- Stockholm Court House was completed in 1915
- It is located across the park from Stockholm Police House
- The house is one of the most notable examples of the National Romantic architectural style
If you had the chance to visit the Kungsholmen island only a little more than a hundred years ago, you would have seen a completely different scenery from what you can find on the island today. I have previously told you the stories of two major constructions that were built in this part of Stockholm in the early 1900s and now it is time to get to know another one.
Stockholm Court House (Stockholms rådhus) is impossible to miss if you are anywhere near it. We will get to its impressive dimensions and design a little later, though, and start this story a few decades before the building itself stood ready.
The discussion about the need for a new court house in Stockholm became lively in the 1870s when the institution started to feel too tight at Bonde Palace (Bondeska palatset) on the northern edge of the Old Town (Gamla stan). This situation was not unique to the court. Quite the opposite, actually. Many state institutions outgrew their facilities located in the historical heart of the city and were forced, willingly or not, to look for other options.
In 1882, the magistrate was ordered to specify the needs for a new court house so that the authorities could take further action. It took the organisation five years to gather the requirements and additional two to create and actionable plan. Only then, the discussion regarding the location of the planned facilities began. And it was long.
Many places in various parts of Central Stockholm were considered during the nearly 20-year period. Among them was the quarter where Bonde Palace stands, the land on which the Police House was later built, a location by the Berzelii Park in Norrmalm, the Eldkvarnen quarter where Stockholm City Hall stands, a place near the Royal Palace in the Old Town, and a few others.
The final decision was made as late as 1908 when finally, the Fruktkorgen (“Fruit basket”) quarter on Kungsholmen was chosen for a variety of reasons including the proximity to the Police House, which was then still under construction. It was not only important for these two institutions to reside near each other from practical perspective but also from the legal viewpoint. If you like, you can read more about this issue in the post on the Police House.
Three years after the location had been chosen, the works on the foundation began, quickly followed by the construction of the building itself. The modern building drawn by architect Carl Westman was opened in roughly three years, in 1915.
It was considered modern at the time because of the inclusion of many things we consider obvious today such as running water, gas, electricity, toilets, and elevators. The Court House also received a cutting-edge central heating and a ventilation system to regulate the temperature in the interior.
Even though we talk about the Court House as a single building, it is actually a complex formed by two separate constructions joined by inner yards that have glassed roofs today. One of these two houses is the one with the impressive tower facing Scheelegatan and the other faces Polishusparken.
The building’s façade was designed with the intention to impose respect and show that justice is bigger than any individual wish or need. Carl Westman belonged to the most notable representatives of the National Romantic movement in Swedish architecture and Stockholm Court House is a bright example of this fact.
So-called ‘honest’ materials were used all over the building from the brick façade, to stone sculptures and floors. Windows designed in several forms and sizes give the building a regular but lively character with enough variation to keep it from being too plain. Even the details and decorations were thoughtfully designed to serve more than just aesthetic purpose in most cases.
For all of these reasons, the Court House has been admired ever since it was completed. Not only Stockholmers and visitors of the Swedish capital but also other notable architects including Ragnar Östberg, who designed Stockholm City Hall located nearby, publicly expressed their admiration for the building.
At the time when national feelings were strong due to the ongoing war plaguing the continent, the locals loved to see the massive construction inspired by the fortresses connected to the very foundation of the nation. Everyone seemed to be pleased with the reminiscence of the Vasa’s era castles and the Court House became a kind of a symbol of everything Swedish. Simplicity, quietness, massiveness, honesty…
Interestingly, this facility also became the house of Sweden’s first room for civil marriage. The event was considered so important by the authorities that a separate art competition was made to pick an artist who would get the honour of decorating the room.
Isaac Grünewald won the competition but his painting was never placed into the room. Why? It contained nudity, which started a heated moral debate and eventually led to Grünewald losing the prominent assignment. Filip Månsson, whose painting was placed there instead, created a more traditional, romantic image, which would not result in any controversies.
Both the exterior and the interior of Stockholm Court House feature abundant symbolic decorations and as I said earlier, many of them also have a practical purpose. For example, notice the wall anchors visible on the façade.
On several sides of the building you will see anchors shaped as letters SSRS standing for ‘Stockholms Stads Råds Stuga’ and next to the only balcony in the building, there is a wall anchor shaped as a key. Since the balcony is accessible from the room originally created as the Mayor’s office, this key symbolises that it was the Mayor’s responsibility to guard the keys from the city.
Apart from these thoughtful decorations, there are many stone sculptures, including those representing the seven deadly sins displayed near the main entrance. In the upper main hall, on the other hand, you would find a replica of the famous sculpture known as ‘Kopparmatte,’ which in the past used to stand at squares near penalty equipment to remind citizens that they should obey the law.
The interior of the court house even hides a gallery with a collection of stunning paintings depicting Stockholm’s historic sites such as the former seat of the courts, Bonde Palace, among other things. Not less interesting are the many representations of the Stockholm’s oldest castle built on the hills of the Old Town.
As you can see, Stockholm Court House is a massive and plain building at first sight but once you start paying closer attention to all its details, you can discover its whole new face, which is much more subtle, thoughtful, and sensitive than you might expect.
If you have not visited the court house in person yet, I hope that this post will inspire you to do so, and if you have, chances are you have not noticed every interesting detail at the building and this story helps you find a different perspective to look at it.
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Arvidsson, Ann-Sofie, Berke, Lena, Lundgren, Lars, Sjölund, Eva, 2015. Rättvisans borg. Rådhuset 100 år.