The Nordic architectural style has been influenced by a debate between modernism and tradition, as well as long-standing regard for local natural and socioeconomic constraints, following the Second World War. Throughout the later part of the twentieth century, this gave an artistic and expressive groundwork for architecture that has shown to be contextually sensitive, socially conscious, and formally, spatially, and tectonically expressive. ‘Modern architecture arrived in the Nordics in the 1920s when avant-garde European works were published in professional magazines and Nordic architects travelled to significant continental constructions. Modernism, often known as functionalism, embraced the new European architecture’s aesthetic canons, material palette, and social welfare programmes. While Finnish, Danish, and Norwegian architects Alvar Aalto, Arne Jacobsen, and Arne Korsmo created seminal works, Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund’s 1930 Stockholm Exhibition exemplified functionalism for the public, signifying modernism, universality, and social progressiveness. Nordic architects quickly questioned the use of Mediterranean-inspired shapes and materials in the severe northern environment, altering modernism’s austere machine aesthetic appeal and cubic shapes by reverting to local forms with traditional materials.

An overview of Nordic Classicism - Sheet1
Parliament House was designed by Ar. Johan Sigfrid Sirén in Helsinki, Finland_©Dan

History

Nordic Classicism was not an isolated phenomenon; it grew out of classical traditions already in place in the Nordic nations as well as new concepts being explored in German-speaking societies. Nordic Classicism can thus be described as a mix of indirect and direct impacts from traditional buildings (Nordic, Italian, and German) and Neoclassicism, as well as the early undercurrents of Modernism from the Deutscher Werkbund – particularly their 1914 exhibition – and by the mid-1920s the Esprit Nouveau arising from Le Corbusier’s theories. The modernist influence extended beyond mere aesthetics: urbanisation was linked to modern building techniques and the implementation of regulations in both building and town planning, as well as the rise of social forces that tends to result in a shift in political philosophy toward the left, likely to result in the Nordic welfare state and programmes for public buildings such as health facilities (e.g., the Beckomberga Hospital in western Stockholm) and schools (e.g., the Fridhemsplan school, St. While Nordic Classicism was used for several significant public structures, it was also used as a model for low-cost housing (e.g., Martti Välikangas’ Puu-Käpylä Garden Town, Helsinki) and domestic design in generally (e.g. an affordable sense of style for the nouveau riche). The Stockholm Exhibition, created mostly by Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz, was held in 1930, and it was then that a more pure Modernism was introduced as a model for contemporary society. However, major structures in the classical style were constructed after then, most notably Stberg’s Maritime Museum in Stockholm.

An overview of Nordic Classicism - Sheet2
The Matchstick Palace by Ivar Tengbom  in Stockholm, Sweden_©Ivar Kreuger

Principles of Nordic Design

Atmosphere

There is a distinct distinction between day and night in Southern Europe. The sun, like a lamp, is either on or off. When it is turned on, it is directly above for most of the day, providing a consistent, stable lighting environment and impression of space. This powerful overhead light creates crisp shadows that enhance the recognisable outlines of ancient buildings. Throughout most of the year, there is continual twilight in the north, where the sun’s oblique angles provide a melancholy, changing light. The light creates a place with no obvious limit or form. It is insufficient and experiential.

An overview of Nordic Classicism - Sheet3
Trollstigen Rest Stop, Norway_©Diephotodesigner

Mutability

The lighting and meteorological conditions in the Nordic nations are continuously changing. In comparison to the South, the climate is unstable, unpredictable, and dynamic. The term for weather in Norwegian is “vaer,” and the verb “vaere” means “to be,” therefore the entire concept of existence is “to be in a changeable, shifting, unpredictable environment” (CNS). It instils in individuals a spirit of openness as well as a criticism of a particular doctrine or style. In the North, you never know what the day may bring, therefore it is critical to be prepared. “There is no bad weather, only bad attire,” as the proverb goes.

This openness, adaptability, and preparation appear to me to be well suited to our contemporary 21st-century society of fast innovation, population movement, and climate change.

An overview of Nordic Classicism - Sheet4
Villa mairea by alvar aalto, Finland_©Lindman keeson

Domesticity

The Nordic nations have a strong sense of comfort, wellness, and sanctuary, and their architecture employs “forms that do not intimidate but encourage.”The term “rom,” which means “space” or “room,” came from the word “rydning,” which means “clearing.” Thus, space is an opening in the jungle, a natural aperture created by people in which they will reside. Domestic life in the North centres around the house. Life in the south revolves around the piazza, and the Italians have no word for “home.”Domesticity also concentrates on everyday use and customs, as well as practical aspects of living such as furniture, utensils, and lighting. These items are made for usefulness rather than fashion.

An overview of Nordic Classicism - Sheet5
A Scandinavian woodland home_©Lindman keeson

Engagement

The Nordic Region’s primary premise is global participation. And it all starts with nature. “Nature implies proximity and empathy; here, as a member in a network of occurrences, one lives among and with things.” (CNS)A Nordic culture of deliberate, close, and ethical connection between citizens exists. This idea of community, continuity, and connectivity is represented by the forest, the web of life. Nordic Design’s humanism reflects this societal obligation.

An overview of Nordic Classicism - Sheet6
Denmark Town Hall_©Lindman keeson

Functionality

Functionality stems from tradition and utilization and is associated with domesticity. For farmers and fishers, everything must be straightforward, basic, practical, and important. Nothing should be showy, but everything should be well-made to last a long period. Craftsmanship and the construction tradition are vital in the lives of each individual and the community.

An overview of Nordic Classicism - Sheet7
Tripp Trapp Kids Chair by Stokke_©Lindman keeson

Equity

Social responsibility emerges from a distinct type of individualism in the Nordics. Instead of “everyone for themselves,” nordic individualism advocates for equal rights and liberties for all, including women, children, and immigrants. “the law of Jante,” an old story whose message is that no one is greater than anybody else, still governs social norms, business etiquette, and governmental policy. this is the foundation of the nordic social democracy model. It incorporates economic freedom and the welfare society, as well as bargaining collectively, free healthcare and education. It may be observed in examples such as IKEA’s objective to democratise design by allowing it to be more inexpensive, as well as Sverre Fehn’s open, inclusive, and democratic 1954 nordic pavilion.

An overview of Nordic Classicism - Sheet8
Nordic Pavilion by Sverre Fehn at Venice

Modernity

After WW-II, modernity was embraced in both the social welfare concept and design, and the Nordics never turned back. They opposed fascist doctrine as well as historical stylistic standards, particularly classicism. Their modern ideas and social optimism were purposefully represented in contemporary architectural and design statements.

v9
Norway’s Snohetta Opera Hall_©Andia

Connection to different movements

At the height of postmodernism, when critics, historians, and architecture educators were looking for historical origins for the architectural style of such architects as Michael Graves, Leon Krier, and Robert Stern, interest in Nordic Classicism, particularly in its most traditional version, arose in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Nordic classicism provided that precedent, particularly with such seminal buildings as Gunnar Asplund’s Scandia Cinema in Stockholm (1924), Listers District Courthouse (1917-21), Villa Snellman in Djursholm (1917-18), and Stockholm Public Library (1920-28), as well as the environment and buildings of Stockholm‘s Skogskyrkogrden Cemetery (1917-1940) by both Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz.There were various predecessors or explanations for the advent of Nordic Classicism in terms of architectural style. The first was the existing classical legacy, which had been passed down through the architecture of Absolutism – that is, the traditional architectural emblems of the authority of the  Danish and Swedish monarchy – to the vernacular, for example, in terms of symmetry, detailing, and proportion. Several reasons contributed to a more streamlined classicism during the nineteenth century. J.N.L. Durand’s courses at the École Polytechnique de Paris in the early nineteenth century aimed to rationalise the vocabulary and construction procedures of classicism while enabling simple additional compositions. Durand’s theories propagated, influencing German culture through the works of Friedrich Gilly and Karl Friedrich Schinkel as Romantic Classicism. Scholars were finding the use of vibrant colour in Roman architectural style- a characteristic that had largely been lost during the Renaissance – as well as researching Greece and Egypt during the time. These elements were adapted into Neoclassicism and extended through Nordic Classicism (for example, the Thorvaldsen vase).

Chapel of the resurrection by Sigurd Lewerentz in Stockholm, Sweden_©Trevor Patt

These elements were absorbed into Neoclassicism and extended through Nordic Classicism (for example, M.G. Bindesbll’s Thorvaldsen Museum, Copenhagen, 1839-48, has Egyptian themes, as does Asplund’s Stockholm Public Library). There are also reaction circles’ to consider. Art Nouveau and National Romanticism had minimal influence in Denmark, although there were powerful National Romantic reactions in Sweden, Norway, and Finland. Neoclassicism emerged in Finland as a global language via Saint Petersburg, but by the conclusion of the nineteenth century had come to signify an alien presence – that of Russia. When undercurrents of political independence developed in Finland and Norway, a rough, national romantic architecture – a local variety of Art Nouveau – took root, playing on nationalistic mythologies. Nordic classicism was therefore a response against that style and, more broadly, eclecticism; a drive toward universalism, internationalism, and simplicity. Many Nordic Classical architects travelled to northern Italy to observe Italian vernacular architecture. With close cultural ties between the Nordic countries and Germany at the time, another major element came from German critics of Art Nouveau, particularly Hermann Muthesius – who had been a pioneer of the English Arts and Crafts movement and established the Deutscher Werkbund in 1907 – and Paul Schultze-Naumburg, as well as the latter’s student Heinrich Tessenow, and Peter Behrens.

In turn, Nordic Classicism’s ideas provided one of the foundations for the growth of Modernism in the Nordic countries. The concept of continuity between vernacular and modernism has been considered as contradicting accepted historical opinion regarding the birth of Modernism, originating with Le Corbusier and his 5 Points for Architecture, which are seen as overturning 5 essential ideas of Classicism. Alvar Aalto’s design for the Viipuri Library, which underwent a dramatic transformation from the unique architectural competition proposal in 1927 to the severely structural-functional building completed eight years later in a purist modernist style influenced by Le Corbusier, provides a real-time demonstration of the transition from Nordic Classicism to pure Functionalism.

References:

  1. Aamodt, M. (n.d.). 7 PRINCIPLES OF NORDIC DESIGN. Retrieved from Aamodt / plumb: https://aamodtplumb.com/7-principles-nordic-design/
  2. Miller, W. C. (2019, April 10). Nordic architecture: a continuing modernism, post-war to 2000. Retrieved from Nordics.info: https://nordics.info/show/artikel/nordic-architecture-a-continuing-modernism-post-war-to-2000-1/
  3. Wikipedia. (2022, April 28). Nordic Classicism. Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nordic_Classicism
Author

An aspiring urbanist, who is trying to explore herself through architectural writing currently, she believes that the remedy for a healthy planet begins with designing responsive spaces. She is an optimistic, determined and curious person who is always eager to learn and improve her skills.

Write A Comment