Saturday, June 15, 2019

To Plan or Not to Plan: Stockholm’s Big Question of the Mid-1800’s

It is incredible to me that Stockholm spent several decades in the mid-1800’s dithering about the need for city planning.  This, in a city that had been dedicatedly building according to the same city plan for over two hundred years. This, in a city that was literally wallowing in its own feces.  But despite its history of planning and the deadly epidemics, many city authorities considered planning too expensive, too inconvenient, too invasive, too socialist, and entirely unnecessary.

Outgrowing the Original Plan
First, a little background information on Stockholm’s first urban planÖrnehufvud/Torstensson’s plan was drawn up in 1636 and the initial regularization was implemented over a couple of decades.  After the plan was implemented, all new development (within the planned area) was built according to this grid plan.  Throughout the 1700’s and the first half of the 19th century, Stockholm grew incredibly slowly and the city didn’t begin to outgrow the original plan until the 1800’s.  
Approximate extents of Örnehufvud/Torstensson’s plan from 1636

Most new development outside of the original plan just extended the same grid pattern, so most of Stockholm’s building activity was still a relatively organized affair.  The problem wasn’t orderliness so much as overpopulation: extending city streets that were sized according to the needs of a small city in the 1600’s didn’t translate well to a medium-sized city in the 1800’s.  The streets were narrow and clogged with traffic.
This map from 1836 shows, in grey, how much of Stockholm had been built up.  In red, the approximate area covered by Örnehufvud/Torstensson’splan from 1636.  In essence, all of the blocks outside of the red outlines represent Stockholm's growth over 200 years. *

Not only the streets were full to bursting, but the buildings themselves were over capacity.  While the city’s building stock had hardly grown at all from 1800-1840, it grew from a population of 84,160 in 1840 to 100,000 in 1856 and 126,200 in 1865.  Most of the newcomers were of the working class and couldn’t afford much in the way of housing.  At the time, small buildings with relatively cheap rents were being razed to make way for larger, fancier buildings with higher rent.  So while the population was expanding, the selection of housing available to the newcomers was actually shrinking.  The result was severe overcrowding as several families crammed into a single room in order to meet the rent. 

The other major problem was health.  In the mid 1800’s, Stockholm had no water or sewage treatment and was one of Europe’s deadliest cities—the water sources were polluted and abundant swampy areas were breeding grounds for disease.  Epidemics were common and more people died each year in Stockholm than were born.  A third of all infants died in their first year.  The only factor keeping Stockholm’s population somewhat stable was a constant stream of immigration from the countryside to the city.
There were three major factors contributing to the stagnation of Stockholm’s development.  The first factor seems to be a simple matter of laziness and dogma—the city authorities adopted a laissez-faire attitude toward the city and they were extremely reluctant to interfere.  This laissez-faire attitude was largely a matter of class politics—the wealthier classes could afford to import clean drinking water from the countryside and to escape to their country retreats during the deadly summer epidemics.  The city’s poorer inhabitants suffered more from the city’s health and overcrowding issues, but the city authorities didn’t really care—the poor, working-class population was seen as disposable and replaceable. 

Even when city authorities did admit a need for action, the rhetoric was often focused on the choked traffic and the need to create a better traffic flow to enable better business opportunities.  Others emphasized the danger of the ramshackle neighborhoods as the breeding ground of socialism.  In short, unhindered commerce was a much more important driver for change than the health of the poor.          

The second major factor contributing to stagnation was money: Due to Sweden’s constant state of near-bankruptcy since the early 1700’s, very little had been built or developed in the city for 150 years.  The third factor was city administration: Before 1862, the royal seat was directly under the control and financing of the cash-strapped monarchy.  But in 1862, the city was finally granted the power to control its own fate and both the administration of the city and the city’s tax base were turned over to a new, modernized city government complete with salaried, full-time employees.  While the whims of the monarchy still played a defining role in the city’s development, the city now had the mandate, the formal power, and some funding to act on its own.       

There is an important asterisk to the city’s new self-governance.  While the new city government was mostly democratically elected, the King still had the right to appoint a representative to the city council.    

Early Calls for Planning
Since the worst conditions were to be found in Gamla Stan, the earliest proposals were focused on Stockholm’s Old Town.  I have covered these proposals in depth in my post “Threats to Stockholm’s Old Town, Gamla Stan.”  The most famous proposal was Rudberg’s plan from 1862 which proposed to raze all of the Old Town to make way for a new, orderly grid development.  Although the proposal seems preposterous today, it was warmly received and the only thing stopping the city was money: expropriating all of the land and all of the buildings of Gamla Stan in order to redevelop it was just too daunting and expensive.   
Rudberg’s plan from 1862 to rebuild the Old Town. **

There were a lot of factors and new technologies at work during this time period.  There was an acute need for clean water and sewage treatment.  The railroad was moving in.  Regular public transportation following set routes and timetables in the form of horse-drawn trams was being introduced.  Sturdier quays were needed to anchor larger and larger ships.  There was a severe housing shortage.  Yet all of these challenges were being solved, one by one, and no one was looking at the bigger picture.  No one was thinking about how certain solutions could benefit more than one problem at a time.  (Water and sewage pipes weren’t even laid simultaneously.)  Problems were being solved for a very short time horizon and no one was thinking long-term.  The city was systematically choosing the smallest and cheapest action possible.

The first person to suggest a more holistic study of the city was A.E. Schuldheis in 1857.  His motion to the city council called for “a project plan for Stockholm City’s future appearance . . . not in respect to architecture but in respect to city planning.”  He understood that this plan would benefit future generations more than those currently living: “We should act like farmers who plant oaks not to rest in the shade of the oak’s branches themselves but to leave it to our children and progeny to reap the fruits of our efforts.”  One of his most powerful arguments was that tourists would be coming in on the railroad and that the city should offer them a reason to come: tourists do not flock to ugly cities.  Schuldheis’s most concrete suggestion was that all of Stockholm’s waterfront should be lined with grand public walkways. 

At the time, this last comment was so unlikely and utopian that he was practically laughed out of the council chamber, but the idea found some support.  In the end, the council voted to form a committee to investigate the possibility of a more holistic city plan.  In 1859, the committee’s formal opinion was that a more holistic city plan should, in fact, be created.  The committee understood that given current legislation, the plan couldn’t be binding, but that it would help the city to make more informed decisions about infrastructure and such.  The committee recommended that the plan should include:
1) the entire waterfront should be made public and developed into engineered quays
2) all existing streets and public spaces should be straightened out to match the city’s grid pattern
3) proposals for future streets and public spaces according to the grid
4) proposals for better air circulation, more trees, public urinals, and other measures for the city’s health
5) a deadline for when the above measures should be complete.

The committee’s proposal for a proposal wasn’t heard by the city council until 1860, and it was voted down.  The time wasn’t considered ripe, especially because there was no up-to-date city map on which a new urban plan could be based.  So instead of an urban plan, the city council ordered that a new city map should be drawn up.  By 1862, no progress on a new map had been made.   

The King Steps In
There had been at least three recent instances when the King had become tired of the City Council’s dithering stinginess, set his royal foot down, and made a decree that spurred the city to action.  The first was in 1821 when the King decreed that the smelly fishing harbor at Strömparterren on Helgandsholmen should be removed and that a park should be planted instead.  Then, in 1837, the King insisted that instead of a new bridge over the stinking, unhealthy bay at Nybroviken, the swampy inner areas of the bay should be filled in and made into a park and that a stone quay should be built at the water’s new edge.  In 1861, the city council had rejected a proposal for a new quay and grand boulevard heading eastward from the city center.  The King ordered the city to proceed with the project that is now Strandvägen
Strandvägens quay and boulevard

I don’t actually have a source that says outright that the King stepped in on Stockholm’s dithering about a new urban plan.  Unlike with Strömparterren, Nybroviken, and Strandvägen, there was no royal decree that forced the city council into action.  Instead, in 1862 the King appointed a new royal representative (Överståthållare) to the city council.  The day after his appointment, Gillis Bildt (a somewhat conservative noble and a military officer) forced the hand of the city and work on a new city map was begun. 

Bildt’s Motion for a Plan  
In 1863, Bildt took further action.  He realized that the need for a new urban plan was so urgent that the city simply could not wait for a fully updated map which would of course be somewhat outdated before it was even finished.  Instead, an existing map from the 1840’s would suffice.  Bildt understood that so drastic an action would never pass by the new, democratically elected council unchallenged, so he phrased his “decree” as a “motion.”  

By the 1860’s, Stockholm’s population was exploding and new areas were being developed every day.  Bildt defended the need for an urban plan writing that “there are still countless empty spaces in the city’s outer areas that will soon be developed.” Therefore there was an urgent need for a “comprehensive, pre-determined plan that would be followed in the future.”

Bildt’s motion for a comprehensive urban plan included several more general and several very specific requirements:
1) Sufficient and appropriate traffic routes from the periphery to the center of the city 
Today's Sveavägen was eventually a direct result of Bildt's decree.

2) Sufficient and appropriate cross-streets
Today's Odengatan was eventually a direct result of Bildt's decree.

3) Quays at all waterfronts
Today's stone quays were eventually a direct result of Bildt's decree.

4) The continuation and widening of existing streets, especially Klara Västra Kyrkogatan, Klara Norra Kyrkogatan, and Vasagatan which Bildt proposed would become the main arteries into Norrmalm from Gamla Stan.
Klara Västra Kyrkogatan and Klara Norra Kyrkogatan were never developed into main arteries.  The 1700's meet the 2000's on Klara Västra Kyrkogatan.
The southern end of Klara Norra Kyrkogatan did eventually get widened, but not until the 1960's.  The northern end retains it's pre-industrial scale.
While Klara Västra Kyrkogatan and Klara Norra Kyrkogatan were never developed into main arteries, Vasagatan was.  However, it was never extended much past the city of the 1600's.

5) A new food market at the new train station in Norrmalm
6) A new street on the eastern side of Humlegården which would provide a route out of the city to the north to the natural areas of Norra Djurgården (this street would become Sturegatan)
Today's Sturegatan was eventually a direct result of Bildt's decree.

7) A new street to replace Träskrännilen, the very polluted creek running down into the bay at Nybroviken (this street would become Birger Jarlsgatan)
Today's Birger Jarlsgatan was eventually a direct result of Bildt's decree.

8) New streets and public spaces in the Fatburen area where the lake had been filled in for the new railroad station.
It took about 100 years longer than the above street examples, but Fatburen park was eventually established in the old lake bed.

9) Due to expropriation and financing difficulties, Gamla Stan should regretfully be excluded from the plan   
10) Because the city’s civil servants were already overwhelmed with their own work, the city council should appoint a special task force

I am curious about how Bildt’s list of requirements was formulated.  Was it given to Bildt from the King?  Or did Bildt write the list?  Was Bildt well traveled or well read on matters of city planning?  Did he consult an engineer or an architect?  It is said that Bildt wished to be Stockholm’s Haussman, but had he ever even been to Paris?     

Aside from the more general requirements, Bildt more-or-less ignored Södermalm and entirely ignored Kungsholmen; Norrmalm and Östermalm were at the forefront of his list.  This is probably partly due to the fact that the new central railroad station was slated to be located in Norrmalm, making that area the new central area of the city.  Bourgeoisie commerce was already more centered in Norrmalm than on Södermalm.  Also, Södermalm’s topography with its sheer cliffs facing toward the city were always a challenge, and aside from a few steep, long staircases and a couple of unreasonably steep streets, no one had yet proposed a good way to connect Södermalm to the rest of the city.  Since both Södermalm and Kungsholmen were the poorer areas of town, Bildt was probably less interested in those areas, anyway.

The council agreed to Bildt’s motion and the City Engineer A. W. Wallström was asked to create a proposal and cost estimate in consultation with Rudberg “who has created a commendable plan for [Gamla Stan].”   

The city was more or less forced into agreeing to create a new urban plan.  Bildt’s less-than-democratic approach would later partly backfire, but the ball had none-the-less started rolling and there was no more denying the need for a new urban plan.  Furthermore, the majority of Bildt’s plan requirements would eventually be worked into the new, comprehensive city plan, and they would even eventually get built.  More on Walström and Rudberg’s plan in my next post...

Gösta Selling, Esplanadsystemet och Albert Lindhagen: Stadsplanering i Stockholm åren 1857-1887 (1970) 
Per Kallstenius, Minne och vision: Stockholms stadsutveckling i dåtid, nutid och framtid (2010)

All images are my own unless marked with
* underlying map:
** Gösta Selling, Hur Gamla stan överlevde (1973)      

Monday, March 25, 2019

Mosebacke Torg: A Rent in the Urban Fabric Becomes an Early Pocket Park

Looking through a series of historic maps from the 1600s to the mid 1800’s, one can see that there has always been a slight fissure or opening in the dense urban fabric of Katarina Parish at Mosebacke Square (torg = square).  
Maps from 1731, 1818 and 1805 show a small disruption in the urban fabric at Mosebacke.  The full-fledged square is visible on the map from 1861. *
The oddly shaped space resulted from the junction of two street systems: the right-angled grid following the Götgatan (map 1) artery leading from Gamla Stan (map 2) and the terraced streets following the cliff face along Södermalm’s edge at the Stadsgården harbor.    

Apparently the city already had plans to make this fissure into an official square when a large part of the parish burned down in 1857.  The fire made space for a much larger square than the original left-over wedge—now an entire city block is left unbuilt for this neighborhood oasis.  The square was planted with trees in a symmetrical arrangement and was from the beginning meant to be a green haven.  
Plan of the square drawn in 1897 **

The building stock directly around Mosebacke Square was for the most part built after the Katarina Fire cleared away the smaller-scaled, more rural landscape, but just a block away, a number of buildings from the 1700’s survived.
Buildings from the 1700's and 1800's

The neighborhood’s mostly poor residents certainly had use of a central green space, but I surmise that the city’s original motivation for creating a small park here had more to do with the large theater, Södra Teatern (map 4), which was built the same year that the square was first planned.  The original theater was damaged in the fire, but it was rebuilt by architect Johan Fredrik Åbom in 1859. 
Södra Teatern
Södra Teatern wasn’t just a theater but was an entertainment center with a main and several smaller stages, five bars including a champagne bar, a restaurant, a bowling alley, and in the summer, a very popular terrace with live music, dancing, and a bar.  The theater was frequented by a much more cultured and elite set than the local neighborhood residents who had a tough time affording enough to eat, much less theater tickets.  
Mosebacke Terrace and view

Mosebacke Torg wasn’t Stockholm’s first public green space—Strömparterren opened in 1832 and Berzelli Park was planted in 1852, but even so, Mosebacke was one of Stockholm’s earliest parks or planted squares.  If one accepts my conjecture that Mosebacke was planned in conjunction with the new theater, then all three of Stockholm’s earliest public parks were designed concurrently with the establishment of Stockholm’s  nightlife.  Strömparterren featured a café and music pavilion; Berzelli featured Bern’s Salon with its bar, café, and music pavilion; and Mosebacke featured the theater, bars, restaurant, bowling alley, and summer dance terrace.  These green spaces were built with public funding from the city, but they were made successful and popular due to the private entertainments associated with them.  I have no proof of their influence but I can’t help but wonder if the entertainment men also sat on the park planning committees or perhaps contributed funds in some legal or illegal way.

Four local streets circulate around the square, but a fifth street, Fiskargatan (Fisherman’s Street), dead-ends into the square with a terraced staircase (map 5).  The square itself has only a mild slope, but this staircase is evidence of the area’s extreme topography.  
The terraced stair leading down from Fiskargatan to Mosebacke Torg
At the top of the staircase looms a National Romantic water tower designed in 1895 by architect Ferdinand Broberg.

In 1945, the square’s landscape design was renewed.  The trees were kept  but a large section of square was covered in small paving stones.  
New plan for the square drawn u in 1941 **
Sculptures, a small splash pool, benches, and an artistic railing were installed.  The square remains much as it was in 1945, complete with the original telephone booth.

Like nearby Mariatorget, Mosebacke is an interesting blend between a square and a park.  It is too green and lush to be a city square in the traditional sense, but it is too small for leisurely summer picnics and kite flying.  It just might be a forerunner to today’s “pocket park.” Mosebacke Square provides just enough open space and just enough greenery to make the densely built-up neighborhood more livable and less claustrophobic.  

Bengt Edlund, Vårt gröna Stockholm Parker, parklekar, promenader och konst (2018).
Bertil Asker, Stockholms parker innerstaden (1986).

All images are my own except for
*  Nils-Erik Landell, Stockholmskartor (2000).
** Bertil Asker, Stockholms parker innerstaden (1986).

P.S. My winter photos don't do the square justice--Mosebacke Torg really is a lovely and well-used space in the summer!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Humlegården: A Mini Central Park and Sweden’s Library of Congress

Today, Humlegården is a green oasis at the edge of the densely built-up Östermalm area.  It’s not the only park in the area, but it’s the largest by far and is enormously popular for slow strolls and picnics and birthday parties and sunbathing in the summer, sledding in the winter, and playground visits year round.  Its position at the junction between Östermalm’s and Norrmalm’s street grids would lead one to think that the park was planned in as a green break between the two dense neighborhoods, but in fact, the park existed centuries before dense development reached so far.  Today’s public park is a remnant of the once much larger private royal park.

Humlegården translates as “Hops Farm.”  Hops, the key ingredient in beer making, was in the late Middle Ages practically more valuable than gold.  Sweden imported so much hops that a huge portion of the nation’s iron exports went to paying for hops (considering that Sweden was Europe’s largest iron exporter, this equated to a lot of hops (see Locks)).  By 1442, farmers were required to pay their taxes to the Crown, 10% of their income, in hops.  To further combat the need to import hops to the capitol, King Gustav II Adolf set aside a large parcel of land outside of the city for hops cultivation in 1619.  This coincided with the conversion of the very central Kungsträdgården from a kitchen garden supporting the castle with vegetables, fruits and herbs to a royal pleasure park.  In addition to hops, Humlegården also took over Kunsträdgården’s roll in providing the castle with fresh produce.       

It turned out that Stockholm’s climate is just a touch too cold to successfully grow hops.  As the hops died out, Humlegården’s kitchen gardens took over larger areas of the farm.  By the 1640’s, the farm had 709 apple trees, 494 cherry trees, 241 plum trees, 203 pear trees, and 320 damson trees.  (Hops grows well just a bit inland, and Svarsjö and Ultuna became the new centers of royal hops cultivation.)  Additionally, fields were converted into meadows for the grazing of royal livestock and barns were built to house the livestock over the winter.  The farm was completely enclosed by wooden fences both to keep the riffraff out of the gardens and to keep the livestock from roaming. 

In 1648, Queen Kristina imported the French landscape architect André Mollet and charged him, among other royal projects, with turning Humlegården from a humble kitchen garden into a royal pleasure park.  Mollet drew up plans for a fancy baroque garden, but I haven’t been able to find a copy of his original drawings.      
This drawing of the park from 1774 shows Mollet's eight radiating linden allés.*
Only part of the garden was converted before Mollet left Sweden in 1653 and Kristina abdicated the throne in 1654, but Mollet’s radiating linden allés are still the dominant feature of the park today.   
For the next 50 years, Humlegården was a beloved outing for the Court.  In 1686 Queen Ulrika Eleonora had a pavilion built at the center of the allé crossing, and she frequently took her children, including the future King, to play in the park.

However, the park was largely ignored during the 1700’s due to a lack of funding for upkeep and a lack of interest from the monarchy.  By 1763, it was decided to rent out the land to private entrepreneurs who were to maintain the park and keep it open to the public without an entrance fee.  In return, the entrepreneurs could use the meadows for grazing of private livestock, sell the fruits and vegetables, and run entertainments such as a theatre, a carousel, a dancehall, and a café.  Several businesspersons tried to make the arrangement profitable, but to no avail.  
There are still a couple of cafés on the edge of the park.

I find it surprising that the monarchy, despite a lack of interest and funding for the park, chose to hold onto this parcel of land while simultaneously donating large sections of Östermalm to the city to be developed into housing blocks.  Why did the monarchy want to hold on to Humlegården when it was so expensive to maintain and so obviously hard for private leaseholders to make a profitable go of?  Did the monarchy already foresee that this green space would eventually be needed in order to keep the densely built-up city humane and livable?  
(image from google earth)

In 1837, the Linnésällskapet, a non-profit botanical organization, became the new caretakers of the park.  The northern part of the park was redesigned into an English garden with meandering paths and clusters of exotic trees, but four of the original eight Baroque linden allés were preserved thanks to the King who stopped the total destruction of the historic allés.  The non-profit even operated a small zoo on the premises, but they, too, couldn’t make the park pay for itself, not least due to hooligans which constantly destroyed the park’s fences and stole animals from the zoo.

Once it was opened to the public, Humlegården became a popular outing for the working class.  These patrons couldn’t afford much in the way of refreshments and brought their own picnic baskets.  As the park became more and more well-known as the haunt of the working class, those that could afford tickets to the entertainments and refreshments at the café stayed away.  The park became more and more worn and dilapidated in a downward spiral.  Soon, the park became the notorious haunt not of the working class, but of thieves and prostitutes.  As development of Östermalm and Norrmalm marched closer and closer toward the park, it became clear that the lease-holding arrangement wasn’t working and that something must be done to correct Humlegården’s downward spiral.

The solution was no half-measure.  In 1869, it was decided that the Royal Library and Archive would be moved from the Stockholm Castle to a new building at the edge of Humlegården.  This was very much in keeping with the era’s idea that intellectual activity is enhanced by nature, air, and light.  Humlegården became Stockholm’s first Institution Park, a trend which would continue for the next 50+ years. 
This drawing from the 1880's shows the curving paths from the English Romantic garden as well as the new library.*

In addition, the State asked the City to take over park maintenance.  The park was no longer required to pay for its own upkeep; now taxes could make up the difference.  In 1877, the park was completely renovated.  The general structure with curving Romantic paths between the three surviving Baroque allés was kept, but much of the vegetation was removed—both to eliminate hiding spots for petty criminals and to create open, sunny lawns which would be inviting to a broader cross-section of Stockholm’s population.  A large statue of Carl von Linné, Sweden’s beloved botanist from the 1700’s, was placed amidst flower beds at the crossing of the allés.  The renovation had its intended effect and Humlegården became a popular place to promenade for respectable citizens. 
Carl von Linné

It was at about this time that the park was reduced to its current size when the tree-lined Karlavägen was built.
Karlavägen has a linear park running down the middle of the street.  South of Karlavägen, the city structure is a dense grid.  North of Karlavägen, the block structure breaks up with large villas.

It wasn’t until the 1920’s that a playground was built in the northern section of the park.  The playground has grown over the last century and it is now one of Stockholm’s most popular playgrounds with specific areas dedicated to different age groups. 

Playground equipment, pavilions, and flower beds have all come and gone with the changing times over the decades, but today’s park is very much the same as the Humlegården of the 1880’s.

The Royal Library
The Royal Library serves much the same purpose as the Library of Congress in the U.S. as its archive holds a copy of every Swedish publication since 1661.  In addition to books and periodicals, it also collects photographs, films, advertisements, music recordings, tv programs, etc.  Even Swedish websites are archived in the library’s servers for future research purposes.

Sweden’s monarchy has been collecting books since the 1500’s, but much of the original collection was lost when the Stockholm Castle, Tre Kronor or Three Crowns, burned in 1697.  In an effort to save as much as possible, the librarians threw books from the fourth-story windows to the street below.  Sadly, two-thirds of the collection burned, totaling 17,000 lost books and 1,000 lost letters.  The library was eventually returned to the rebuilt castle but the collections ultimately outgrew the new space.

The library was moved to Humlegården partly to civilize the park and partly to provide a natural, open setting for research.  The southern end of the park was dedicated to the library, and the southern linden allé was felled in order to make room for the new building.  The building is on axis with the remaining northern allé and it sits on a slight artificially raised platform.  The library was designed by architect Gustaf Dahl and the Classical, massive exterior hides an open and light interior supported by thin, cast-iron columns—Sweden’s first use of a cast-iron structure.  
Gustaf Dahl's 1897 plans for the library.**

In 1926, Axel Anderberg drew up an all but unnoticeable addition to the building, extending the sides with two pavilions.  In 2014, the building was once again extended, but this time with vast underground spaces.  It is worth noting that the majority of the collection is actually stored in off-site warehouses—researchers must request material to be moved to the library in advance.     

Humlegården has a long history as a royal farm, as a royal pleasure garden, as a public park descending into decay, as an Institutions Park, and now as a popular and beautiful public park enjoyed by the masses.  These layers of history from the Baroque royal pleasure garden to the public English romantic garden are still visible in the park’s fabric today.  

The park is an interesting example of how an area, with enough effort and investment, can be completely turned around from a decayed pit of crime where no respectable citizen would dare go to a vibrant, posh park brimming with activity.  The surrounding neighborhoods are indeed expensive and fashionable, and an address on Humlegården is nearly as attractive as an address on Strandvägen.  While the addresses around the park are exclusive, the park provides an open public space where all walks of life can and do converge. 

That said, Humlegården shows that public investment is often needed to make successful public spaces.  Private enterprise can be a contributing factor to success, but Humlegården shows that public investment is needed to keep public spaces functioning.  Without public investment in the park, it is doubtful that it ever would have become a safe, vibrant space.  And without a safe, vibrant park in its midst, it’s doubtful that the Östermalm area could ever have become such a successful and desirable neighborhood.  
Humlegården's posh neighborhood.

Bengt Edlund, Vårt gröna Stockholm Parker, parklekar, promenader och konst (2018).
Bertil Asker, Stockholms parker innerstaden (1986).
Kerstin Callert-Homgren and Margaretha Höglund, ed., Stockholm vår gröna stad (1998).
Olof Hultin, Bengt oh Johansson, Johan Mårtelius and Rasmus Waern, The Complete Guide to Architecture in Stockholm (2009).

All images are my own except for 
* Bertil Asker, Stockholms parker innerstaden (1986).
** Wikipedia

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Strandvägen: Stockholm’s Park Avenue

Many of Stockholm’s most characteristic and impressive urban design projects were built in the 1600’s specifically to create a capitol city worthy of Sweden’s great empire—projects such as Skeppsbron and the Castle Hill were meant to lift Stockholm from a backwater to one of Europe’s great cities.  These projects were designed to express Sweden’s status as an international superpower and to impress visitors with Stockholm’s beauty and wealth.  But with the fall of the empire and the Crown’s near bankruptcy, both the impetus and the funds were lacking for such boastful, large-scale projects throughout the entire 18th century as well as the first half of the 19th century.  Royal and City Architects continued to draw up plans for large-scale urban improvements, but these paper projects were mostly wishful thinking since the political willpower and funding just didn’t exist to carry them out.  

Both Sweden and her capitol city experienced an awakening around 1850.  This time, it wasn’t plundering after successful military battles that was behind Sweden’s rising wealth, but technological advancements, innovations, inventions, and industrial-scale exploitation of natural resources.  It was during this period that Alfred Nobel invented dynamite which became an unprecedented moneymaker for Sweden (and for Nobel himself, who used his fortune to found and fund the Nobel Prize), and dynamite also allowed unprecedented levels of exploitation of Sweden’s vast iron resources.  The invention of the safety match, the zipper, De Laval’s separator (mechanical separation of cream from milk), and the ball bearing were all life-changing inventions that resonated around the world and created huge wealth for Sweden.  Ericsson didn’t invent the telephone, but his improvements became international best-sellers.  With the advent of the steam-powered saw, Sweden’s vast forests were exploited for timber on a whole new industrial scale, and the timber was exported with huge profit to forest-poor continental Europe.  The new influx of money and commercial enterprise created the need and basis for a new, modern banking system which in turn produced even more wealth as well as a new layer of wealthy professionals in the form  of bank directors. 

During the previous decades, nearly a million poverty-stricken Swedes immigrated to America; now, Sweden was quickly becoming one of the world’s wealthiest nations.  The only problem was that the capitol city was practically stuck in the Middle Ages (or the Renaissance if you’re being generous).  In my previous post, I detailed how infrastructure improvements such as clean water were late in coming to Stockholm.  It wasn’t just infrastructure that was lagging behind: the entire city was dilapidated, there was a severe housing shortage, and much of the recent building activity consisted of ramshackle shantytowns which were haphazardly and illegally constructed near the booming industrial areas.  In the first half of the 19th century, an average of seven or eight new apartment buildings were built in Stockholm  each year.  But during the wealthy boom years of the 1880’s, an average of 240 apartment buildings were built per year.  

It was in the mid-centuuy setting of dilapidation and stagnation that radical projects such as the demolition and rebuilding of the entire island of Gamla Stan were proposed.  Today, demolishing Stockholm’s (and one of Sweden’s) most historic city centers seems preposterous, but the idea can be understood in light of Stockholm’s dereliction and the severe housing shortage.  Something just simply had to be done.    
Planning and Construction of the Boulevard
In 1857, a city councilor by the name of Schuldheis called for a new city plan to encourage and direct Stockholm’s growth.  In his motion, he specifically mentioned the need for beautiful buildings to embody Sweden’s new prosperity and said that the city’s waterline must be cleaned up.  Instead of industrial slums and polluting factories lining the water, he called for grand public walkways along all of Stockholm’s waterways.  At the time, this last comment was so unlikely and utopian that he was laughed out of the council chamber, but the idea stuck and grew in Stockholm’s consciousness. 

Strandvägen, or "Shore Street," was not directly a product of Schuldheis’s motion; instead, it was a directly the result of a more practical matter.  The quay at Nybroviken was found to be unstable and near collapse, and uncharacteristic speed was needed to plan, design, and build a new quay.  Rothstein drew up the plans for the quay at Nybroviken, and although it wasn’t really supposed to be part of the project, in the spirit of Schuldheis’s he proposed that the grand quay be extended all the way from Nybroviken to Djurgårdsbron, the bridge to the island of Djurgården.  Not only did he propose a stone quay crossing what was then farm land sloping down to the water, but he also proposed that the quay be paired with a tree-lined boulevard that was to be lined with stately buildings looking out over the water.  

Rothstein’s proposal was both visionary and seemingly preposterous.  First of all, the boulevard would be adorning one of Stockholm’s poorest areas and thus seemed like a complete waste of resources—who would want to stroll through the slum?  The area east of downtown had been incorporated into Stockholm in the 1600’s as a methodical way to clear Norrmalm of the poor and move them farther from the city center.  Additionally, the waterline was literally a series of cow pastures dotted with wooden farm buildings.  (The area was known as Ladugårdslandet, or “Barn Land.”)  There were countless privately-owned lots along the water’s edge.  Storgatan ("Big Street") was the main street leading from central Stockholm through Ladugårdslandet to the island of Djurgården, and it was the traditional overland route to the island.  Rothstein’s proposal wasn’t merely to extend the quayside but to expropriate a large number of private lots and to build an unprecedentedly extravagant boulevard, through the poorest area of town, to nowhere.  The likes of Rothstein’s boulevard wasn’t even to be found (yet) in Paris. 
Storgatan, or "Big Street" still has a few reminders of its heyday in the 18th century.

The city council dismissed Rothstein’s proposal outright, writing that the project “was really nothing more than ornament and decoration” without any real benefit to the city, and that it was a project that the city could ill-afford.  However, Mayor Hamilton saw the potential in Rothstein’s vision and took the proposal to the King.  In 1861, the King ordered the city to proceed with Rothstein’s proposal.  The city had no other choice, and work began that same year.

Strangely, I haven’t been able to find any of Rothstein’s drawings, so other than Strandvägen itself, I’m not entirely sure what else was in his proposal.  However, I believe that he also drew the blocks between Storgatan and Strandvägen, and that the blocks were a direct expansion of the original city plan from the 1640’s.  This plan was a plain gridiron with no subtleties and none of the finesse which matured in Stockholm’s later expansions in the 1880’s. 

I also haven’t found information on the expropriation process, but the city bought up all of the privately-owned land between  Nybroviken and Djurgården’s Bridge and from Storgatan down to the water.  Nearly every building was demolished, the only exceptions being the state-owned buildings: Hedvig Eleonora Church (map 1),  
Kronobageriet or The Crown Bakery (map 2) which supplied the military with bread (see #1), 
and Artillerigården or Artillery Yard (map 3) (see #6) which was the military’s armory.  

Rothstein’s proposal had originally been for a 42-meter wide boulevard, but during the construction process, the city decided to make the street and quay 72 meters wide instead.  Compared with the city’s other main streets which were between 9 and 12 meters wide, Strandvägen was truly an unprecedentedly grand project for Stockholm.  The boulevard was designed in layers: first the stone quay at the water’s edge, 
The quay is very generously dimensioned; it is wide enough to encompass quite large restaurants and bars.
then a street heading west, 
then a triple allé in gravel, 
then a street heading east, and finally a paved sidewalk at the buildings’ edge. 
These layers offer a variety of experiences: a waterside stroll, a sunlight dappled promenade, an urban walk.    

It took fifteen years to fill and build the quay and to pave the street for its entire 740 meter length, and it wasn’t until 1879 that the three rows of trees could be planted.   

Incorporating a tramline into the boulevard’s layers wasn’t part of Rothstein’s original vision, but at some point during the construction process, a tramline was inserted into the plans.  Strandvägen was one of Stockholm’s first horse-drawn tramlines.  The tram was perfect for weekend outings to Djurgården and was probably well-used by Strandvägen’s residents commuting into the city for work.  Strandvägen can be seen as Stockholm’s first commuter suburb and bedroom community (more on the lack of commercial enterprise on Strandvägen below). 

Many of the street names in the Strandvägen development are actually quite old and date back to the 1600’s: Artillerigatan (Artillery Street), Skeppargatan (Sailor Street), Styrmansgatan (Helmsman’s Street) and Kaptensgatan (Captain’s Street) refer to the military activity in the area while Grevgatan (Count Street) refers to a specific Count who used to live in the area.  New street names from the time of development include Riddargatan (Knight Street) and Grev Magnigatan (Count Magnus Street, named after a military hero) which aim to extend both the military and the noble tradition of the area.  Nobles didn’t feel the need to live in the area, but pretenders could have “noble” addresses.   
"Chateaux" for businessmen.

Today, only a select few side streets empty into Strandvägen; most streets have been cut off from this main thoroughfare, I'm guessing as a traffic reducing measure.  The dead-end streets have been capped off with small pocket parks, further enhancing the area's park-like nature.
Dead-end street/pocket park.

Building Along the Boulevard
The land on the inland side of the boulevard was divided up into blocks and sold to private developers, and the first buildings were finished in 1882.  It seems that the middle section of the street was developed first—here the views of the open water were direct and the south-facing facades could soak up the sunshine.  The farthest end of Strandvägen was perhaps a bit too far out of town
and the closer section facing in to Nybroviken didn’t have the same kind of open water views or the same direct-south orientation.  

Strandvägen represents a breaking point in Stockholm’s development.  Some of the developers were private people who self-financed new buildings containing their own luxurious residence while the other developers were professional enterprises backed by banks.   
In the winter, the water along Strandvägen freezes.  Then it's time for ice skating!
The residents of Strandvägen also represent a change in Stockholm’s society.  Historically, Sweden’s money and power had both been centered on the aristocracy.  But a long progression of events throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries weakened the aristocracy’s position.  In the vacuum, Sweden’s entrepreneurs, timber barons, innovators, and bankers took precedence economically if not politically.  These “commoners” became extremely wealthy.  Like many nouveau riche, they built and bought ostentatious homes for themselves—these nouveau riche didn’t inherit castles and palaces by birth, so they built and bought them instead.
There is nothing subtle or moderate about the buildings along Strandvägen, and a tower marking the corner just wasn't enough. 

Stylistically, many of Strandvägen’s buildings consciously mimic French chateaux.  Strandvägen’s most famous building at numbers 29-33 was designed by architect Isak Gustaf Clason in 1888 for timber baron Friedrich Bünsow while the architect was on a grand tour of France and her Renaissance castles (map 4).  The apartment building’s towers, high roofs, dormer windows, brickwork, spires, crenellation, turrets, and dominant central pavilion are all elements gathered from French chateaux and applied to the project on Strandvägen.      

These nouveau French Chateaux are contemporary with Sweden’s National Romantic movement when Sweden re-awoke to her own history and borrowed from the architecture of her most powerful era.  Many projects around the country were copying and reinterpreting elements like massive, brick facades from the Vasa Kings’ 16th century castles such as Kalmar and Gripsholm Castles and applying them to modern buildings; Sweden’s past glory was in a sense also copied onto and reinterpreted in these National Romantic projects.  But the “common” nouveau riche builders of Strandvägen didn’t look to Sweden’s noble history for inspiration and validation; instead, they looked to France where the monarchies were even richer and even more powerful than Swedens’.  It was just another way for the “merchants” to spite the noble classes that they would never become a part of, even if they secretly longed to.    

In comparison to Stockholm’s 19th century simple and plain stucco facades, the Bünsow building was extremely ornamental with all of its Loire valley-inspired embellishments.  
The building also signifies another stylistic development—instead of a stucco covering “hiding” the structural materials of the building, the Bünsow building’s facade featured “natural” and “honest” materials of brick and stone.  Brick that was of a good-enough quality to be left uncovered was rare and expensive and most building budgets just didn’t allow for such an extravagance.  Other contemporary architects strove for facades of exposed brick and stone but had to make do with imitations in stucco.
These off-Strandvägen facades were designed to look like stone and brick (lower right) at a quick first glance.

Perhaps the most groundbreaking aspect of Claeson’s design were the windows.  Instead of the same size window marching regularly across the facade at equal intervals, the Bünsow building’s windows are placed according to the interior layout of the rooms.  This is one of the first examples of function overriding form, a theme that would continue to develop all the way until today.   

Apartments in the the Bünsow house were extravagantly large and featured six or seven large rooms which were 25-50 square meters each (270-540 square feet) plus a kitchen and maid’s quarters.  
1 Elevator. 2 Main Stair. 3 Vestibule. 4 Gentlemen's Room. 5 Salon. 6 Dining Room. 7 Bedroom. 8 Butler's Pantry. 9 Kitchen. 10 Maid's Bedroom. 11 Pantry. 12 Coachman's Bedroom. 13. Balcony.  There are also unnumbered bathrooms and servant's stairs.    *
The interiors were lavishly ornamental and true to the Victorian era, each room function featured a different style—Moorish for the gentlemen’s rum and Rococo for the drawing room.   
Bünsow occupied one gigantic apartment himself and sold the other street-facing apartments to other nouveau riche.  In 1900, the census revealed that Strandvägen’s showy apartments were solely the domain of the nouveau riche: wholesalers, bank directors, military officers, lawyers, and civil servants made up for nearly all of the residents.  Very few academics, nobles, or culture elites chose to live on Strandvägen.   
Details along Strandvägen.

Bünsow’s building was technologically extremely modern for Stockholm.  While most buildings in the Strandvägen development were without elevators, central heating, and bathrooms with flush toilets, the Bünsow building had elevators, central heating, and even electricity which was produced by a generator in the basement.
Details along Strandvägen.

Like Paris, Stockholm’s 19th century apartment buildings featured concierges which kept an eye on everyone coming and going, managed the maintenance staff, took messages, and sorted the mail.  The concierge also had keys to all the apartments and could thus let in workmen and water plants while the residents and their staff were away.     
Details along Strandvägen.

The back side of the blocks were generally occupied by relatively wealthy aspirants who couldn’t quite afford the luxurious and sunny water-view apartments.  These north-facing buildings tend to be relatively detailed but 
definitely not to the sumptuous degree of Strandvägen’s facades.  

In the interior of the blocks, small, dark rental apartments were occupied by servants and other low-paid workers such as waiters, tailors, and shop assistants.  
The dark grey apartments were extremely exclusive while the red apartments were relatively affordable for the working class.
These apartments didn’t have any of the status of the street-facing apartments, nor did they have water views or much of the sun and breeze enjoyed by the fancy flats.  Even so, Strandvägen, for all its glamour and prestige, is an interesting example of mixed income development where wealthy and poor alike shared the same front door. 

The Strandvägen development was designed as a purely residential neighborhood; no stores, offices, restaurants or cafés were originally meant to occupy the ground floors.  The area farthest from town is still completely residential and the streets north of Strandvägen are still strangely devoid of life.  But the buildings along Nybroviken were built later, and they were designed to have stores and restaurants along the street.  The most famous store is Svenkt Tenn, a home decorating store that has been the stylistic voice of wealthy Stockholm for nearly 100 years.   
Only the newest buildings along Strandvägen, those closest to downtown, have commercial spaces.

Strandvägen was the beginning of Stockholm’s expansion eastward.  Unconsciously or not, by creating a luxurious boulevard before planning the subsequent expansions, the city planners created a desirable neighborhood to which people flocked.  Instead of being regarded as merely an outlying suburb, the area was considered the home of Stockholm’s elite, a reputation which is still upheld today. (There's only one apartment for sale along the street, and it's pre-bidding-war price is $5 million.)  When Strandvägen was planned and developed, the district was known as Ladugårdslandet, or “Barn Land” and had 17,000 residents.  But this lowly, rural name was no longer appropriate, and it didn’t resonate with the area’s status, wealth, or exploding population.  In 1885, more than 40,000 people lived in the district and the name was changed to Östermalm, or “Eastern Area” which was in keeping with the historical areas of Norrmalm (“Northern Area”) and Södermalm (“Southern Area”).     
Layers of wealth along Strandvägen

While Strandvägen predated the awakening of city planning as a profession and the more nuanced planning proposals later in the century, the plan contains the bud of several important ideas.  First of all, older plans didn’t allow for differentiation in street widths for primary and secondary streets, but Strandvägen itself is a wide, open boulevard very much in contrast to the relatively narrow “normal” streets like Styrmansgatan which were laid out at the same time.  
Less grand street widths just off of Strandvägen.

Also, the insertion of trees into the urban fabric was a novelty.  Stockholm’s first public parks at Strömparterren and Berzelli opened a bit before Strandvägen’s genesis, but Strandvägen was the first tree-lined street in Stockholm’s urban context.  Additionally, Strandvägen marks a new attitude toward the street.  This street wasn’t just an efficient means of transportation; instead, it was a public space meant to be inhabited.  One wasn’t just to efficiently move through; one was invited to linger and enjoy.  

While the aristocracy’s fall was a drawn out affair that had begun a century before, Strandvägen punctuates the end of palace-building in Stockholm.  Now, Stockholm’s most exclusive residences were not palaces built for the nobility, but were imitation palaces built by businessmen for businessmen.   

Strandvägen was consciously designed as a luxurious address lined by palace-like apartment buildings in order to beautify the city’s image and proclaim the city’s wealthy, modern position.  At the same time, it was very much a project which benefited the populace as a whole.  Strandvägen was an important precedent of the city taking over the privately owned waterfront and turning it over to the public realm.  Despite the exclusive nature of the apartments lining the boulevard, the city gave the waterfront to the public.  The public has always appreciated this gift.  Ever since the boulevard opened, it has streamed with strollers, especially on sunny weekends. 

Carl Olov Sommar, Strandvägen (1987)
Börje Isakson, Åke E:son Lindman, och Per Wästberg, Berättelsen om Strandvägen (1999)
Nils-Gustaf Stahre, Per Anders Fogelström, Jonas Ferenius, and Gunnar Lundqvist, Stockholms gatunamn (2005)
Magnus Andersson, Stockholm’s Annual Rings (1998)

All of the images are my own except: 
* Wikipedia
** Gösta Selling, Hur Gamla stan överlevde (1973)