Midsummer weekend in Stockholm is a pretty magical place to be. But should you not be invited to spend the nearly endless daylight in somebody’s country cottage, get your spiritual fix by a leisurely trip to the Woodland Cemetery or as they say in Swedish Skogskyrkogården, more easily said no doubt after a few glasses of Akvavit. Not only is it home to the grave of Greta Garbo, but it is a journey through the recent history of Swedish architecture from Nordic Classicism to Modernism to the most recent brick clad concrete crematorium added in 2014.
The project was given in competition in 1915 to Gunnar Asplund (yes him who influenced the design of many of the suburban London Tube stations on the Piccadilly line) and Sigurd Lewerentz. The pair of them designed every detail from the lamps, the landscaping, the signage, and of course the chapels. Sigurd Lewerentz’s Resurrection chapel is a typically restrained example of Nordic Classicism: a small dignified Greek temple set in the pine forest. The landscaping and entrance to the complex is mostly Lewerentz’s work. Asplund’s first chapel is based on a traditional Swedish model with a gold angel by renowned Swedish sculptor Carl Milles.
As the project developed during the 1930s, Lewerentz left the project somewhat disillusioned, and left Asplund to complete the project, and in the next decade gave up architecture, although not before working on the masterpiece that is the Malmö Opera and Music Theatre. In the mid 1950s, when Lewerentz had turned 70, he returned to architecture with his design for a small church in Björkhagen, a suburb of Stockholm. The edifice is constructed almost entirely of standard bricks for the walls, floors and ceilings with a paler mortar of different thicknesses to create the textural interest. The small set of buildings including the church, the offices and social rooms, just metres from the railway line, is set apart from it suburban surroundings by a grove of birch trees. The external walls are either flat, broken up by vertical windows or slightly undulating with deep set windows into the nave. Inside the church it is a master class of the use of light and dark, with beautiful suspended light fittings hovering in the air and shafts of light streaming through the windows. The project gained international recognition and lead to other later commissions, including another all brick church, St. Peter’s in Klippan, unfortunately a good distance from Stockholm, so not included here in this report. Anyway that is probably enough of cemeteries and churches, best head back into town to down some vodka shots to make all those Swedish words trip off the tongue.