Fred N. Severud was born Fridtjov Nikolai Sæverud in Bergen, Norway. He was the son of Herman Sæverud (1861–1931) and Cecilie Tvedt (1869–1956). His father was a businessman and owner of a margarine factory in Bergen. His parents encouraged their children to attend college. Severud had two brothers and nine sisters. One brother, Harald Sæverud, gained recognition as a modern classical composer. Another brother, Bjarne Sæverud (1892-1978), would be active within the Norwegian Resistance during the Occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany during World War II and serve as a representative in the Norwegian Parliament from Bergen (1945 - 1949)  Severud attended the Bergen Cathedral School and later studied at the Norwegian Institute of Technology. In 1923, Severud emigrated to the United States, entering through Ellis Island. Shortly thereafter, Severud started work for an engineering company, where he was rapidly promoted.
Severud utilized the experience he gained in his early years of designing successful housing projects. In 1928 he founded an engineering consultancy in Manhattan called Severud-Elstad-Krueger Associates, renamed twenty years later as Severud-Perrone-Sturm-Bandel, and now known as Severud Associates. He also lectured and was the author of several books and articles on architectural and engineering subjects.
Along with Joseph H. Abel (1905-1985), he wrote one of the industry’s first comprehensive books, Apartment Houses (Reinhold Publishing Corporation, 1947) on how to best design, build and operate apartment ventures. A few years later, as one of the few structural engineers in the world to have analyzed the forces from and the effects of atomic bombs, together with Anthony F. Merrill he wrote a textbook on protection from nuclear explosions called The Bomb, Survival and You (Reinhold Publishing Corporation, 1954).
Frei Otto, the German architect and engineer known for membrane and tensile structures such as the Olympic Stadium in Munich, visited his office in 1951 during the construction of the Raleigh Livestock Aren. Edmund (Ted) Happold founder of Buro Happold, worked for several years in his office.
- Dorton Arena, Raleigh, N.C. (1953) (architect Matthew Nowicki)
- Place Ville Marie, Montreal (1962) (architect I M Pei)
- Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (House of the Cultures of the World) (1957) (architect Hugh Stubbins)
- David S. Ingalls Hockey Rink at Yale University (1959) (architect Eero Saarinen)
- Toronto City Hall (opened 1965) (architect Viljo Revell)
- St Louis Gateway Arch, (completed 1965) (architect Eero Saarinen)
- The Bomb, Survival, and You: Protection for people, buildings, equipment with Anthony F. Merrill (1954)
- Apartment Houses: Progressive Architecture Library with Joseph H. Abel (1947)
A fellow in the ASCE, Severud was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering (1968). Severud received numerous personal engineering awards for being an industry pacesetter, among them the Ernest Howard Award (1964) and the Franklin P. Brown Medal (1952). The American Institute of Architects presented him with its prestigious Honorary Associate Member award for his lifetime of contributions to structural design.
On Sept. 11, 1923 he married Signe Hansen, whom he had known at the Norwegian Institute of Technology. They would have four children–Fred, Jr., Inger, Laila and Sonja. Severud left engineering behind on his retirement in 1973, just before his 74th birthday. He died at his home in Miami, Florida at the age of 91 from Alzheimer's disease.
- "Fred Severud; Civil Engineer, 91". New York Times. 1990-06-14. Retrieved 2015-08-04.
- Engineering Legends: Great American Civil Engineers, Richard Weingardt, ASCE Press, 2005
- "Harald Sæverud, Komponist". Norsk biografisk leksikon. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
- Fred N. Severud Memorial Tributes (National Academy of Engineering, Volume 5 (1992)], National Academy of Engineering (NAE), article by Anton Tedesk)
- "Bjarne Peder Olai Sæverud (1892-1978)". Stortinget. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
- Richard G. Weingardt, P.E. "Fred N. Severud, Cable Roof Pioneer and Monument Builder". Nibas B. Apu. Retrieved 2015-08-04.
- "Joseph Henry Abel (1905-1985)". AIA Historical Directory of American Architects. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
- Philip Steadman, The evolution of designs: biological analogy in architecture and the applied arts (revised edition, Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2008)
- Extended history of the J.S. Dorton Arena (N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services)
- Place Ville Marie Pei, Cobb, Freed & Partners)
- House of the Cultures of the World (berlin.de)]
- "David S. Ingalls Rink". structurae. Retrieved 2015-08-04.
- Toronto City Hall: How Finnish architecture rebranded a city (Lisa Rochon. The Globe and Mail Inc. Sep. 17, 2010)
- J.E.N. Jensen, Associate Director. "The Construction of the Arch". National Park Service. Retrieved 2015-08-04.
- "1964 Fred N. Severud". Ernest E. Howard Award Past Award Winners. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
- "Fred Severud; Designed Madison Square Garden, Gateway Arch". Los Angeles Times. June 15, 1990. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
- da Sousa Cruz, Paulo J., ed. (2013) Structures and Architecture: New concepts, applications and challenges (CRC Press) ISBN 9781482224610
- Campbell, Tracy (2013) The Gateway Arch: A Biography (Yale University Press) ISBN 9780300169492
- Lemire, Elise; Benjamin Flowers (2012) Skyscraper: The Politics and Power of Building New York City in the Twentieth Century (University of Pennsylvania Press) ISBN 9780812202601
- Weingardt, Richard G. (2005) Engineering Legends: Great American Civil Engineers (American Society of Civil Engineers) ISBN 9780784408018