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. When European avant-garde gradually began to decline, functionalism (Funkis) 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 so-called Swedish Grace with its classical resonances appeared alien to avant-gardism. Conversely to the image of rupture circulating at that time, Scandinavian modern architecture followed a “fairly peaceful and trouble-free transition” (Pallasmaa, Paavilainen, 1982). Starting from the 1980s, the critical mainstream changed its tune on the multiple legacy of modernity, including neglected, almost forgotten, Swedish Grace. From being considered as a mere “classical interlude” between National Romanticism and Funkis, it came to be viewed as a fully-fledged facet of modernity. One of the first initiative in this regard was the 2nd International Alvar Aalto Symposium in 1982, entitled “Classical Tradition and the Modern Movement where prominent American and Nordic scholars demonstrated their concern in revising the narratives of the modernity and in stressing the importance of classical tradition mainly in the Nordic architecture. Parallel to that, the itinerant exhibition “Nordisk Klassicism 1910-1930” and some monographic issues proposed a conflation of two poles, “Nordic” and “classicism” or “modern” and “classicism” in one word. 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 democratization.

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

 Record created 2019-02-04, last modified 2019-06-19

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