Stockholm City Hall – grandeur and opulence

If the Sigtuna Stadhus (city hall) is an exercise in smallness and simplicity then the Stockholm Stadhus is an bold attempt at whimsical, understated grandeur and opulence.

The decision to construct a new city hall building was made in 1907 and an open tender was called, drawing some of the brightest stars in Swedish architecture to attend – Ragnar Östberg, Carl Westman, Ivar Tengbom jointly with Ernst Torulf, and Carl Bergsten. Ragnar Östberg won the fierce competition while the runner up (Carl Westman) was given the job of constructing the Stockholm Court House.

The plans for the city hall were changed throughout the construction period, including the addition of the additional bell tower at the top of the building among others.

Construction of the whole building took 12 years, beginning in 1911 and completing only in 1923. It was inaugurated on 23rd June 1923, exactly 400 years after the arrival of Gustav Vasa in Stockholm (and here) and the establishment of modern Sweden.

Stockholm Stadhus is considered an example of the national romantic architectural style. This style evolved from a movement called romantic nationalism. According to Wikipedia, “romantic nationalism is the form of nationalism in which the state derives its political legitimacy as an organic consequence of the unity of those it governs”. Yea I didn’t get that either. I think its more a pride in your culture and using that idea to romanticise your cultural heritage and legacy to develop a political system for the country. But what the national romantic architectural style means in practice is this, that architects turn to the past (medieval architecture of that people) for inspiration to craft a design that represents the “spirit of a people”.

We do it today too just that we don’t romanticise nationalism as much as we do money (regardless of the rise of right-wing nationalism).

Speaking of money, one of the popular sites in the city hall is the gold room, named such because it is literally plastered with 18 million pure gold leaves imported from Germany.

The lady in the centre is supposed to be a strong saint and protector of Stockholm city while the buildings to her left (see the statue of liberty) and right (Russian churches and Indian elephants) are from the Western world and Eastern World, illustrating the idea of Stockholm and Sweden being a link between the East and West.

Another interesting feature of the gold room is the image of old Stockholm at the back. Look at the top, notice how the head of the knight is missing. It was a mistake, the architects did not take in certain parameters when designing. But the architect in charge rationalised it as a planned coincidence. According to him, the knight was St Erik (a patron saint og Stockholm) who lost his head anyway, and his head is basically the coat of arms of Stockholm, so all was well and good.

Stockholm Coat of ArmsStockholm Coat of Arms (source)

Then there is the blue room, which well is not blue. Ostberg wanted the room to be filled with blue tiles but then realised how beautiful the room was with its red tiles and natural sunlight and decided to just keep it that way. But the name blue room stuck because everyone was calling it that.

The blue room is home to the largest organ in Scandanavia and the site of the annual Nobel banquet. There was really nowhere else more suitable for the Nobel banquet and ceremony.

The Stockholm city hall also houses the Stockholm municipal council which meets in a beautiful council room that is open to the public.

According to the guide, its still a mystery why the beams were left as they were. There were many attempts at interpreting the architect’s intentions, but the architect only every said that it looked nice.

Here are some more beautiful picture I stole from Wikipedia instead (because mine don’t do it justice).

Stockholm Stadhus 8Stockholm Stadhus at dusk

Stockholm Stadhus 9Stockholm Stadhus courtyard

Stockholm Stadhus 10The blue room



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