Schools. Most of us attended a few of them in our lifetime. Many of us still visit one, or perhaps even several of them, regularly, and almost everyone is likely to know a school in their neighbourhood. In Stockholm, but also in Sweden in general, schools are often more than just educational institutions. Many school buildings are so impressive that even if you have never been inside, they can enrich your everyday life or at least your visit to the city.
In this guide, I show you buildings and campuses housing primary schools, secondary schools, and even colleges and universities. Some of them were built for the purpose, others have been repurposed at a later point during their lifetime. Most still serve for education today, others have found a different calling. All of them are very much worth your visit, though.
First up is one of the most modern additions to the Stockholm education scene, the so-called NOD building where the Department of Computer and Systems Sciences of Stockholm University resides. This unique modern structure stands out even in the tough competition of modern business architecture in Stockholm’s tech district, Kista. Nicknamed “Sweden’s Silicon Valley,” Kista is where you would find offices of many renowned local, as well as foreign, tech companies.
You might be surprised to find the next place in this guide. While it is true that the story of Karlberg Palace (Karlbergs slott) began as far back as the 17th century when it served as a noble residence, a lot has changed since those times. In fact, Karlberg Palace has housed the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences (Kungliga krigsvetenskapsakademien) since 1796. This makes it the world’s longest-serving home of a war academy.
The first of the so-called ‘school palaces’ we visit is Katarina Norra Skola (‘Katarina Northern School’). It is located near Katarina Church in the eastern part of the Södermalm Island, and with its elegant red-brick façade and massive entrance portal, it represents everything that is typical of school palaces. Perhaps only its size could be said to be somewhat smaller than that of other local schools from around the turn of the 20th century.
As you might expect, if there is Katarina Northern then there needs to be one on the south, too. Though Katarina Södra Skola (‘Katarina Southern School’) was opened only seven years earlier, its style is significantly different from the school I just presented you. It has a bright-yellow plastered façade which is hard to miss no matter from which side you arrive. Its welcoming gate with two classical lanterns not only creates a nice addition to the scenery, but it also reminds you of what you are looking at and of the year 1888, which is when the gate first opened for pupils.
Proving that the number of people residing in Södermalm was exploding in the late 1800s, another major school palace was built in the western part of the island. By many, Mariaskolan (‘Maria School’) was considered the most monumental of them all. Already at the time of its original construction, it has such facilities as an indoor pool and a bath for those of their 3,000 students who came from such poverty that they did not care about their hygiene at home.
Opened as early as 1880, Norra Latin was one of the first of this monumental kind of schools in Stockholm. Its impressive building still stands in the modern centre of the Swedish capital but does not serve its original purpose anymore. The school closed after a little more than a hundred years of operation and only some twenty years after it opened its gates to girls, too. Today, it houses a conference centre.
Somewhat hidden in Vasastan, near the northern end of the long Birger Jarlsgatan, you would find one of two nearly identical school buildings located in different parts of Stockholm. This building completed in 1890 houses Stockholm’s oldest upper-secondary school dating from the 14th century. Moreover, Norra Real is an absolute architectural masterpiece which, I believe, you will love.
Coming close to the historical heart of the city, we explore another place which was built as a private residence back in the day when the nobles lived in residences large enough to house an entire school. The Royal Academy of Fine Arts (Konstakademien) has resided in the 17th-century palace near Rosenbad for centuries, and its building has, therefore, become synonymous with the institution.
Now to the biggest treat for the fans of modern architecture. The campus of the Royal College of Music (Kungliga Musikhögskolan) opened in 2016 ingeniously combines historical and modern architecture in a perfect symbiosis. The eye-pleasing structures are accessible to the public thanks to the restaurant residing in the main building, as well as the numerous concerts organised by the institution in its impressive concert halls.
I warmly recommend you book a (free) ticket to one of the performances and go enjoy some nice music of your choice in the most pleasant of environments.
Art institutions have not said their last word yet. Formerly a part of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts until 1978, the Royal Institute of Art (Kungliga Konsthögskolan) resides in the peaceful milieu of the Skeppsholmen Island. The entrance to the main building is guarded by replicas of a lion and a boar whose originals stand on the main staircase at the aforementioned palace housing the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.
The oldest technological educational institution in Sweden is represented in this guide by two impressive places. First, we visit its former home on the northern end of Drottninggatan. The Royal Institute of Technology (Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan) resided in the 1860s campus for almost sixty years between its completion and the opening of the new one on Valhallavägen. However, parts of the institute did not move out before the 1940s. Today, the buildings facing Spökparken and Observatorielunden behind it house offices of multiple businesses.
The current main campus of the Royal Institute of Technology stands, as mentioned, on Valhallavägen – one of the most impressive turn-of-the-century boulevards in Stockholm. Completed in 1917, the campus itself belongs to the most beautiful in Sweden, especially thanks to its massive, yet welcoming design reminding me of traditional English university campuses.
Back on Skeppsholmen, there is one additional building we have yet to discover. Perhaps the most impressive structure on the entire island, the late 1870s building standing on its southern side was erected as the home of the former Royal Swedish Naval Academy (Kungliga Sjökrigsskolan). The palatial Renaissance building served its original purpose until 1943 when the school had moved out before being shut down in 1987.
Hopefully, you remember that I have mentioned earlier in the guide that one of the schools, Norra Real, was almost identical to another structure in Stockholm. Its near-identical twin stands pretty close to the Old Town (Gamla stan) in the northern part of Södermalm. Just like in the case of the school residing in Vasastan, Södra Latin also has a much longer history than its current building with its predecessor dating back to the mid-1600s.
The era of school palaces was slowly coming to its end in the early 20th century. It did not end before one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Stockholm also received its new school which would provide education to the young generation from the neighbourhood of the White Mountains (Vita Bergen) borough in south-eastern Södermalm.
Sofia Skola (‘Sofia School’), inaugurated in 1910, is by many considered the last true school palace in Stockholm and when you walk by the building today, it is hard to believe that some 100 years ago, this area used to be the home of the poorest Stockholmers.
Östermalm, on the other hand, was an upscale district already around the turn of the 20th century. On one of its major streets, Linnégatan, you would find the Garnisonen (‘Garrison’) Quarter with a large building complex whose oldest parts were constructed in the late 19th century. Among many other things, this place is now the home of the Stockholm University of the Arts (Stockholms Konstnärliga Högskola) where you could study anything from opera through film to circus.
The last school building we visit in this guide stands on Karlbergsvägen in Vasastan since 1926. While the building is massive just like most of the buildings from the late 19th and early 20th century, the façade of Vasa Real (also Vasa realskola) is clearly simpler as the functionalist ideology was already making its way into the Swedish architecture at the time. Formerly, the school also resided on Regeringsgatan, not very far from the current location.