Architectural styles have been evolving ever since people started building their first homes. Therefore, architecture is what often allows us to most easily discover when certain buildings or even city parts were born. The styles themselves were not created randomly either and hence, they tell us more about life and society in different periods than can be obvious at first sight.
In this post, we look at the architectural style that became most characteristic of Sweden especially in the latter half of the nineteenth century as well as in the early years of the twentieth. Apart from the style itself, I show you the most notable buildings where you can observe all its elements.
In Sweden, National Romanticism in architecture was largely inspired by older styles from the periods when the country had been a European superpower. Most commonly cited examples are castles and defence constructions from the era of Gustav Vasa or buildings from the period of the Swedish Empire (also known as “the era of great power” per literal translation from Swedish term “stormaktstiden”).
This means that among the most characteristic elements of this style are the so-called ‘honest’ materials used in both exteriors and interiors of buildings. Wood, natural stones, and bricks are essentially all materials you can find at edifices from this era.
While we mostly associate the National Romantic style with public buildings such as those I describe in the latter parts of this post, it also affected the looks of private houses. When thinking of Sweden, many of us imagine the typical red wooden houses with white windows. These also resulted from the popular architectural style and perhaps that is why so many of them are accompanied by a waving Swedish flag enhancing their patriotic appearance.
Starting from the one that was opened last, Stockholm City Hall (Stockholms stadshus) is the first notable National Romantic construction in Stockholm that we are going to look at. The construction of this impressive building started in 1912 and it was eventually completed in 1923 on the anniversary of Gustav Vasa’s entrance to Stockholm. Not only because of the, from the global perspective, complicated period during which it was built, over five times more money was spent on the building than had been estimated before the works started.
It is interesting that the characteristic brick façade was only the architect’s second choice. Ragnar Östberg, the architect of the City Hall, initially presented a design which featured granite exterior. The plan had been changed to meet the budget requirements, which, as I said, had not quite been followed later anyway.
Eventually, the architect loved the brick construction so much that even the world-famous Blue Hall, where the Nobel Banquet takes place every year, was not painted blue as planned but rather left with raw, brick interior.
Apart from hand-made bricks, you can also notice a plenty of granite and marble at the façade, supporting the ideology of ‘honest’ materials. As the most visited attraction in Stockholm, the City Hall offers a plenty to see and has an interesting story to tell.
On the other side of Riddarfjärden bay, there is Högalid Church (Högalids kyrka) which was opened only days before the opening ceremony at the City Hall. Ivar Tengbom, the architect responsible for the design of this church, also participated in the competition for the City Hall’s design but, obviously, with no luck. Therefore, many saw his work on Södermalm as a revenge for not being chosen for the prominent job.
It is clear from the available historical sources that, for example, the two characteristic towers were created to compete against the massive tower on the other side of the bay as one would not stand a chance.
Competition between the architects aside, this church is a stunning artistic creation and one of the most important examples of the National Romantic style in the Swedish capital. It is not only its design that distinguishes it from the crowds, though. It is also seen by many as the Sweden’s last church built as a central place in a growing urban community.
Likely the most notable representative of National Romanticism in Sweden is Carl Westman who is responsible for Stockholm Court House (Stockholms rådhus) residing on Kungsholmen, not far from the City Hall. Unlike the previous two buildings, the Court House has a plastered façade. Do not let that confuse you, though. Underneath, you can find only the best quality materials including bricks and natural stones.
The building opened in 1915 was immediately celebrated by the locals for its massiveness and simplicity. The true ingenuity of Westman’s design can only be discovered after a closer examination, though. Essentially every decoration you can see at the building, also has a practical use. Even architect Östberg expressed his admiration for the Court House and who knows how much inspiration he found there for his own work that was still in a relatively early stage when this edifice was completed.
The last example of the National Romantic style from Stockholm does not follow the principles of this style quite as much as the previous ones but is without a doubt a place you want to see. Stockholm Olympic Stadium (Stockholms stadion) was built for the 1912 Olympics and has since become a legend among sports stadiums.
Architect Torben Grut, who was an athlete himself, designed the stadium and its surroundings with a great passion and a thoughtful long-term vision in mind. A common theme with the Court House is that the architect himself stated that every detail of the building was created by the needs of the construction.
Grut also said that the stadium’s design was plain like a boat or a bridge with the aesthetics created by the materials and proportions. Once again, the red-brick façade is accompanied by granite blocks, which in this case, were meant to be turned into sculptures. However, this plan has never been executed and most of the blocks have kept their original shape to this day.
Of course, there are other places in Stockholm where you can admire National Romantic architecture. I believe that these are good places to start, though, and I might bring you stories of others in the future.
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