söndag 15 maj 2011

Ursula Larsson: Landshövdingehusens Göteborg ("The Gothenburg of the Governor's houses")

During the 1800s, fire hazard was an ever-present specter, and to reduce the risk of having its city devastated by fire, Gothenburg ruled that houses made of wood may only be two stories high. Now, it was hard to build houses profitably in only two stories, and very, very expensive to build higher houses in stone or brick – especially considering that the wight would be problematic with the bad ground conditions of mainly clay. In 1875, Arbetarnas Byggnadsförening ("The workers' building co-op") requested permission to build three-story houses with the ground floor in stone and the top two floors in wood – essentially elevating the cellar above ground, one might say.

The city rejected their application, but on appeal to the County Administrative Board, that decision was repealed, and quite the number of houses were to be built according to this basic schema. From 1875, you didn't even need a special exception permit to build them, because by then they were declared OK in the city ordinance. In 1945, they were once again prohibited, since WWII had taught a horrifying lesson about the fires that could result from cities being bombed. Unfortunately, a number of them were torn down in the modernization mania of the 60s and 70s, but quite a few are fortunately still around.

Since they were built over a pretty long period of time – from the 1870s to the 1940s – the Governor's houses exhibit quite the variety of styles, from rather simple façades to the quite elaborated and decorated ones, depending on the era and the relative wealth of the area where they were built. Of course, in the end, Functionalism came and ruined everything as usual:

The book also includes a look at the relevant history of worker's housing in the era (if you're allergic to slight bias in favor of the Social Democrats, you might detect some of that, but I think if I could handle it so can you). It's worth a read.

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