The architecture of Sweden comprises a significant cultural phenomenon in the region. With its distinct geography and culture, Sweden has led to a unique style of design and characteristic elements. The country has seen major regional and cultural developments, which have directly impacted the design of structures. The architecture of the region has been derived from a variety of other cultures and contexts. But, it has always been translated into a more practical and appropriate style for the Swedish scene, adapting foreign trends to Swedish culture.
Swedish architecture started out as other forms of design throughout for pure functionality. Various design elements, such as material, building elements, forms, etc., were dictated by practical requirements, climate, resource availability, and function of the space. In the early ages, most buildings (that have survived till date) were of the religious typology as churches and cathedrals, but also included palaces and forts. Both urban and rural structures were largely made in timber and then stone and brick (due to the initial spread of the European art movements). Buildings like this had a simple formwork that reflected order and symmetry and slowly incorporated an increasing amount of Nordic animal ornamentation.
As the power and influence of the aristocracy, like the aristocrat Gustave Vasa, spread throughout the continent, the architecture of Sweden saw a reflection of these architectural styles from the rest of Europe. The Renaissance period continued the growth of churches and palaces as the central typology, done in order to exemplify the grandeur of its cities through symmetry and spirituality.
The Baroque period began with the exaltation of professional architecture in their service of designing majestic palaces and churches for societies. Cities were designed based on an “ideal” French model, while churches and other structures, designed with drama and extravagance. These continued to grow in number along with the newly formed grid system of city planning.
The Classical movement, dictated by political coups and uprisings, began in the late 18th century and included a rise in the architectural quality of residences and public spaces built (due to the set-up of the Building School of the Academy of Arts and the Office for Supervision of the Building Industry), though at the expense of local building methods. Because of the effect of the Napoleonic wars in Sweden, there was an increased concentration on military architecture, with Colonel Fredrik Blom occupying a central position in the movement.
Setting Up a Local Style
As the country entered the latter half of the 19th century, Sweden’s architectural scene was completely transformed by growing industrialization. Because of the increase in population in these cities, there was a growing requirement of structures for a diverse set of functions, such as restaurants, hospitals, schools, offices, etc.
Architects designed structures as a result of the industrialization process, with values and elements from past architectural movements like the Neo-Renaissance style and the new gothic style. This period also saw a decline in simple formwork and longed for a more detailed, exotic, and decorated style of romantic architecture. Several local styles like the Nyrokoko, Novel, and Nybarock, showed an increased fascination with natural ornamentation and material study. Architects deviated from plain classicism and focused on cultural history and a national romantic, a Jugend language.
The Jugend architects formed a new generation of Swedish architects. Their main source of inspiration was the softness of the natural environment. They focused more on delicate building elements (colour, texture, and shapes) along with detailed ornamentation and sinuous organic lines in their designs, rather than on form and proportions.
From this ideology was set up the National Romantic Style. This was a movement centred on a combination of traditional Swedish building history and the English style of execution, resulting in a distinguished language of ‘Brick and Wood’. This movement highlighted the level of development of Swedish society, with its historical richness as well.
Entering a Modern Era
As the years passed, ornamentation was equated with impracticality and architecture in Sweden moved towards a more functional and basic design. This period was initiated by the Nordic classicism movement, the Swedish Grace, which took direct and indirect inspiration from vernacular styles and neoclassicism. The design theory went beyond mere aesthetics and focused on functionality while incorporating these ideals through urbanization and town planning. This ideology also resulted in major political and social waves, as it brought about topics of affordable housing, increased public spaces, and domestic architecture in general.
The entire modern era saw an obsession with stripped and strictly geometrical designs, with attention on structure and formwork, rather than embellishments, as it was these shapes and volumes that expressed artistic values. Functionalism or Funkis centred on minimalistic aesthetic and humanistic quality. Structuralism, the Bauhaus, and the Brutalismen movement were derivations from the modern movement and grew because of technological and industrial developments.
During the post-war period, the rise of population in Sweden resulted in widespread urbanization in the region. This resulted in the requirement of improved living conditions, especially for the poor, which became the central focal point in the design. Due to an industrial and economic boom in the region, the entire system of urban planning was changed to accommodate new roads, multi-family apartments, and functionally arranged cities to improve the people’s standard living conditions. The Million program was set up to construct a million new apartments and cottages on the Swedish landscape for accommodating the growing demographics of people, though it created a lot of social unrest amongst the existing occupants.
Swedish Architecture Today
At present, Sweden has crafted its own architectural style based on its local functional requirements and aesthetics. The Scandinavian style of design (with a broader impact range on other countries, like Norway, Finland, and Denmark), a design philosophy commonly found in Sweden, achieves minimalistic and simplistic design, using clean lines, natural light, and neutral colours. It focuses on offering practical solutions to local limitations while merging interiors with the natural environment, using natural materials, mainly wood.
Architects in Sweden today are influenced by ecological design as well as minimalism, high-tech, expressionism, and neo-functionalism. Forms have been developed greatly in terms of modern tools and technology and innovative ways have been found to enhance user comfort. The country’s capital, Stockholm, has become a center of tech and service-based industries with people visiting for its historic models, its picture-perfect townscape, and its contemporary structures as well.
In the end, Sweden has a lot more to offer than the infectious energy of ABBA and IKEA. Architecturally, the country has developed its own style of design that focuses on functionality and human comfort above all. Due to advanced technology and technique, these structures undergo constant evolution to enhance the humanistic value of spaces.
User comfort and functionality are constant themes related to design and will be constant focal points of design in the future as well. Designs will also only be greatly improved by more technological developments and social change. The architecture of Sweden is a modern testament to how architecture can help connect cultural traditions and modern innovations to value the user as the most crucial aspect.
- August Hahr, Architecture in Sweden: A survey of Swedish architecture throughout the ages and up to the present day. Bonniers, Stockholm, 1938