It is not worth hiding that I enjoy ingenious combinations of tradition with modernity. When done well, modern additions to historic sites can greatly enhance their quality. Integrating modern technologies into the areas of life where they were previously unavailable while preserving the existing value creates more pleasant and seamless experiences for people.
Obviously, there are many other and many more specific examples but what I want to talk about in this post is one of the most beautiful modern buildings in Stockholm and its relation to a prestigious historic institution. Aula Medica brings contemporary design and function to an institution with a long-standing academic tradition in the field of medicine, the Karolinska Institute (Karolinska Institutet).
As the leading institution in the field, Karolinska Institute (KI) is essentially synonymous with the history of Swedish medicine as a whole. Founded in 1810 by King Karl XIII, the institute has turned from an academy for army surgeons to Sweden’s only university focusing solely on medicine.
What did Karl XIII aim to achieve when founding the academy, though? His idea was inspired by the inadequate skills of Swedish army surgeons operating in the Finnish War during which one in three wounded soldiers did not make it. Interestingly, though, Sweden has not been at war since 1814, so the purpose of the organisation has slowly changed.
Some particularly big changes occurred around a hundred years after the institute was founded when first, Jöns Jacob Berzelius, whom you may know thanks to his statue at Berzelii park (Berzelii parken), laid the foundation of the scientific work at Karolinska.
Shortly afterwards, the Institute adopted the name Carolinska Institutet (Caroline Institute) and later Kongliga Carolinska Institutet (Royal Caroline Institute), followed by Carolinska Medico Chirurgiska Institutet.
Just like the institute has carried different names over the years, it has also resided in various locations. First, it occupied a building at Riddarholmen in the Old Town of Stockholm. During the 19th century, the organisation moved across the lake to a new building complex next to the present-day City Hall. While you can still find a former campus in the location today, the current buildings come from a later period.
All this moving and restructuring did not take the focus away from the main objectives of the institution and Karolinska was granted a status equivalent to universities, as well as the right to issue academic degrees in 1861.
Another prestigious privilege was added to the institute’s repertoire at the end of the century when it was given the right to select Nobel Prize laureates in physiology or medicine by the testament of Alfred Nobel.
Not only has Karolinska Institute been selecting the laureates ever since, but five researchers from its own ranks have also received the prize themselves.
In 1945, it was time to move again. This time, to a modern campus located just outside of the city borders in Solna. Despite the importance of the institute, funds were limited when building the new campus, which meant that the plans for a large lecture hall drawn by architect Ture Rydberg were abandoned.
Years went by, and even after receiving university status, Karolinska Institute was still without a lecture hall it could use to host large events and be proud of. However, things were about to change when the authorities managed to secure a sizeable donation from the Erling-Persson Family Foundation established in memory of Erling Persson, the founder of H&M.
The donation of 350 million SEK covered most of the costs of the project authored by a renowned architect firm Wingårdh which won the announced architectural contest in 2001. The project was put on hold for a while, and plans were modified in the meantime, but eventually, a new building started rising from the ground on the side of Solnavägen, just across the road from Karolinska University Hospital (Karolinska Universitetssjukhuset).
In three short years, the impressive Aula Medica was complete. With a total area of some 10,000 square metres, 7 floors, 100 conference seats, 2 restaurants, a café, and office spaces for 90 members of the staff it may already seem like a big achievement.
However, the design of the building is, in my opinion, its most impressive feat. The unique shape of the structure with a maximum incline of the façade of 33 degrees and an overhang of 23 metres oriented towards Solnavägen is unlike anything I have seen. Moreover, the 6,000 glass panels making up the façade not only reflect light beautifully but also create an amazing contrast with the surrounding red-brick buildings.
That is still not all, though. Aula Medica is also an energy-efficient building and its interior features such attractions as a waterfall covering 40 square metres of a wall. Floors made of white-stained or smoked oak add a certain degree of cosiness to the interior as well.
When everything was in place, Stefan Persson himself symbolically handed the keys to the building to Vice Chancellor of Karolinska Institute, Anders Hamsten. The following year, Aula Medica received a prestigious architectural prize ‘Building of the Year’ awarded annually by the Byggindustrin magazine.
I truly hope that you will find the time to go and explore Aula Medica together with other parts of the Karolinska Institute’s campus and that you will find this background story inspiring.
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The building Aula Medica. [ki.se].
Byggnaden Aula Medica. [ki.se].
KI through the centuries. [ki.se].
Så blir prestigebygget Aula Medica vid KI. 2013. [fastighetsvarlden.se].