Norra Tornen Stockholm Design Week

By Mark Isitt

Architectural Landmarks – Places to visit

Operakällaren Stockholm

Photo: Backfickan Operakällaren


Bakfickan Operakällaren (1962)

Architects: Peter Celsing and Nils Tesch

Address: Operakällaren, Karl XIIs torg, Kungsträdgården

”Stockholm’s leading ’hole in the wall’ where everyone feels free just to pop in for a sandwich or a meal, straight from the Opera or straight from work”. That’s how the star chef Tore Wretman described the restaurant at its opening and the same is true still today. All are welcome to Operakällaren’s “hip pocket” annexe. You perch on stools at the bar with an open view of Wretman’s disciples busy in the kitchen, just like an American diner. And yet not so. Olle Nyman’s specially designed wall tiles in azure blue and white gleam against the lacquered woodwork, and the salt and pepper trays glide as silently as ever on their rails. Sending these little trolleys away down the bar is as much a pleasure as the food itself.


KTH Stockholm

Photo: KTH


The KTH’s student union building (1930)

Architects: Sven Markelius and Uno Åhrén

Address: Drottning Kristinas väg 15

The 1930 Stockholm exhibition introduced Swedish modernism. Pavilions white as snow and cool as a summer breeze nestled then in the greenery of the Djurgård bay. Today all is gone, but the student building – designed that same year by two of the exhibition’s initiators – remains today as a fine substitute. The contrast with Erik Lallerstedt’s brick campus buildings nearby is absolute – light as opposed to heavy, white against rust red, ribbon windows instead of window bars, flat roof instead of hipped, naked stucco contrasting with granite reliefs. A total break with contemporary aesthetics by two of the bravest modernists of the 20th century. Markelius, who later designed the UN headquarters building in New York together with Le Corbusier, and Uno Åhrén who later became Gothenburg’s city architect. And went on to design Hermann Göring’s coffin.


Västerortskyrkan Stockholm

Photo: Västerortskyrkan


Västerortskyrkan (1957)

Architect: Carl Nyrén

Address: Solursgränd 4, Vällingby centrum

And thinking of Le Corbusier and Sven Markelius, when the French-Swiss star architect visited Stockholm in 1958 he called in on the latest creation by his Swedish colleague, the Vällingby centre. Here the Swedish “folkhem” is summed up in three letters, A, B, C, standing for “arbete” (work), “bostad” (housing) and “centre”. Or “Christianity”, because on the edge of the town square a small church is tucked away, clad in pink stucco and with patinated copper roofing, a facetted concrete jewel with sandblasted interior. The youthful Carl Nyrén was the church’s designer (and buried here in 2011), and Le Corbusier ranked the church as the world’s most beautiful, with only Notre Dame and the St Peter’s in Rome to rival it.


Gröndal Stockholm

Photo: Arkdes


Gröndal (1944–1952)

Architects: Backström & Reinius

Address: Gröndal

And while on the subject of Vällingby centre, those responsible for the design of the square were Sven Backström and Leif Reinius, two seemingly formal gentlemen in crisp white shirts who turned out to be more popular than most. None of their colleagues succeeded in solving the housing needs more wittily than they. The carefully linked housing in hilly Gröndal is their masterpiece, revealing their ability to manage both individual needs and exciting large scale structures. The central star-shaped building is their most impressive contribution – imagine three propeller blades surrounding a central staircase – and their terrace housing. This is perhaps Stockholm’s most popular suburb.


Koppartälten Stockholm

Photo: Visit Stockholm


Koppartälten (1787)

Architect: Louis Jean Desprez

Address: Hagaparken

A number of Swedish architecture’s most spectacular design experiments are more than a hundred years old. Skansen is full of them, the Samevistet for instance, or Fredrik Blom’s prefabricated pavilion. But few structures are more striking than the Koppartält (copper tents) in Hagaparken, erected more than 230 years ago, three tents in Caroline blue standing proudly on a hillside as if celebrating some successful raid. The fact that the French architect Desprez worked as a stage set designer is obvious; the illusion is so convincing that you feel you’re participating in some historic drama. A fire in the 1950s necessitated a total refurbishment, one that permitted the provision of a newly built café, decorated by the Stockholm palace architect of the day, Torbjörn Olsson, a glittering aluminium version to match the classic exterior. Magical!


Arkitekturskolan Stockholm

Photo: Arkitektskolan


Arkitektskolan (1969)

Architect: Gunnar Henriksson

Address: Danderydsplan

”It’s as if town planners had competed to see who could best vandalise and disfigure the environment before going on to erect the most ghastly. If special prizes were awarded for such achievements then the architects responsible for the Architect School next to Engelbrektskyrkan could well qualify.” The quote is from the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper when the school was opened, a concrete bunker that had everyone yearning for the women’s prison that it had replaced. The architect, Henriksson, did what he could to provoke the stiff Östermalm district, and it is only today that the brutalist building is beginning to attract a little approval. Even the creeper, that for years refused to climb up those concrete walls, is now showing signs of surviving. Olof Palme lived in the adjacent district, just out of sight.


Norra Tornen Stockholm

Photo: Oscar Properties


Norra tornen

Architects: OMA through Reinier De Graaf

Address: Torsplan 8

The 8 November 2018 saw the inauguration of not just one but two impressive housing projects in Stockholm. One is in the Gärdet district (Sandhamnsgatan 79), and consists of 168 flats designed by the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels. The other is at the northern approaches to Stockholm, 182 flats designed by Reinier De Graaf of the Dutch firm OMA. Both of these were commissioned by the property developer Oscar Engelbert and both of them internationally admired for their skilful use of prefabricated modules – the famed Swedish “Million programme” gone crazy. If I had to choose one it would be the skyscraper, Norra Tornet. Primarily because of the way it communicates quality architecture a mile or more away, but also for how it so skilfully turned a disadvantage to its own advantage; the irregular façade functions like a large-scale egg carton, diffusing the noise of traffic to the benefit of the whole neighbourhood. A twin tower is just now under construction.


Norra begravningsplatsen, the Rettig and Malmström family mausoleums

Architects: Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz

Address: Solglimtsvägen, Solna

Mausoleums stand shoulder to shoulder here like a string of villas, climbing their winding way up the Lindhagen hill. A town for the dead. At the top two titans clash, two family graves, designed respectively by Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz, stand next to each other. At that time, the close of the 1920s, these two architects were still friends and collaborated freely – take Skogskyrkogården for example – but here we get an inkling of the conflict that was to follow. The block shaped graves reflect their personalities. Asplund: social, ingenious and diplomatic. Lewerentz: fiercely uncompromising. In their strictness and wit these two present a contest more dramatic than anything by Strindberg (himself buried a little further down the slope).


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STOCKHOLM DESIGN WEEK runs in February 6-12 2023 in connection to Stockholm Furniture Fair, and in September 5-9.

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