söndag 3 april 2011

Ingrid Sommar: Funkis

The modernist strain in architecture, represented by people like Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, had its Swedish version known by its nickname "funkis" – short for "funktionalism". This book about the Swedish branch of the international movement, and is written by Ingrid Sommar, who writes about design and architecture in books, lifestyle magazines etc. (That latter part becomes a slight annoyance to me, as she brings that style of writing to her book, and it's not really the sort of writing I want to read; I prefer a more precise language with fewer catchphrases.)

Anyway, the book briefly presents a number of Swedish functionalist architects and some of their work. It also touches a bit on the political implications of the style, coming as it did on the eve of an era of Social Democratic near-hegemony for Sweden, when the increasing wealth of the nation made possible a major expansion of the welfare state as well as Sweden's building stock (including for the new and increased functions taken on by the state – like many new library buildings, etc.). Hence, it was associated with the building of the Folkhemmet, "the people's home", the Swedish welfare state. Sommar sees this as something that has worked in functionalism's favor, being associated with this era of rapid development for Sweden. Me, I think the boring, austere look of those functionalist buildings helped build an image of the Social Democracy as too bureaucratic and not enough concerned with actual people, something that finally came back to bite them in the butt in the seventies, when they finally lost that near-hegemonic position they'd held on to for half a century in Swedish politics (didn't leave the party leadership in those days very happy, I can tell you).

Some of the people presented in the book are quite interesting, and they have created some of the most enduring monuments to functionalism in Sweden. Me, I think an architectural movement that calls itself "functionalism" really should realize that in our Nordic climate, flat roofs are simply asking for trouble, and that for an environment where people live and work buildings should be pleasing to the eye to increase happiness. But I also recognize what these architects and planners were trying to do: building a new and better society, where even the less well-off would be able to afford a good housing standard, with lots of light, and room enough for proper living amenities – like indoor bathrooms, and kitchen equipment. I'll also admit that many of the indoor designs are quite pleasing to the eye, even if the exteriors are angular, blocky, and boring.

One of the greats of the movement was Gunnar Asplund, who among many, many other things did an add-on to the Gothenburg city hall that is symptomatic of my views of the movement. Instead of creating something that harmonized with the existing building, he decided to tack on this ugly slab on the right:

If you're not thinking, "What was he thinking?", clearly there's something wrong with you.

On the other hand, he also created these spacious interiors:

...so he can't have been all bad. (I recommend that you go to the Gunnar Asplund site linked to above; it's worth it to see some of the more important architectonic creations of Sweden's 20s and 30s.)

Funkis worth the read, the prose flows easily enough and some of the pictures (by Åke E:son Lindman) quite nice, but don't expect a critical eye or deep enquiry from Sommar; that's not what her writing is about.

(...And if you're over the age of forty and an English-speaker, I certainly hope the word "funkis" reminded you of "The Funky Gibbon".)

2 kommentarer:

  1. Tja, man älskade ju "the Goodies" när det visades på den svenska Teven. Men man har en känsla att det kan ha varit glest mellan pärlorna.

  2. Det är med gamla TV-serier som med livet, man kommer bara ihåg valda delar.