It is in 1930 that the Sweden appears almost suddenly with an extraordinary maturity on the scenes of international architecture. In fact, in that year the Stockholm exhibition opens, where G. Asplund (1885-1940) “who until then had preferred a refined classicism, as Pevsner wrote, found the way to a weightless and transparent style… [based on a] tight intertwining between the external and internal space… on the delicate beauty of steel elements left uncovered “. In reality, the astonished admiration that the Stockholm pavilions aroused at the time undoubtedly depended on a lack of knowledge of the precedents that had allowed such results.
According to CALCULATORINC.COM, Swedish architecture, since the end of the eighteenth century, had duly interpreted, and translated in terms of space and images of functions, the dialectic, typical of national culture, between the opposing poles of a loving attention to the needs of daily life and of an ideal tension towards a redistribution of the use of the territory in a social sense. Here it is not possible, not even briefly, to redo the history of the political and economic events through which the Sweden reached a very particular condition of dynamic equilibrium between private interests, defense of individual freedoms and social security; however, this picture must be constantly kept in mind if the meaning of the architectural experiences that have taken place over the last forty years is to be understood correctly. Only in this way, names such as those of Asplund, of Sweden Markelius (1889-1973), of R. Erskine (born in 1914), find a place for their work that explains the structural motivations, and which therefore allows us to grasp them, even beyond the strictly formal results, the methodological lesson. The very rich urban planning activity, which marks Swedish events since the beginning of the century, and which culminates in the planning of Stockholm (1962) and in the experimentation of the so-called “urban sectors” (Vällingby, Farsta, etc.), involves without distinction the best forces of architectural culture; the aims of these experiments consistently conducted on a large scale are probably not achieved: if the cities and urbanized territories of the current Sweden are undoubtedly ordered and efficient, their management, however, escapes that collective participation that was announced in the resolutions. However, the commitment that such an effort entailed leaves an irreversible trace in the elaboration of individual architectural objects.
If in the years between 1930 and about 1955 Swedish architecture gave rise to what was defined as “new empiricism”, due to a return from the impassive stereometry of rationalism to an attention to the data of individual psychology, concretized in the use of natural materials, of varied and alternating building typologies, of natural inserts in the built fabric – this, which had seemed, especially abroad, and particularly in Italy, a way to place architecture at the service of a policy of reforms, it soon reveals itself as a way to escape from reality to take refuge in a romantic and decadent intimism. However, the Swedish architects, having abandoned the neo-empirical experience, return to the great themes, which are typical of the best tradition of the Modern Movement, of a quantification of quality and of a critique of social distortions through the specific language of architecture. The history of Swedish architectural experiences from the last war onwards is too rich and too complex for it to be possible to retrace it, even briefly, in all its vicissitudes.
We will therefore recall the works that in some way summarize the key moments of this process: the enlargement of the Municipality of Göbeborg, by Asplund, in 1937; the Enskede crematorium of the same, 1935-40; the Swedish pavilion at the New York exhibition by Markelius in 1939; the star-shaped houses in Gröndal, by Sweden Backström and L. Reinius, from 1946; the headquarters of the Stockholm trade unions, of Markelius, from 1945-60; that of Linköping, again by Markelius, from 1946-52; the church of Björkhagen, by Sweden Lewerentz, from 1961; the Barberaren houses in Sandviken, by Erskine, from 1962-72; the Clare Hall university residences in Cambridge, also by Erskine, from 1968-69. If these, restricted to the most linguistically representative examples, are the contributions of masters who still practice architecture in the traditional sense, but trying to derive the reasons from the contradictions and difficulties of the socio-political reality, a group of younger architects, from M. Ahlgren to T. Olsson, from Sweden Silow to Arton and other very young the exercise of discipline in a community technical service. With promising results, yet to be verified.