Stockholm for Architecture Lovers
Fay Edwards introduces us to a unique style of architecture in Stockholm called “Swedish Grace”.
Stockholm is home to some of the most beautiful buildings in Europe. And as you scan its vibrant cityscape, you may begin to notice an architectural style that is perhaps the most iconic – and by this, I am referring to Swedish Grace.
Swedish Grace refers to the period of architecture and urban planning that developed in the 20th century between the 1910s and 1930s in Sweden. It was a time of social transition and new technological realities that resulted in an architectural departure from the heavy classical traditions of the continent and the ideals of New Romanticism. It was an architecture that celebrated local traditions and quality craftsmanship that – with an evident social conscience – harmonised design elements of the classical past with a fresh awareness of the clarity and modesty of vernacular traditions.
Architects of this period were able to create a new architecture that was characterised by an inventive, playful interpretation of classical proportions and design. Swedish Grace borrowed features from the Baroque, Gustavian and Vasa periods, but consciously stripped these details down to produce a lighter, more refined adaptation of the past.
The resulting architecture draws from the best of classical architecture, but has the confidence to reinterpret its traditions, resulting in simple, honest and proportionate buildings that harmonise together on the street.
Leading architects of this period include Gunnar Asplund, Ragnar Östberg and Ivar Tengbom, with some of their most distinct buildings being the Stockholm City Hall, the Stockholm Concert Hall and the Stockholm City Library.
These buildings exemplify the very best of this period, straddling the divide between tradition and modernism with confidence and grace. Each building is partly open to the public, with guides held daily at the Stockholm City Hall between 10am and 3pm, and free mini classical concerts performed in the Stockholm Concert Hall foyer by young musicians (16-19 years old) every day at between 12pm and 3:30pm. The Stockholm City Library is open weekdays 10am to 7pm, and from 12pm to 4pm on Saturday.
For a trip outside the city, the Chapel of the Resurrection by Sigurd Lewerentz and the Woodland Chapel by Gunnar Asplund are well worth a visit. To get there, catch the green metro line towards Farsta Strand and get off at the Skogskyrkogården station (14 minutes). Upon exiting the station, turn right and walk 100 metres to the entrance. Take your time wandering the woodlands before finding your way to the Woodland Chapel.
As you advance towards its modest façade, you’ll appreciate how the slender columns respond to the trunks of the pines surrounding them. Take note of how the dark shingle roof sits heavily over the façade, and as you move under its gentle embrace, take a peak through the door to admire its sombre yet elegant interior – bathed in pearly light from above.
From here, make your way to the Chapel of the Resurrection.
This building – far more imposing and overtly classical – strikes you with its strong detached portico and austere walls. But as you peak through the door, you’ll notice how the light from the South plays upon the centre of the stark rectangular room, drawing attention to the sombre duty of the space.
As you emerge from the cool woods and return to the city centre, make your way to the Stockholm City Hall by taking the metro back to Rådhuset T-bana. Wander into the immense interior courtyard and pass underneath the portico – to then emerge at the edge of the harbour.
And while there, sit down, admire the city spreading out in front of you, and reflect upon the architecture you’ve just experienced.
For a deeper analysis of the subject, please read “Swedish Grace, The forgotten Modern”, by Peter Elmlund and Johan Martelius.