Swedish architecture at the beginning of the 20th century was characterized by the same search for an appropriate style that was taking place on the European continent at the same time. In addition to a range of stylistic tendencies, architects faced new tasks resulting from social and political changes, housing shortages, rapid urban growth, and the development of new materials and principles of construction. One of the most significant responses to the advent of novel materials and construction techniques came from Ferdinand Boberg, the architect of the 1897 Stockholm Art and Industry Exhibition. Boberg rejected the prevalent adherence to a neo-Renaissance style, instead employing simpler medieval and Romanesque forms and reevaluating the role of ornament (Electricity Works, 1889–92; Rosenbad Bank Building, 1899–1904). Although he did not reject the uses of ornament, Boberg believed that a building’s form should be based on function and that the inherent properties of materials used in its construction should be a primary consideration. These notions would be further developed and find their fullest expression later in the century.
Governed by economic necessity, commercial buildings constructed around the turn of the century employed new, more efficient materials and methods of construction imported from outside Sweden. In 1898, Johan Laurentz constructed the first building for commercial purposes in Stockholm using iron and glass as the major elements for the facade. One year earlier, in 1898, Ernst Stenhammar had used a steel frame to construct a facade devoid of ornament derived from historical references; Stenhammar was also the first Swedish architect to use reinforced concrete in the Myrstedt and Stern Building (1908–10).
Like materials and methods of construction, stylistic tendencies were subject to importation and further contributed to the debate over what was appropriate. One end of the spectrum was represented by Carl Bergsten, whose Industrial Hall at the 1906 Art and Industry Exhibition in Norrköping was clearly influenced by the work of Otto Wagner and other architects active in Vienna at the time, and the other by Georg A.Nilsson, whose stripped-down facades and clear plans anticipated functionalism. Reacting to the former tendency, Carl Westman criticized the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, completed in 1908 by
Fredrik Lilljekvist, for its adherence to style at the expense of function and the inconsistent use of ornament derived from the Art Nouveau and Jugendstil movements that had developed in continental Europe. Westman’s own position was made clear in the Medical Association Building (1904–06) in Stockholm, which is characterized by clear expression of material and simple facade treatment. The work of Westman and those influenced by it, such as Ragnar Östberg (Östermalm Teacher’s College, 1906–10; Stockholm Town Hall, 1902–23), Lars Israel Wahlman (Engelbrekt Church, 1905–14), and Sigfrid Ericson (Masthugget Church, 1907–14), has been categorized as part of a movement known as “National Romanticism.”
Reactions to National Romanticism included a return to a classical form language, as exemplified in Ivar Tengbom’s Enskilda Bank Building (1912–15) and Swedish Match Corporate Headquarters Building (1926–28). During this period, influences from neighboring Denmark were readily apparent and served to inspire the return to classicism, as in Carl Petersen’s Faaborg Museum (1912–15). The influence of classicism is apparent in the early work of Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz. Of particular note is the proposed crematorium for Helsingborg designed by Lewerentz and Torsten Stubelius in 1914 and the development of the original proposal for the Woodland Cemetery developed by Lewerentz and Asplund in 1915. While continuing work on the Woodland Cemetery, Asplund completed the Lister County Courthouse (1919–21), a decidedly classical building based on pure geometric forms, and the Stockholm Public Library (1924–28), which can be seen as indicative of the shift from neoclassicism to functionalism.
During the mid-1920s, attention turned to developments occurring on the European continent. One of the major proponents of the ideas developed there was Uno Åhrén, who had traveled to the 1925 Paris Exhibition and reported on the work of Le Corbusier. The 1927 Stuttgart Exhibition and new housing being developed in Germany influenced architects in Sweden at the time, as did the periodical Kritisk Revy, published by the Danish architect Poul Henningsen between 1926 and 1928. Among the earliest functionalist buildings designed by Swedish architects were the industrial structures and housing in a company town known as the Kvarholm Complex in Nacka (1927–34) and the Tiden office building (1929), both designed by the Cooperative movement’s architects office headed by Eskil Sundahl. Other significant functionalist buildings included an office building on Drottninggatan in central Stockholm, designed by Wolter Gahn, and the Student’s Building (1930) at the Royal College of Technology and the Helsingborg Concert Hall (1932), designed by Sven Markelius.
The 1930s was a time of great change in the social and economic structure of Sweden. High unemployment, housing shortages, and substandard living conditions plagued the country. The response by architects came via the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition and the accompanying manifesto titled acceptera, or “accept.” The manifesto was written by Gregor Paulsson (director of the Swedish Handicraft Association and general commissioner of the exhibition), Gunnar Asplund, Wolter Gahn, Sven Markelius, Eskil Sundahl, and Uno Åhrén. This document and the exhibition out of which it grew attempted to outline an approach based on “everyday” issues. The main Exhibition Building (1930), designed by Asplund, who was appointed principal architect, clearly reveals his affinity for functionalism. Asplund would go on to complete other significant buildings in Sweden, including the crematorium and adjoining chapels at the Woodland Cemetery (1935–40), the Bredenberg Department Store (1935), the extension to the Gothenburg Court House (1936), and the National Bacteriological Laboratory (1937).
One of the major themes of the Stockholm Exhibition was housing, and of particular interest were the open-plan terrace houses designed by Uno Åhrén. Problems associatedwith housing continued to plague Swedish society well into the 20th century, and the Housing Commission was appointed in 1933 to investigate the problems and propose solutions. Out of these investigations came the concept of “collective” housing, and the most significant contributions to this building type were the apartment block on John Ericssongatan by Sven Markelius in 1935 and the Yrkeskvinnornas House (1939) by Albin Stark and Hillevi Svedberg.
Throughout the 1940s, the government worked to establish guidelines for housing. During this time, many architects reacted against the monotony resulting from the rows of parallel blocks of apartments built to solve the housing shortage throughout the 1930s; notable proposals included the first tower block houses in Sweden, known as “star houses” because of their starlike plan configuration, built in Stockholm by Sven Backström and Leif Reinius in 1945. Backström and Reinius were responsible for other inventive proposals, including a large housing area in Gröndal built between 1945 and 1952. The concern for large-scale solutions to housing problems is also manifest in plans for the area of Årsta in Stockholm, initiated in 1942 by Uno Åhrén and continued by Erik and Tore Ahlsén into the 1950s.
The 1940s brought increased international attention to architecture in Sweden as a result of the work of Backström and Reinius and others. Attention was once again focused on Sweden with the publication of Sweden Builds in 1950 by G.E.Kidder Smith. In a 1947 article, the English periodical Architectural Review labeled the work in Sweden as a part of a movement known as “New Empiricism,” which was characterized as a way of building on the basis of experience and a practical knowledge of material traditions. One the most significant contributions came from Nils Tesch, who, just as the previous generation of architects, turned to Denmark for inspiration, particularly the work of Kay Fisker and C.F.Møller. A number of Danish architects had emigrated to Sweden during World War II, and a number of them worked for Tesch, including Erik Asmussen, who would go on to become the main architect for the Anthroposophical movement and complete a series of buildings for this group in Järna between 1968 and 1992.
In 1942, the English architect Ralph Erskine began to work in Sweden. Although clearly influenced by developments in Sweden, Erskine’s work is highly expressive and incorporates a wide range of seemingly disparate materials. Of particular significance are the Tourist Hotel in Borgafjäll (1948); a housing, school, and commercial center (1945– 55) in Gyttorp; the Luleå Shopping Center (1955); the Byker housing development (1968–82) in Newcastle, England; and a series of buildings done for Stockholm University since 1972.
Many of the large-scale projects initiated in the 1950s would carry over into the 1960s, including the central area of Stockholm and a suburban area of the city known as Vällingby, both based on plans by Sven Markelius. Another large-scale undertaking, the “Million Program,” was initiated to construct one mil-lion dwellings between 1965 and 1974 and exerted great influence on architecture and planning during these years. The center of Stockholm was transformed during the 1960s by the pureglass PUB Department Store (1960) by Erik and Tore Ahlsén, Ahléns Department Store (1964) by Backström and Reinius, and the Culture House, Town Theatre, and Bank of Sweden Building, all designed by Peter Celsing between 1966 and 1976.
Celsing was also responsible for the Härlanda Church, which was awarded as a resultof a competition in 1952 and completed in 1958. Just as at Härlanda, Celsing went on to complete a series of simple churches built from dark-fired Helsingborg bricks, including the Church of St. Thomas in Vällingby (1959), Almtuna Church in Uppsala (1959), and Bolinden Church (1960). Although Celsing introduced a building style that explored the role of brick in religious structures, it was Sigurd Lewerentz who demonstrated the full potential of brick construction in religious buildings with St. Mark’s Church (1960) and St. Peter’s Church (1963–67).
The last building to be constructed by Lewerentz was a small flower kiosk (1969) within the Malmo Eastern Cemetery that he had planned and worked on since 1916. The influence of Lewerentz is apparent in the work of friend and colleague Klas Anshelm, including the Lund Town Hall (1961–66), the Lund Art Gallery (1954–57), the Malmö Art Museum (1976), and the buildings completed for Lund University between 1948 and 1978. Bernt Nyberg, an architect who had worked with both Lewerentz and Anshelm, reveals his indebtedness to both of them in the Lund County Archive (1971), the Höör Chapel (1972), and the “Sparta” student housing complex and Lund University (1964– 71).
The oil crisis in 1974 greatly affected Sweden’s economy and contributed to the collapse of the Million Program. Large-scale building programs were no longer feasible, and much of the work for architects involved renovations and the upgrading of existing buildings. Economic recovery in the 1980s generated new building commissions resulting from urban-renewal programs and a number of “new towns” planned as an alternative to urban sprawl. Of particular relevance is the area of Skarpnäck on the outskirts of Stockholm.
The search for an appropriate style that characterized turnof-the-century debates has reappeared in Sweden, accompanied by a multiplicity of approaches and stylistic tendencies. Whereas the Vasa Museum (1990) by Månsson and Dahlbäck was clearly influenced by contemporary architecture based on complex geometries and a divorce of plan and section, architects such as Gunnar Mattsson and Carl Nyrén have adopted a classical form language reminiscent of Postmodern architecture, but with a greater care for material and detailing. The work of contemporary architects Gert Windgårdh, Anders Landström, and Johan Celsing represents efforts to reconcile Postmodernism and the clean lines that characterized Swedish architecture during the 1930s and 1940s.
Although architecture in Sweden during the 20th century has been characterized by intense exchange of ideas with other countries, actual buildings by foreign architects did not appear in the country until the final part of the century, with the notable exception of a series of houses by the Austrian architect Josef Franck in the late 1920s and early 1930s and two apartment complexes by Swiss architects Alfred Roth and Ingrid Wallberg in 1930. Recent buildings by architects from other countries include the Volvo Headquarters (1984) by the American Romaldo Giurgola, the SAS Headquarters (1987) by the Norwegian Niels Torp, and the Malmö Town Library by Henning Larsen from Denmark. In 1990, an international competition for the Museums of Modern Art and Architecture was won by the Spanish architect Rafael Moneo. Completed in 1998, this complex thoughtfully considers the development of architecture in Sweden during the 20th century and offers a significant contribution to the debate about its future directions.
Like other European architects during the latter part of the 20th century, Swedish architects have considered issues of sustainability and ecology. Contributions in this area come from the HSB:S Architects Office at the Understenshöjden Residential Development (1990–95) by Christer Nordström and White architects. With broad-based popular and political support, Sweden has the possibility of developing an economically and ecologically sustainable architecture. However, the question remains whether architects in Sweden can mediate between international influences and the high level of architectural production that has warranted praise from historians and critics of 20thcentury architecture.
Sennott R.S. Encyclopedia of twentieth century architecture, Vol.3. Fitzroy Dearborn., 2005.
For an introduction to architecture in Sweden at midcentury, see Kidder Smith. A comprehensive account of Swedish architecture in the 20th century is presented in Caldenby et al. (1998), which also includes brief biographies of significant architects and an extensive bibliography. For in-depth treatments of the work of individual architects, see Coates, Collymore, Dymling, Rudberg, Walton, Wang, and Wrede.
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Modern Museum and Swedish Museum of Architecture in Stockholm
Sweden: The Middle Way on Trial