Helena Kåberg is an architectural and design historian, PhD in art science and curator at Nationalmuseum. We asked Helena to take a closer look at Liljevalch's architecture. Read about our house that brings together tradition and the radically modern, ancient Roman villa and prea0ations of functionalism.
Liljevalch Art Gallery was completed in 1916. The building was designed by architect Carl Bergsten (1879–1935) who was commissioned after placing in joint first place in an architectural competition. The competition jury was addressed, among other things, by the curved copper roof, which in the jury's opinion was characterized as "unmistakable animal farm architecture".
Classic idiom and the radically modern
The curved roof section can perhaps be seen as festive architecture suitable for Stockholmers who need recreation. But mainly for the building's proportions and exterior decorations – the pillar row towards Djurgårdsvägen, the sculptural porticoes of the entrances and the in a niche on the entrance gable placed by the donor Carl Fredrik Liljevalch – the thoughts of ancient construction art.
When public museums began to be built in Western cities in the 19th century, a classic idiom had to guarantee that the building displayed important and culturally bearing objects, and Liljevalchs is an example of the classical architecture of the early 20th century.
Although the building's historical role models are clear, when it was constructed, the art gallery was a very radical structure with a pillar frame in reinforced concrete that was relatively unrivalledly presented in the façade.
Liljevalch's architecture is thus on the boundary between tradition and modernity. The time was not yet ripe for the aesthetics of functionalism, but the classical idiom has been reduced and the modern concrete construction accentuated.
From the outside, the art gallery's large smooth façade surfaces can be dismissive. However, those who take the plunge are invited to a fascinating architectural experience. Visitors leave the somewhat cluttered cityscape with cars, buses, asphalt and refuges and are moved to a quiet and soothing environment.
The art gallery's first exhibition room is the large sculpture hall. Here, white walls, high ceilings and overhead light from contiguous window bands blur the boundaries between outside and inside. The sculpture hall is a paved square and along one long side runs a shaded arcade.
At one short side forms a stone staircase with black forging railings. The view of the steep climbing staircase appears to be taken from an alley in a hilly, older urban landscape. Initially, the stairs took visitors up to the café Vinstuga.
Before the blue gate restaurant was ready in the garden at the back of the art gallery, visitors here could make themselves to life a glass of wine, coffee or tea and sandwich. Today, Vinstugan is closed, but the beautiful staircase still has an important function as it serves as a pulpit or stage for musicians and artists at inaugurations and other events.
Light and illusion
Daylight is important for the illusion that the sculpture hall is an outdoor room. However, light can seem degrading on many materials and, depending on what is shown in the room, it is sometimes necessary to shield the daylight. The possibility of shutting out the light can also be the very prerequisite for some exhibition scenographies and architect Carl Bergsten arranged for a cover-up using loose shutters. Thanks to a very generous gift, the hall in 2008 has also been equipped with new technical possibilities for viewing projected images and films.
Since before the time of public museums it was mainly in magnificent home environments that collections of various kinds were exposed, role models were drawn to the museum's floor plans from palaces and grandiose villas. Liljevalch's plan is reminiscent of the ancient Roman villa, and inside the arcade of the sculpture hall there is an exhibition hall that resembles an atrium surrounded by smaller rooms.
The clear room disposition of the art gallery allows you to move between the rooms calmly and unquestionably. It is high ceilings but thanks to a low and dark wood paneling, intimacy and human proportions are created. The light also helps to create a peaceful environment, almost regardless of what is currently shown in the rooms. The halls all get daylight through French windows, lanterns, high-placed window bands or glass ceilings.
When Liljevalchs was thoroughly and carefully renovated in 1997–98, particular effort was made to recreate the original lighting environment, and where modern technology was necessary, attempts were made to conceal the installations.
The beautiful and indirect overhead light makes Liljevalchs one of the country's most distinguished exhibition environments. The exhibition rooms in the innermost part of the building are the most intimate, and initially visitors from here were led directly into the airy portico to the south and the sheltered garden with serving.
Just as the façade facing north visually suggests, the visitor is transported from a time when concrete concrete truss structures are being erected to a sensing walled garden beyond time and space.
New times, new adaptations
In connection with the renovation, a new store was also furnished, a assignment that went to the architectural firm Claesson-Koivisto-Rune. Folke Lallander, then art gallery manager, ordered a shop with space for "250 postcards, 10 posters, 4 square meters of books and a checkout counter". One requirement was also that the store interior, without permanent damage to the original environment, should clearly differ from Bergsten's rooms.
CKR's solution was to set up something in the room next to the entrance that could be likened to a store module. Through square openings in the roof of the module, Bergsten's architecture is reminded. The openings also let the spotlight into the seemingly temporarily opened sales stall. The store is simple and fit for purpose with well-ordered compartments and shelves for product exposure. But the room is also a paradox with form even for the sake of the form itself. Above all, the roof of the module is an exciting and beneficial contrast to the store's square goods and rows of postcard compartments.
The solution also has an exciting temporary quality that is enhanced by the fact that the module appears to be in a stage of assembly or dismantling.
This room in the room, made of industrially made birch plywood, resembles a complicated moving box that proved too difficult to correctly fold up or together. Instead of reading the instructions on the box, a temporary solution to the problem seems to have been to leave parts of the cube's sides open, and since the module does not seem to be able to hold together by its own power, stability has been secured using wires attached to the ceiling.
Liljevalch's art gallery has been largely intact since 1916 as a building. The most tangible but carefully executed change is the new main entrance that all visitors – regardless of functional ability – should be able to use. The stone staircase of the house has been rebuilt and supplemented with an elongated and slightly inclined ramp and an external lift.
This upgrade of the art gallery has been thanks to the unique accessibility project Worthy Entrance, a collaborative project between the City of Stockholm, the National Property Board and EIDD Sweden/DESIGN for ALLA.SE. The project is about concrete solutions for how culturally protected and sensitive buildings will be accessible to everyone through aesthetic and innovative efforts.
Helena Kåberg is an architectural and design historian, PhD in art science and curator at Nationalmuseum. Among other things, she is the editor and co-author of the book "Modern Swedish Design: Three Founding Texts" published in collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art in New York (2008).