Name Erik Gunnar Asplund
  Born September 22, 1885
  Died October 20, 1940
  Nationality Sweden
  Official website  

Erik Gunnar Asplund was among the most important Scandinavian architects of the first half of the 20th century. His early work evolved from National Romanticism through the sparse Nordic classicism of the World War I period and by 1930 embraced canonic modernism. At the time of his death in 1940, his work assumed a personal direction, influenced more by traditional architecture and a desire for symbolic content than by contemporaneous design tenets. Asplund had a unique ability to create a sense of place in his architecture, to manifest directly the context in which his works were situated through manipulating landscape elements as forcefully as architectural ones. His untimely death at age 55 occurred at the height of his creative powers and productivity.

Born in Stockholm, Asplund studied architecture at the Royal Institute of Technology. After traveling to Germany on an Institute Scholarship, he returned to Stockholm and helped establish, with some fellow students, the Klara School, an independent academy of design. Supplanting the more normative neoclassical training of the period, the Klara School, under the tutelage of Carl Bergsten, Ragnar Ösberg, Ivar Tengbom, and Carl Westman, proposed a Romantic sensibility incorporating the influence of Scandinavian vernacular design and handicrafts. The inclusion of vernacular and traditional sources of expression had influenced Nordic architecture since the turn of the century, creating a style known as National Romanticism. The National Romantic influences of Westman and Ösberg, and especially Ösberg’s ability to combine symmetrical facade composition with informal plan organization, informed Asplund’s early work: examples include the villa project for Ivar Asplund (1911), the Karlshamn School competition entry (1912), and the Villa Ruth (1914). These works are characterized by a vernacular imagery created through using traditional board and batten siding, tilecovered gable-roof forms, and carefully placed and proportioned window openings.

Asplund, while continuing to use vernacular imagery, began to use classical motifs in his work, as witnessed in the first-place competition entry for the Woodland Cemetery (1915, Stockholm; in collaboration with Sigurd Lewerentz) and his Woodland Chapel (1919, Stockholm), which blends Romanticism and Classicism. The simple, steeply pitched chapel roof recalls Swedish vernacular buildings, whereas the austere Doric portico, domed interior space, and white-rendered stucco walls reference classicism. The Villa Snellman (1918), located in Djursholm, a Stockholm suburb, continues Asplund’s dialogue between classicism and Romanticism, as does the Lister County Courthouse (1921, Sölvesborg).

In the Courthouse, however, the detail qualities of the building become somewhat idiosyncratic, even exaggerated, in execution. Three competition entries for urban projects entered during the period 1917– 22—the Göta Square (1917) and the Gustaf Adolf Square (1918), both in Göteborg, and the Royal Chancellery (1922) in Stockholm—indicate that Asplund’s sensitivity in designing buildings within the historical context of the city is equal to that within the natural landscape.

Paralleling the development of classicism in Scandinavia during the 1920s, the classical-Romantic duality of Asplund’s earlier work gave way to a more explicit expression of classical principles. The work of this period represents a serious attempt at innovation within the context of classicism rather than a nascent eclecticism. Two buildings in Stockholm, the Skandia Cinema (1923) and the Public Library (1928), demonstrated his leadership position in this pan-Nordic movement. Whereas the Skandia Cinema projects a certain playful and idiosyncratic use of classical elements, motifs, and images, the Public Library has a simplicity and austerity reminiscent of the neoclassical architecture of the French Enlightenment. Although the initial design for the library was explicitly classical, with coffered dome, columnar entry porticos, and palazzo-like facade treatment, the built work, while maintaining the organizational parti, was abstracted into two simple volumetric elements: cube and cylinder. Preceded by a large reflecting pool, the building sits slightly rotated in its parklike setting, further enhancing the monumentality of the austere volumes. The cylinder houses a great rotunda, which contains the tiered, open-stack lending hall. It is a monumental clerestoried space that recalls the work of the French 18th-century architect Etienne-Louis Boullée. Exterior and interior surfaces are rendered in stucco, with finely proportioned openings and excellently crafted and integrated sculptural detail that provide the building with a subtle power.

The Stockholm Public Library marks the end of Nordic classicism, for “functionalism,” as modernism was termed in Scandinavia, had appeared in Sweden. Asplund’s 1930 Stockholm Exhibition celebrated the emergence of functionalism in Sweden and represented a fundamental change in sensibility for the architect. The design for the Exhibition complex underwent three phases, the last occurring after Asplund traveled to the Continent to visit extant examples of the new “modern” architecture. The Stockholm Exhibition not only epitomized the mechanistic aesthetics of modernism but also served as a propaganda instrument for illustrating its social programs. However, unlike many modernist compositions that were isolated objects sitting in green, parklike settings, Asplund’s complex assumed a more dense, urban configuration. The light, machinelike pavilions were tied together by such traditional urban elements as squares, concourses, cul-de-sacs, and garden courtyards. Here, space was as important as form. The tall, constructivist-inspired advertising mast was a light, steel structure that held signs and flags and provided a festive and energetic quality to the Exhibition.

Although Asplund’s Bredenberg Department Store (1935, Stockholm) was a functionalist work, the State Bacteriological Laboratories (1937, Stockholm) signaled a move away from the canons of modernism. In his last two major commissions, the Göteborg Law Courts Annex (won in competition in 1913, redesigned in 1925, and completed in 1936) and the Woodland Crematorium (1940), Asplund’s reaction to functionalism solidified. The addition to the Law Courts, which were designed by Nicodemus Tessin in 1672, was initially conceived of as a direct extension of the original facade. In the final design, Asplund attempted the difficult proposition of developing a facade that would create a contrasting yet harmonizing tension between the old and the new. The result extends the rhythm of the original facade with a modern vocabulary while containing classical inferences. The central interior atrium, composed of a delicate concrete framework and staircases and superbly detailed wood paneling, has a timeless quality that transcends stylistic preferences.

Asplund’s final major work, the Woodland Crematorium, is a composition dominated by the manipulation of the naturalistic qualities of the landscape, making the buildings seem secondary on approach. Yet the positioning of the primary architectural elements of loggia, wall, and cross actively gathers the surrounding landscape into a dynamic, emotional experience. The complex contains references to traditional, classical, and modern architecture: the planar quality of the buildings stems from modernism and the loggia and impluvium from classical sources, whereas the material usage and landscape design root the building to its Nordic context. The integration that Asplund achieved in the complex through the synthesis of modern with classical and vernacular precedents makes the Woodland Crematorium, in the final analysis, one of the truly compelling buildings of the 20th century.



22 September 1885 Born in Stockholm, Sweden;

1905–09 Studied architecture at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm ;

1910 Founded the Klara Academy with six others, including Sigurd Lewerentz and Osvald Almquist;

1910–11 attended the Klara Academy of Architecture under Carl Bergsten, Ivar Tengbom, Carl Westman, and Ragnar Ösberg ;

1910–11 Worked for I.G.Clason, Stockholm ;

1911–40 private practice, Stockholm ;

1912–13 assistant lecturer, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm ;

1913–14 studied the architecture of Italy and Greece ;

1917–18 special instructor in ornamental art, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm;

1917–20 editor, Arkitektur magazine, Stockholm ;

1931–40 professor of architecture, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm;

1934 Married (1) Gerda Sellman (divorced); married (2) Ingrid Katarina Kling;

20 October 1940 Died in Stockholm, Sweden.



    Interest in Asplund’s work has increased over the last quarter-century, as architects look to designers who were able to synthesize, during the late 1930s, a number of competing architectural traditions in a compelling and personal manner. This, coupled with Asplund’s understanding of the interactive relationship between built elements and the landscape and the creation of appropriate urban spaces, forms, and additions, has stimulated more in-depth analysis of his work. This interest is witnessed by the number of publications that have appeared on his work since 1980. Alison, Filippo, Erik Gunnar Asplund: Mobil i e Ogetti, Milan: Electa, 1985 Caldenby, Claes, and Olof Hultin (editors), Asplund, Stockholm: Arkitektur Förlag, 1985; New York: Rizzoli, 1986 Constant, Caroline, The Woodland Cemetery: Towar d a Spir itual Landscape, Stockholm: Byggförlaget, 1994 Cruickshank, Dan (editor), Erik Gunnar Asplund, London: Architect’s Journal, 1988 de Maré, Erik, Gunnar Asplund: A Great Modern Architect, London: Art and Technics, 1955 Engfors, Christina, E.G. Asplund: Arkitekt, vän och k ollega, Stockholm: Arkitektur Förlag, 1990; as E.G.Asplund: Architect, Friend, and Colleague, Stockholm: Arkitektur Förlag, 1990 Hasegawa, A., Erik Gunnar Asplund, Tokyo: Space Design, 1982 Holmdahl, Gustaf, Sven Ivar Lind, and Kjell Ödeen (editors), Gunnar Asplund, arkitekt, 1885–1940: Ritn ingar, skisser, och fotog rafier, Stockholm: Tidskriften Byggmästaren, 1943; as Gunnar Asplund, Architect, 1885–1940 : Plans, Sketches, and Photo graphs, Stockholm: Tidskriften Byggmästaren, 1950; 2nd edition, Stockholm: Byggförlaget, 1981 Lindvall, Jöran (editor), Asplund: 1885–1940, Stockholm: Arkitekturmuseet and Arkitektur Förlag, 1985 St. John Wilson, Colin (editor), Gunnar Asplund, 1885–1940: The Dilemma o f Classicism, London: Architectural Association, 1988 Wrede, Stuart, The Architecture of Erik Gun nar Asplund, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1980 Zevi, Bruno, Erik Gunnar Asplund, Milan: Il Balcone, 1948









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