Monday, January 4, 2016
Tyska Brunnsplan—A small square in Gamla Stan
Tyska Brunnsplan, or “German Well Square,” is a triangular-shaped square where two streets form a Y-intersection in Stockholm’s Old Town. Originally, a large well and pump building filled the triangular space, but this building was torn down in 1783 when Stockholm’s fire insurance company (some sort of a private/public combo) created several turning places for its firetrucks throughout the city. Although the square was created for practical reasons, it provides a small break in Gamla Stan’s exceedingly dense urban fabric.
In 1785, Vice City Architect Erik Palmstedt made drawings for a replacement well which serves as the square’s focal point as well as creates a circular traffic flow around the square. The well is a small Doric temple which was almost certainly informed by the architect’s travels throughout France and Italy in the late 1770’s. In the summer, water can still be pumped using the large iron lever.
I can’t help but think that Palmstedt’s design for the building facing the square was influenced by the theatrical, concave 1730’s Piazza di Sant’ Ignazio in Rome (see Rome Rome Rome). In order to create a backdrop for the well and square, Palmstedt unified two buildings into one slightly concave facade. The differently sized windows on the fourth floor are evidence that two buildings were fused into one, but the composition is surprisingly harmonious.
The square’s two large trees weren’t planted until the late 1930’s or early 1940’s (as evidenced by photographs). The nature of the square seems very changed because of the trees, and the leafiness lends the square a park-like character. I am disappointed, however, that the square is now used for car parking— summertime café seating seems like a much more valuable use of the space!
I have always been drawn to this small, leafy square in Stockholm’s Old Town, but after reading about its creation history, I am even more enamored. Architects today often struggle with the exact same issues of firetruck access—we want to create small, intimate, and pedestrian-oriented spaces between buildings, but the realities of fire safety counteract our initial sketches. Tyska Brunnsplan is an important reminder that these challenges are not new, and that architects have been finding lovely and creative solutions to this same problem for centuries. While Tyska Brunnsplan is smaller in scale than todays’ firetrucks require, it is proof that a beautiful urban space can be born of seemingly disagreeable restrictions.
Stahre, Fogelsträm, Ferenius, and Lundqvist, Stockholms gatunamn (2005)
Hultin, Johansson, Mårtelius, and Waern, The Complete Guide to Architecture in Stockholm (2011)
The photos are my own.
Palmstedt’s well drawing: https://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyska_brunnsplan#/media/File:Tyska_Brunn_ritning.jpg
Historic photo from 1901: http://www.stockholmskallan.se/Soksida/Post/?nid=3506