Presentation / Talk

Southern echoes in a Swedish Wanderer. The urban complex Stockholm Town hall-Committee building of Ragnar Östberg (1909-1940)

Towards the end of the 19th century travels were still marking a rite de passage in the education and self- development of architects’ idiom, especially for Norden countries. Albeit manifesting significant German influences, their condition of a seemingly separate province on the margins of Europe, where their topoi remind us of a reality utterly in contrast to the Mediterranean culture, made that experience of knowledge more inspiring for them. As a matter of fact, the South would remain the focus of their interest, even though new itineraries and ways of contemplation changed the previous approach spread by the aristocratic Grand Tour. The importance of travels lays also in two reasons strictly intertwined: on the one hand, the narrow teaching method in Swedish universities at that time based on rigid principles deduced from the French Beaux-arts, and, on the other hand, the emerging problems of the ensuing projects by some architects beginning to adorn the streets of Stockholm, that so far have resembled a “mimetically inspiration from various foreign countries” (Östberg, 1901). But, how did the South affected the Swedish architectural panorama? On a severe winter day of March 1896 the architect of the Stockholm Town hall, at the time being thirty years old and and some years after completing his studies as well, set out his stipendieresan in order to get a directly understanding of those works of art and landscapes far from Swedish ones. Thus, the presentation would examine how the Swedish master approach to the Southern journey went beyond the references of the antiquity as we previously mentioned, nevertheless it was partially in debt to the Romantic aesthetically mind-set which does not consider nature, art and architecture as a mere example to be copied. Thanks to travelling Östberg discovered the allure of the variety, that means seeking the “genius of the locus”. Each new architecture seen along the itinerary was capable of providing stimulating inputs, which he manages to assemble in a personal and proper expression of the National Romantic identity. The example of the urban complex (1901-1940) of the Town hall (Stadshuset), including its nearby never- to-be realized part, the Commission building (Nämndhuset) placed in the archipelago of Stockholm, is here analysed through some its explicit, or yet concealed, travelling fragments.

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