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Top Pick: Simplicity moves the world

ARCHITECTURE mirrors both tradition and social change, a truth borne out by Swedish architecture of the 20th century. In its simplicity, Swedish architecture recalls the way the country, once on the outskirts of Europe, became one of the wealthiest states on the continent.
The exhibition Swedish Architecture of the 20th Century is a travelling version of a larger exhibition, originally made for the German Museum of Architecture in Frankfurt in 1998 and now residing in Sweden. After visiting Buenos Aires, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw and Vienna, it has moved to Bratislava.
Over 230 drawings and photographs by internationally recognised architects Gunnar Asplund, Sigurd Lewerentz, Peter Celsing, Carl Nyrén and Ralph Erskine, who marked the urban Swedish landscape, are displayed along with works by the younger generation. The exhibits follow Swedish architecture's development from the beginnings of 20th century through classicism and the post-war period to contemporary movements.


THE INTERIOR of Jönköping museum in Sweden, designed by Carl Nyrén.
photo: Max Plunger

ARCHITECTURE mirrors both tradition and social change, a truth borne out by Swedish architecture of the 20th century. In its simplicity, Swedish architecture recalls the way the country, once on the outskirts of Europe, became one of the wealthiest states on the continent.

The exhibition Swedish Architecture of the 20th Century is a travelling version of a larger exhibition, originally made for the German Museum of Architecture in Frankfurt in 1998 and now residing in Sweden. After visiting Buenos Aires, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw and Vienna, it has moved to Bratislava.

Over 230 drawings and photographs by internationally recognised architects Gunnar Asplund, Sigurd Lewerentz, Peter Celsing, Carl Nyrén and Ralph Erskine, who marked the urban Swedish landscape, are displayed along with works by the younger generation. The exhibits follow Swedish architecture's development from the beginnings of 20th century through classicism and the post-war period to contemporary movements.

"We wanted to offer a large overview of 20th century Swedish architecture, with a focus on housing and urban planning. Exhibits are put together from collections and museums all over the country," says Rasmus Waern, one of the exhibition's curators.

According to the curators, the project is not aimed only at professionals, but also lay people interested in learning about Sweden through Scandinavian design.

"Swedish architecture is known for seeking pragmatic solutions that were arrived at in the close relationship between architecture and the construction industry. That's why our architecture is very pragmatic on the one hand and less experimental on the other, when compared to other Scandinavian countries. This traditional image was challenged quite recently, when builders and investors began to seek younger architects not afraid to experiment," says Waern.

This enduring Swedish simplicity remained the basis of the country's architecture despite strong international influences in the last century.

"The strongest trends today are again related to simplicity. They're linked to our climate and arctic conditions, which don't allow for much detailed work. It's also interesting to see how new architects interpret architecture and its relation to the landscape," says Waern.

The Swedish principle of simplicity was more internationally recognised during the 1950s when Europe was experiencing post-war restructuring. Since then, its boundaries have again shrunk to largely national borders, except in the furniture design exported through the Ikea retail chain.

"During the 1950's architects from abroad used to come to Sweden to see urban settlements and neighbourhood units. Now they are interested only in Swedish design and furniture, which again is linked to simplicity," says Waern.

Nevertheless, architecture still occupies a significant place in cultural and everyday life in Sweden. One of the largest European museums of architecture, Arkitekturmuseet, is in Stockholm.

The Swedish Architecture of the 20th Century exhibition runs at Národné osvetové centrum on Námestie SNP 12. It is open daily from 10:00 to 18:00 until April 28. Admission is free. Tel: 02/5443-2055.

By Mirna Šolić

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