Towards a Critical Architectural History…

Towards a Critical Architectural History: Architecture, History and Theory?

Session chairs:

Stina Hagelqvist, PhD, Dept. of Art History, Stockholm University, [email protected] +46702385753

Catharina Nolin, Associate professor, Dept. of Art History, Stockholm University, [email protected], +468164715


The Svensk stad Project – social ecological and art historical investigation about the Swedish 19th century town.

Anders Dahlgren, Dept. of Cultural Sciences/Art History and Visual Studies, Gothenburg University, [email protected]

This paper is about the concept of social ecology (social ekologi) that was used in Svensk stad project to expand the art historical analysis. What was meant by social ecology? How was it used and how did it influence the choice of study objects, case studies and the understanding of architecture and its role in society?

Svensk stad was a trans-disciplinary project, lead by Gregor Paulsson (1889-1977), with the intention to analyze the Swedish 19th century town – its environments, buildings, and domestic objects, the public and private life of its inhabitants. The theoretical perspective in Svensk stad is described in the preface as combining the art historical “data” about city plans, buildings and design objects on the one hand and statistical, economic historical and ecological on the other (Paulsson, 1950, p. VIII-IX). The idea was to relate art historical objects to their environments and to understand their functions within it.

The theory and method used in Svensk stad were partly built on earlier writings from Paulsson but were further developed through a close collaboration with the sociologist and ethnologist Börje Hanssen (1917-1979). Hanssen dedicated himself to working with the social ecological perspective, which according to him “should be classified as an independent research discipline” (Hanssen, 2010, p. 12).

Interestingly enough, an in-depth explanation of the social ecology is not to be found in Svensk stad. I will consult other published and unpublished texts by Gregor Paulsson and Börje Hanssen as well as correspondence between the two scholars in order to reach a profound understanding of the theory of social ecology and the research method in Svensk stad.

Hanssen, Börje, Åter till Österlen: en tidig mikrohistoria : agrar- och socialhistoriska texter i urval med en inledande biografi av Anders Perlinge, Enheten för de areella näringarnas historia (ANH), Stockholm, 2010.

Paulsson, Gregor, Svensk stad. D. 1, Liv och stil i svenska städer under 1800-talet, Bd 1, Bonnier, Stockholm, 1950.


Brand-Squatting and Patina Management. The Marketing Aesthetics of Readymade Spaces.

Per Strömberg, BI Norwegian Business School. [email protected]

Reuse of buildings has become a widespread strategy to create attractive urban environments with new functions. Former industrial buildings have become the new temples of culture, art and commerce. In the 1960s and 70s, creative reuse and ‘cultural bricolage’ became a common subversive tactic of marginalized and oppositional cultures – artists, environmentalists, situationists, and the squatter movement – to ‘decolonize everyday life’ in consumer society. However, creative reuse has been adopted by the mainstream culture, not as a subversive act against dominant space in society, but as an act of creativity for business-driven innovation.

This paper studies the context in which post-industrial environments have become attractive places for marketing product novelties, e.g. popup-strategies and subversive reuse of buildings. The serial case study reveals a commercial practice of ‘brand-squatting’ and ‘patina management’: a former factory turned into a boutique hotel which works as a showcase for exclusive design brands; a fashion show of H&M staged in an old limestone quarry; a product launch of Saab took place at a former Cold War-bunker; a music video of Madonna was shot at a former nuclear test plant.

As an analogy to the avant-garde theory of readymades, the author argue that ‘readymade space’ is a utile metaphor to describe the cultural alchemy of ‘re-appropriation’ in which vacant buildings and left-over spaces are reused and adapted to new commercial purposes. The notion of readymade space is grounded in art theory as well as theories of Lefebvre. It considers both the spatial as well as the historic, artistic and social perspectives on creative reuse.

Such a discussion would help us to understand the role and conditions of what I call ‘creative reuse’ in today’s consumer society and provide us with new knowledge about the nature of aestheticization processes in popular culture and cultural economy.


How modern was the Finnish industrial architecture before the Second World War?

Johanna Björkman, Helsinki City Museum, [email protected]

This paper proposes to examine how modernism in Finnish architecture has been regarded as having had one dominant style in the 1930s. This has also been the case in industrial architecture, where Finnish architectural history has emphasized white functionalism from the 1930s in a variety of pictures and films of factories and in institutional discourse, exhibitions and books. One of the most iconic examples is Sunila by Alvar Aalto. However, it is obvious that the whole picture was more varied. It has also been studied that the forest industry, which was at its relative largest between the two world wars, long maintained the more traditional language of architecture. One could say that modernization proceeded from inside to outside: the first task was to modernize industrial processes, machines and equipment, and later buildings and their architecture. There existed simultaneously functionalistic and other, more traditional and historical architectures used in the industrial architecture in Finland. This has been the case also in Sweden (Eriksson, 2000) and probably elsewhere in Scandinavia, too.

Constructing a modern industrial state was emphasized in the success story of the Finnish forest industry after Finland gained its independence. The forest industry had money, power and social relations. Its importance was highlighted also in its architecture. Recent study has disclosed that the forest industry companies in Finland did not compete with each other. Rather, success was expressed in terms of the interests of all of Finland (Häggman 2006). Thus it is no wonder that the companies in this specific industry hired the same architects to design their factories and communities. They didn’t compete with each other and had no reason to stand out from one another architecturally. In my paper I would like to argue that the managers in the forest industry had a quite conservative yet legitimate taste in architecture.

I have studied Finnish architect, W.G. Palmqvist (1882-1964). His active career lasted from the 1920s to the 1940s. He is one of the most productive architects of the 20th century in Finland, especially planning for industrial companies. Palmqvist belongs to the so-called “in between” generation of architects, who were born in the 1880s and began their studies at the beginning of the 20th century. They began their careers utilizing the art nouveau style and the 1920s classicism and functionalism that followed, but they often didn’t have a strong expression of their own. I have studied the relationship Palmqvist had with Gösta Serlachius, managing director of G.A. Serlachius Ab. Serlachius was active in political and social affairs. He developed the industrial community Mänttä and he had clear aesthetic visions that he hired architects to fulfil. His correspondence with artists and architects, required works and art pieces in his collection show a proclivity towards national, bourgeois and traditional – even sometimes provincial – preferences (Kervanto Nevalinna, 2007).

The variation in architectural styles in the 1920s and 1930s has often been overlooked in the histories of Finnish architecture from the 1950s onwards. 1920s classicism and heroic functionalism have been regarded as national styles, but the fact is that the contemporary taste also appreciated more traditional, historical or even eclectic styles. Architecture that was presented in the architectural magazine Arkkitehti showed variety in design. It was also common for architects to have different styles for different customers and for architects to change their own style during their career (Niskanen, 2005).  It is the historiography of modern architecture and the canonization of selected architects that tend to prioritize architects who fit in the coherent picture of Finnish modern architecture. As my own study shows: Palmqvist was in his time a frequently employed architect, but was later dismissed. His style has been criticised as conservative and different from the contemporary light and simple style. His archive was neglected from the collections of the Museum of Finnish Architecture (in the 1960s) and only recently has been taken there.


Finding the Right Context for Architectural History.

Nicholas Adams, Art Department, Vassar College, [email protected]

The value of history for contemporary practice seems to have receded. At a session in Rome (12/11, see video at two senior architects and a landscape architect debated the relevance of the city and its architecture today. It was an extremely interesting conversation, as fascinating for what it revealed as for what was left unspoken. All three speakers love the city and its architecture but it was not clear from their discussion, despite their kind words, why historians and history writing mattered to their understanding of architecture. Their understanding of history was largely formal in nature. For one of them, (Stephen Kieran) the most important result of his experience in Rome, was to enable him to put aside the classical tradition. And for another (Laurie Olin), the analogies between Rome and modern design were the kind that could have been taught by extended travel and good lectures. But architectural history?

It is not surprising that architectural history mutated into theory in an effort to make useful meaning for architects (see Neil Leach). The development of theory corresponded chronologically with the end of postmodernism (when history had seemed to matter) to the next phase of architectural development. Focusing on architecture’s own meaning, its internal meaning, brought architectural studies into the realm of philosophy or literary study, sometimes inflected in historical ways. But the retreat from theory is clearly a signal of a problem. Any self-sustaining field wants to have its own goals and aims, its own methods and practices. As Manfredo Tafuri observed of history: a field that is driven by the interests and concerns of another will never be anything but contingent. The historian-theorist, moreover, cedes the ability to comment on issues of broader contemporary relevance. In a university community ever more pressured to seek relevance by economic outcome or by societal impact, new paradigms are needed. Philosopher-theorists will, I believe, suffer the same fate.

In my view architectural history’s natural ally is not the architectural profession, but pure history. Interpreting visual evidence historically is at the root of our professional training and architectural historians need to prove their relevance to the broader field of history. Taking a book like Carl Schorske’s Fin-de-siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture (1979) or Katerina Clark’s Moscow, the Fourth Rome: Stalinism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Evolution of Soviet culture, 1931-1941 (2011) we can see how the intersection of literature, music, art, and architecture can bring alive the terms society uses for operation.  Too often we divide our studies into “formal” and “contextual.” The development of a third category of historical study, one that is both deeply formal and broadly contextual should be our goal. Our ability to contribute to our own society hinges on speaking to it about the range of experiences they have not just about the single experience of architecture. Teaching others in the humanities and social sciences our skills will place architecture closer to the center of society’s concerns.