Architect Sigurd Lewerentz: grasp of the sacred and profane | Structure

At the age of 77, the architect Sigurd Lewerentz (1885-1975) was commissioned to design a church. A number of the parishioners apprehensive that he was too previous to handle the mission, others that his low-key designs seemed like a storage. The constructing that he achieved is, like a late play by Samuel Beckett, austere in means however luxurious in thought and creativeness. Every thing – partitions, flooring and ceilings, inside and outside, pulpit and altar – is as a lot as potential shaped of 1 materials – brick – that performs a form of magic. The inside is like an exhalation, a bubble, which since bricks are in contrast to soapy movie, appears miraculous.

St Peter’s, as it’s known as, within the southern Swedish city of Klippan, has since its completion in 1966 develop into an object of veneration for architects world wide. In Britain, Lewerentz has impressed a technology for whom the poetry of structure comes above all from the information and actions of development, out of the way in which that bricks are laid or glass is fastened to a gap. Adam Caruso and Peter St John, for instance, who received the 2016 Stirling prize for London’s Newport Avenue Gallery , designed for Damien Hirst, have a big and acknowledged debt. Their admiration resembles that of musicians for these with deep understanding of their devices – they prefer to see the instruments of their commerce honoured.

Lewerentz’s St Peter’s Church, Klippan, constructed 1962-66: ‘an object of veneration’. {Photograph}: Johan Dehlin

Everybody who is aware of his work agrees that Lewerentz was a craftsman. He went day by day to the development web site of St Mark’s within the Stockholm suburb of Björkhagen, a church he realised simply earlier than St Peter’s, discussing each element with the builders. He forbade the widespread observe of slicing bricks to make them match a given location, insisting that they continue to be entire, a rule that requires forethought and ability to observe. He labored with brickworks to realize precisely the tone and end he wished on their merchandise. He had a robust sense of the sheen on a bronze rail or a copper lightshade or the sharpness of the shadows of a classical moulding. He invented new methods to make steel-framed home windows and doorways, and arrange an organization to fabricate them.

It’s additionally broadly agreed that he was in some sense non secular, however that’s a top quality that may take many kinds. As certainly can craftsmanship. And past their acknowledgment of his spirituality and craft, architects select their very own model of Lewerentz. For some it’s in regards to the deep shadows in his church buildings, from which areas of sunshine emerge. For others it’s his expression in structure of recent non secular expertise. One or two deal with the brand new life that he gave to historic classical element in his early designs.

“Everybody who loves Lewerentz’s work seems like they’ve found him for the primary time,” is how Kieran Lengthy, director of ArkDes in Stockholm, places it. This establishment, which is Sweden’s nationwide centre for structure and design, is now placing on a mighty exhibition, its set up designed by Caruso St John. With 550 displays drawn from ArkDes’s archive of greater than 13,000 Lewerentz-related objects, and accompanied by a 700-page ebook, it will probably solely multiply the variety of potential interpretations.

Each ebook and present are known as Sigurd Lewerentz: Architect of Demise and Life. The “Demise” a part of the title is definitely defined, as Lewerentz launched his profession by successful a contest to design a woodland cemetery to the south of Stockholm, in partnership with one other nice Swedish architect, Gunnar Asplund. This magnificent work, the place chapels and graves are subtly positioned in a panorama of hills and timber, is now a Unesco world heritage web site. Lewerentz designed one other main cemetery with out Asplund, in Malmö.

The 1930 design for a floating dancefloor by Sigurd Lewerentz.
The 1930 design for a floating dancefloor by Sigurd Lewerentz. {Photograph}: ArkDes samling/ArkDes collections.

Lengthy additionally needs emphasise the “life” a part of the title. For, if Lewerentz’s profession is bracketed by church buildings – within the cemetery close to the start and in Klippan on the finish – and if the best-known photos present a gaunt previous man in a protracted black coat, inspecting wintry constructing websites like a cigar-smoking raven, he had one other aspect to his character. He designed locations of frivolity and leisure, particularly within the Thirties: eating places, retailers, even a proposal for a flag-decked floating dancefloor for the Stockholm exhibition of 1930. His workplace produced vibrant drawings of good and languid younger individuals having fun with these trendy areas. Lewerentz, says Lengthy, “handled the immortal and shallow, probably the most profound and trivial elements of being human and nothing in between”.

Sigurd Lewerentz.
Sigurd Lewerentz. {Photograph}: Karl-Erik Olsson-Snogeröd. ArkDes samling/ArkDes collections.

Like different nice mid-century architects – Gio Ponti, for instance – he labored fluidly between media. He designed every little thing from landscapes to church buildings to authorities workplace buildings to factories to retailers to furnishings to promoting posters to wallpaper. He was typically questioned for the superficiality of a few of this work, for what critics known as his “pseudo-functionalism”. He additionally moved simply between historic and trendy kinds and between handmade craft and industrial manufacturing. There was, for him, no catastrophic battle between the 2.

All of which got here collectively within the two church buildings on the finish of his profession, St Mark’s and St Peter’s, which use an analogous palette of reddish-brown bricks set inside thick layers of mortar. You possibly can see, for instance, the affect of panorama design of their association, as within the strategy to St Mark’s on an indirect path by means of birch timber. Within the woodland cemetery, Lewerentz modified mounds and planting to information you thru the panorama. Areas of shadow and light-weight work in a comparable means within the church buildings.

St Mark’s, Björkhagen.
St Mark’s, Björkhagen. {Photograph}: Johan Dehlin

The paving of St Peter’s was impressed by the patterns of a crossword puzzle that he minimize from a newspaper, by the time-dishevelled stones of the traditional Roman By way of Appia, and by the ornate Cosmatesque pavements of medieval Italy. So an ephemeral diversion of recent life is mixed with enduring works of antiquity. Lewerentz described his brickwork as “Persian” – collectively together with his Italian inspirations it brings a contact of southern heat to this Nordic constructing. The never-cut bricks give the church buildings a relentless feeling, however in a number of particulars they’re lush.

Some parts cease you in your tracks with their coming-from-nowhere strangeness, for instance a seashell font perched on a skinny steel body above a stark gash in a mounded brick flooring. Home windows are frameless sheets of glass positioned over uncooked brick openings. In each church buildings the tough bricks are offset by refined metalwork and heat tapestries. Doorways are fabricated from glued and laminated timber, kneelers of sheepskin. Then, in St Peter’s, a giant, T-shaped pillar of metal stands within the centre like a chunk of conceptual sculpture, a tree or a cross maybe. It’s the construction that enables the brick vault to hover above the house, which creates that bubble-like impact.

In the long run, it’s the solemn side of Lewerentz that almost all defines him. With St Peter’s, Adam Caruso has stated: “He’s compelling us to confront the situation of our existence, all the time.” However with out his sensuous and playful aspect, Lewerentz’s spirituality would develop into ponderous and his solemnity tedious. For, in spite of everything, frivolity can be a part of existence.

Sigurd Lewerentz: Architect of Demise and Life is at ArkDes, Stockholm, till 28 August 2022

  • Sigurd Lewerentz: Architect of Demise and Life by Mikael Andersson is revealed by Park Books, £100. To assist The Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Supply prices could apply

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