ERIK GUNNAR ASPLUND 1885 – 1940Gunnar Asplund is considered as one of the leading architects in Scandinavia during the 20th century. His influence is felt even today. During the 1980’s reevaluation of the modernism-movement, Asplunds architecture with its distinctive merging of classicism and modernism would play a significant part even at an international level.
Among Asplunds most famous early works, such as the Snellman Villa (Villa Snellman), the Lister county courthouse (Listers härads tingshus), and the small chapel at the woodland cemetery (skogskapellet). The Scandia-theater in Stockholm should also be regarded as a part of these, as well as the Stockholm city-library. All where created during the period of 1918-1928.
The buildings mentioned here makes up the decisive highlights of the Swedish neoclassicism which may be the most professional era of Swedish architecture. As chief-architect for the Stockholm exhibition of 1930 he became the leading introducer of functionalist architecture in Sweden.
Two of Asplunds most important works would end up as lifelong commitments, namely the Gothenburg city hall expansion (1913-1937) and the woodland cemetery in Enskede (1915-1940). The latter in cooperation with the other gigant of Swedish 20th century-architecture; Sigurd Lewerentz. A work that is now listed by UNESCO’s as a world heritage.
BackgroundErik Gunnar Asplund, which is his full name, was born September 22, 1885 in Stockholm. His parents were taxman Frans Otto and his wife Louise Asplund. In 1904 he passed his matriculation at the Norra Latin secondary school in Stockholm and a year later he was accepted as a student at the Royal Technical University of Stockholm, where he 1909 received his degree in architecture.
The following year he participated in the project-oriented education conveyed at the so-called “Clara School” by architects Ragnar Ostberg, Carl Westman, Ivar Tengbom and Carl Bergsten as teachers. In 1913-14 he makes his big study-trip to Italy via France. 1917-18 he was a teacher in the ornamentation at the Royal Technical University. In 1918 he married Gerda Snellman and was appointed architect of the Swedish building directorate. During 1917-1920 he was also editor for the national periodical “Architecture”.
In 1931 he was appointed professor of Architecture (material processing with morphology), a post he held until his death. In 1934 he married a second time, now with Ingrid Kling. Gunnar Asplund dies on October 20, 1940 and becomes the first person buried in his own Woodland Crematorium, chapel of the holy cross.
Asplund conducted more than forty construction and design projects. Some of these did not reach beyond the drawing board, others were entries in competitions and yet others became completed buildings and interiors. His active period extends from 1910 to 1940, in other words from national romanticism via neo-classicism to functionalism. A characteristic for all Asplund's work was his care and attention to detail as part of the whole. While the line of the projects shows how his style changes over time, they show how independent Asplund interpreted the contemporary ideals of form and how some of his ideas developed over a long period of time.
Early worksAfter his studies Asplund spent his time participating in competitions. The first contest he was recognised for was the Swedish church in Paris 1909, in which he received an honorary mention. In the competition of Karlhamns high school of 1912 he did won first prize and thus was given the opportunity to realize that project. The beautifully shaped, national romantic building, based on Swedish motifs was 20 years later expanded with a functionalist-addition, which was also designed by Asplund.
In 1913 Asplund participated in two competitions. A school in Hedemora and an expansion to the Gothenburg city hall. In both cases he was rewarded with first prize. The Cityhall expansion came to involve him for 25 years with continuous reworks and redesigns as a result. Three interesting villas from Asplunds initial years are the villa for (brother) Ivar Asplund 1911, the Rosenberg Villa in Karlshamn 1912, and the Selander villa in Örnskoldsvik 1913. An early classicist wooden-architecture greets us in the entrance to the Hammarby sports ground of 1915.
A special assignment that was linked to the times social and economic crisis was the municipal workers quarters in the residential-blocks of “the folding ruler” and “the tripod” both in South Stockholm City. Other assignments were nine granaries in conjunction to important key-points of the railroad of the day, and an ice-house in Hallsberg, all planned 1917. At the works of Tidaholm Asplund 1918 designed workers-quarters with simplistic wooden facades, but with an interesting result due to dislocated window-axels. Something we will later on find in the Snellman villa as well.