A few minutes in Stockholm

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Screenshot from Expedia video of Stockholm, Sweden.

This eight-minute tourism video of Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, is part of an excellent series of such films produced by Expedia, the booking agency. For some reason, modernists seem infatuated by Stockholm, even though very little modern architecture appears, at least in this video – not even the famous Stockholm Public Library (see the bottom photo below), designed by Gunnar Asplund and opened in 1928. Most of its classical embellishment was stripped off during its design, beginning in 1922. An intermittent 30 seconds or so feature obligatory scenes of more recent and inferior works of modern architecture, but by far the bulk of this excellent video focuses in on the city’s lovely traditional architecture. A sort of charming grandiosity, if it may be so described, seems the leitmotif of Stockholm, where, however, narrow lanes bend in from the past, charming without grandiosity. It may be that there is more modernism here than indicated by this video – which merely suggests that its producers followed a tradition of keeping such buildings off center stage so as not to generate trip cancellations. After all, postcards almost never depict modernist buildings, why should travel videos? Enjoy!

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Stockholm Public Library, by Gunnar Asplund. Charming, for a modernist building! (ArchDaily)

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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10 Responses to A few minutes in Stockholm

  1. barry says:

    as a long time bicycle/pedestrian advocate (though I do drive and have a car!) my takeaway includes noting the old section gas so many pedestrianized streets and plazas, and much of the waterfront is given over to walking rather than highways. Some US cities are starting to reclaim their waterfronts from roads (as in San Francisco thanks to an earthquake) but its a hard sell in the US where most expect to drive everywhere and park near the door.
    Its not just the absence of cars in old Stockholm, its also the absence of parking lots and ugly garages such as mar even the historic core in Providence. Old pictures of downtown streets such as Washington lined with buildings vs today’s streetscape interrupted garages and parking lots tell the difference with regard to beauty.
    Finally, I’ll note the line in the video that those locals in the know prefer 2 wheels (bikes) says a lot about how to promote the environment, health, and beauty,

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    • That’s right, Barry. The northerly side of Washington Street is the pits, although Buff Chace’s new building reduces its obnoxiousness. In the past, whenever I take a photo of Washington Street, it is of its sourthern stretches.

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  2. Hi David – I live in Stockholm part-time, with a research appointment at KTH University, and our “Centre for the Future of Places.” (I am here now in fact.) Stockholm does indeed have very beautiful architecture in its core, and a remarkable “transect of uglification” as you get out into the modernist suburbs. (I don’t think this is a controversial idea in most quarters, as there are few defenders; the only half-defense is that they are “functional,” and “hey, it doesn’t really matter.” Or does it?) There are a few regrettable modernist insertions into the core, and most people wince at them. The architects are increasingly isolated on that score. (I say this not as a “philistine outsider” but as someone with a PhD from one of the top-ranked architecture schools.) There is also a very active organization here called “Arkitekturupproret,” which has opposed bad new projects (often successfully, e.g. the new Nobel Center project). Contrary to stereotype, they are politically diverse (I know many of them and know this from personal interaction). The times they are a’changin! Best, m

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    • A transect of uglification, eh? I’ll have to steal that phrase, Michael!

      There is a town in Rhode Island, probably considered the third most beautiful after Newport and Providence but closely rivaled by Westerly. Bristol’s main street is lovely in large part because all the cheesy suburban retail and eateries are shunted over to a parallel road called Metacom Ave. four or five blocks to the east. In like manner, Paris and Rome are beautiful, and likewise Stockholm, as you say, because most modernism is shunted out to the suburbs. I think that is a good tradeoff, far from perfect, of course, but if the suburbs had fought against this, and there were a tacit agreement regarding ugliness to share and share alike, would we be better off? I do not think so, much as I regret forcing the “sandbox for the modernists” on other people. Leon Krier’s cartoon on this phenomenon is most telling.

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  3. Adam says:

    Incredible the stupifying hysteria about Sweden people on a certain political spectrum have. Truly too much internet turns your brain into mush. Sweden is one of the safest countries in the world. Crime is low and murder is at historical lows. Only reason any of this makes the wingnut news is because of the way statistics are reported, ie Sweden has a broad definition of rape that includes assault and every instance of rape is a separate rape case(ie if you report a rape and it happened on more than one occasion than every instance of rape is a separate case) also deaths that are being investigated are called a “lethal event” even if natural causes/suicides so the stats are skewed.

    Still “no go zones” are absolute bullshit and almost every crime related issue is severely over blown by wingnuts whose crime in their own countries are multiples that of swedens.

    So please stop entertaining these bird brains, please Mr. Brussat

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  4. LazyReader says:

    Yes it’s quite pleasant once you get past the gang rapes and grenade attacks

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    • I am quite familiar, Lazy, with Sweden’s immigrant problem. But not everyone has been gang raped or blown up by a grenade. Stockholm remains a beautiful place regardless of those problems (which I do not minimize), and its beauty is surely one thing, among others, that can help Swedes bear their troubles and inspire them to address those problems.

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