to exhibit almost only space; a room, breathing, thus moving ever so slightly to heighten the awareness of the ongoing pollution and destruction of our planet. Like sitting in a lung, the slowly deforming structure made of two balloons on top of each other made it impossible to ignore your own breath. Onto the hull were to be projected pictures of norwegian forests and nature. Unfortunately, the draft did not win the competition and was never built.

The challenge for the architects of MantheyKula, who were commisioned to curate part of the »Ode to Ōsaka«-Exhibition at the National Architecture Museum in Oslo, was even more elaborate: How to exhibit a building, or space, that was in itself meant to exhibit space?

The first idea, of course, was to built a small scale model; but that obviously fails miserably in conveying the notion that was inseparately intertwined with the design: the possibility to be inside this space. Building the room after the original plans was not realisable either, as it would’ve been far to big (and latex, the original material of choice would be far too expensive and not suitable at all. Pictures of Sverre Fehn fiddling around with condoms for model building is quite an uplifting sight, though).

The resulting realisation was a great success, partly due to the expertise of the architects, partly due to the extraordinarily fortunate circumstances: Realised was a scale model, big enough to enter for human beings, small enough to be fit inside the last built statement of Sverre Fehn himself, thus enabling the visitors to enter the room through on airlock, leave through the other and walk around the room itself in a manner fit to an object being exhibited. As the room itself should be the experience the projections on its surface, as planned for the original pavillon, were also ommitted. The materiality and the technical details were not built in 100% accordance with the original plans, but wisely reinterpreted for the different scale and given situation. This exhibition of space within space — within a furthermore metaphysical space surrounding the fact that it is not only a room but Fehn’s last built œuvre — was a unique endeavor with a impressive outcome.

Picture: © Simon Heidenreich, 2015.