SWEDISH GRACE: A MERE INTERLUDE OR A FACET OF MODERNITY? First housing experiments in Stockholm

Sweden forms a strange case in the modern development, which this paper aims to examine in detail through the first housing district experiments in Stockholm. Its position on the fringe of the radical ferment of Europe implied a belated advent of modernism in what some prominent critics see through a monolithic viewpoint, such as a homogenizing viewpoint of modernism. When European avant-garde gradually began to decline, functionalism (playfully nicknamed Funkis by the Swedish press) was born in Sweden, an event usually assigned to the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition. The importation of functional principles was overemphasized as a breakthrough, accompanied by engagement in building better housing and envisaging new spatial ideas. But mass housing was not uniquely a product of functionalism. Even before 1930, municipalities and housing cooperatives made great strides in shaping areas of the outskirts and improving communal spaces in courtyard housing blocks, paving the way for subsequent successful configurations. Yet what was conceived before 1930 tended to get overshadowed, such that socalled Swedish Grace with its classical resonances appeared alien to avant-gardism. Conversely to the image of rupture circulating at that time, this contribution aims to show how Scandinavian modern architecture followed rather a «fairly peaceful and trouble-free transition» (Paavilainen, 1982) Starting from the 1980s onwards, the global critical mainstream changed its tune on the multiple legacy of modernity, including neglected, almost forgotten, Swedish Grace. In actual fact, the Italian critical panorama even before, precisely in the in late 1930s and 1960s had already expressed comments in line with a such inclusion of the variety of ways of expression developed in the modern architecture. From being considered a «classical interlude» (Ahlberg, 1943) between National Romanticism and Funkis, Swedish Grace came to be viewed as a fully-fledged facet of modernity. No doubts that the exhibition “Nordisk Klassicism 1910-1930” played a crucial role in the spread of these instances; it opened at the Alvar Aalto Museum in 1982 and, then, it travelled for ten stopovers across Europe in the ensuing three years. In addition, some American scholars rediscovered that framework of Nordic architecture conducting thorough studies in this regard. Parallel to that, they saw valid and inspiring inputs for their “modern classicism” architecture in what was conceived in the Swedish Grace period. 1920s housing interventions indeed accepted the demands of a modern metropolis but also developed their critique of history through an imaginative abstraction which transformed the classical vocabulary of façades into a useful tool for aesthetic democratisation.

Presented at:
Die Multiple Moderne / The Multiple Modernity, Archiv für Baukunst - Universität Innsbruck, 31st January-2nd February
Jan 31 2019

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 Record created 2019-02-04, last modified 2019-12-05

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