The project to re-photograph Skådalen School was presented at the Fehn Symposium in Hamar in 2009.
Photography is not the right medium to represent architecture. It can never do everything that plans, sections and detailed drawings can do. The intention behind showing this series of 16 colour and black-white images of Sverre Fehn’s Skådalen School for deaf children, is not just to document different aspects of its architecture in time and place. Here, photography is used as a narrative agent, describing things and situations in a way similar to storytelling. By recording the visible, in the same way as you would describe it with words, photography here attempts to uncover hidden values and to influence, renew and even change our perception of Fehn’s architecture.
The architecture of Skådalen School appears quite different from other of Fehn’s works. It is perhaps one of the most complex buildings he has ever done; perhaps due to a demanding architectural program, the institutional rehabilitation of deaf children, quite unique in Scandinavia and in the world at the time it was built, in 1975. The architecture presents a robust, non-formalist architectural language, exact and clear, based on the sculptural power of self-evident construction and a strong material presence. The elementary feel of its tectonics and the interplay between the architectural bodies and the body of the landscape create an experience that is quite rare in architecture today. But strangely enough, the project was not very widely published, and as time passed it remained relatively unknown to the wider public and to the new generations of younger architects.
While most of Fehn’s well-known buildings posses clear iconic value, that can be grasped in one strong photographic image, this quality is completely absent from the architecture of the Skådalen School. It is really impossible to present this architecture with just one image. The task becomes challenging for a photographer: How, then, should he understand it, observe and photograph it? It became necessary to depart from the single image, and to define the precise group of properties to work with: The energy of architectural elements, inside and outside, in a subtle relation to each other and to the landscape, to the weather and to the evening light… The photographer had to search for another structure, to use the potential of a photograph to transport the viewer into a fictional world of spaces, and to open up a new story. Even where there was no obvious narrative except the one traced by the use of the building, a photograph can invite the viewer to explore and to experiment.
Neven Fuchs-Mikac, arkitekt MNAL, CAA, is assistant professor at the Institute of Architecture, Oslo School of Architecture and Design.
Ivan Brodey is a photographer. He has a BFA from New York University School of Film and Television.
Address: Skådalsveien 33, Oslo
Completed: 1975 (1st stage)
Client: SBED (currently Statsbygg, Public Construction and Property Management)
Architect: Sverre Fehn, sivilark. MNAL
Team: Eilif Andersen, Truls Ovrum, Jon Kåre Schultz, Tom Wike, Bjørn Larsen, all architects. MNAL
Consultants: Terje Orlien from Ing. Arne Neegaard AS (structural engineer)
Skådalen Shool was presented in Byggekunst no. 6-1978 and no. 1-1983 (swimming pool)