- The plan for the Diplomatic City was accepted in 1912
- It was meant to become a neighbourhood occupied by foreign government institutions
- Because of the World War, the parcels ended up in the hands of wealthy Swedish families
- Today, only one villa is used as a private residence
The Östermalm district in Stockholm is formed by many beautiful neighbourhoods that make a visit to this area a delightful experience. It is also why we cover this district extensively at Trevl so that you do not miss any interesting corner of the district made famous worldwide especially by its exclusive water-front promenade Strandvägen. In this post, I tell you the story of a neighbourhood located right next to this popular boulevard.
Before we get into the details of how Diplomatstaden (‘The Diplomatic City’) has become the place it is today, we shall take a quick glance at what had been in its location before the authorities decided to build this new neighbourhood.
Without going too far back in history, we can say that the oldest building you will find in the Diplomatic City is the house of the ‘Old Forest Institute’ (Gamla Skogsinstitutet) dating from 1733. However, it was not before the late 1820s that the institution after which the building is named today moved in.
At the time, there was a large park standing next to the building covering most of the area of the modern-day neighbourhood. What was truly unique about the park was the fact that all tree species wildly growing in Sweden were represented there. The house itself underwent a major reconstruction in the 1850s and additions were made to it even in the early 20th century.
Only a few years later, the land belonging to the Institute was divided into several properties and streets in preparation for the realisation of the new city plan presented by architect Per Olof Hallman in 1907. This plan resulted from the decision of the Swedish Parliament (Sveriges Riksdag) which had decided to sell significant parts of the land in the area.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the plan, though, was the intention to build a grandiose Nobel Palace next to the historical building occupied by the Forest Institute. This palace was meant to be the place where the Nobel Foundation would organise the world-famous yearly award ceremonies. Nevertheless, the palace has never been built and hence, the only places that got to carry the name of the inventor Alfred Nobel are the park nowadays known as Nobelparken and the street passing through it.
Although the city criticised the plan to build in the recreational area, it eventually accepted it in 1912. Only two of the existing three quarters, Diplomaten and Legationssekreteraren were then parts of the plan. The eastern one, Ambassadören, was added the following year.
The authorities proved that they had a clear vision for the newly created city part from the very beginning. First of all, they only allowed each building to have a maximum of two kitchens – one for the owner and the other for their servants or guards – and demarcated relatively small parcels. Both these measures were meant to prevent developers from building larger apartment buildings in the neighbourhood which was meant to be dominated by the Nobel Palace.
Moreover, the vision clearly defined that ideally the area would be occupied by representative buildings of foreign governments. This idea had also been supported by the name of the area which had been chosen beforehand rather than after foreign officials have moved there as one could logically assume.
The execution of the plan seemed to be going pretty well for a while as several countries including Germany, Norway, and the United Kingdom showed interest in building their embassies in the area almost immediately. However, the World War came and foreign authorities had other issues to worry about than building representative houses in Stockholm. Therefore, only the Britons went ahead with their plan and the so-called British Residence (Brittiska residenset) was erected at Laboratoriegatan 8 in 1915.
Since the original idea did not quite work out due to the complicated political situation at the time, the remaining properties at the Diplomatic City were quickly embraced by wealthy Swedish families that employed the nation’s most remarkable architects to design their new residences. Among the architects who left their mark on the villas at Diplomatstaden are Ivar Tengbom, responsible for the Högalid Church, Ragnar Östberg, the author of Stockholm City Hall, Carl Westman who designed the Court House on Kungsholmen, and several others.
The twelve residences you can see in the area today were built in a fairly uniform style with brick or plastered facades and stone or wooden décor. Another common feature the villas share is their openness toward the beach while their opposite sides are more private with higher walls and fences. Of course, the gardens surrounding the villas as well as both interior and exterior decorations are works of Sweden’s leading artists and designers.
Even though it took a few extra decades, the state’s wish to build a neighbourhood almost solely occupied by foreign government institutions eventually came true. Today, only Villa Geber at Laboratoriegatan 6 is used as a private residence while all the remaining properties are occupied by either foreign or Swedish government institutions.
Not less impressive than the residences themselves is the church hidden among them, that complements the atmosphere of the location. The story of the English Church (Engelska kyrkan) is fascinating if you ask me. It was originally built between 1863 and 1865. The catch is, though, that it was built on Wallingatan in the Norrmalm district some 3 kilometres from its current location.
The church designed by English architect Gustavus Hamilton was then dismantled stone by stone and reassembled in the Diplomatic City in 1913. Essentially the only change that has been made to its design was the slight extension of the longhouse. It is also interesting from the design perspective, mostly thanks to the extensive use of limestone on all parts of the church. Notice that even the spire is made of stone, which is very rare in Sweden.
Interesting things to see in the area do not end there. The English Church is surrounded by the Garrison Cemetery (Garnisonskyrkogården) opened in 1860 and on the same property, you will even find the Princess Hall which was inaugurated in 1958 as the parish house by Princess Margaret of the United Kingdom.
At Kruthusplan, which is the little square dividing the two original, western quarters from the newer, eastern one, there is a bronze replica of the famous sculpture ‘Fountain of Diana’ whose original is located in one of the world’s most famous museums, the Louvre.
I hope that you found the story of the Diplomatic City in Stockholm interesting and that you will get the chance to see the beautiful buildings located there in person. Until then, consider sharing this post with your friends who you think might like it and support us at producing more stories like this one.
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Rittsél, Johan, Engström, Johan, 2005. Husen i Nationalstadsparken.