Gunnar Asplund's Gothenburg: The Transformation of Public Architecture in Interwar Europe (Buildings, Landscapes, and Societies)

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9780271059846: Gunnar Asplund's Gothenburg: The Transformation of Public Architecture in Interwar Europe (Buildings, Landscapes, and Societies)

In the west coast port city of Gothenburg, Sweden, the architect Gunnar Asplund built a modest extension to an old courthouse on the main square (1934–36). Judged today to be one of the finest works of modern architecture, the courthouse extension was immediately the object of a negative newspaper campaign led by one of the most noted editors of the day, Torgny Segerstedt. Famous for his determined opposition to National Socialism, he also took a principled stand against the undermining of urban tradition in Gothenburg. Gothenburg’s problems with modern public architecture, though clamorous and publicized throughout Sweden, were by no means unique. In Gunnar Asplund’s Gothenburg, Nicholas Adams places Asplund’s building in the wider context of public architecture between the wars, setting the originality and sensitivity of Asplund’s conception against the political and architectural struggles of the 1930s. Today, looking at the building in the broadest of contexts, we can appreciate the richness of this exquisite work of architecture. This book recaptures the complex magic of its creation and the fascinating controversy of its completed form.

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About the Author:

Nicholas Adams is Mary Conover Mellon Professor in the History of Architecture at Vassar College.

Review:

“In his penetrating and inspiring study, Nicholas Adams makes a contested provincial Swedish masterpiece the focus of a wide architectural and cultural context. He reveals the complexity of progressive modernity in relation to public monumental space, traditions, and institutional authority, viewing Asplund’s courthouse extension as both expression and functional scenography. His book adds substantially to Swedish architectural historiography and to the understanding of the international scene and their interrelationship.”

—Johan Mårtelius, co-author of The Complete Guide to Architecture in Stockholm



“This brilliant book offers a unique insight into one of the most cherished models of modern monumentality: the Gothenburg Courthouse extension, designed by Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund and completed in 1936. Setting his subject in an international perspective, Nicholas Adams carefully addresses questions on modern law and modern architecture, reaching far beyond the actual case. Through his inclusively contextual approach, we learn that the introduction of modernism in public architecture was a difficult task, operating on different levels of a democratic society through the interplay of architect, commissioner, and—not least—public opinion.”

—Anders Bergström, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm



“Is modernist architecture necessarily ‘progressive’? Does a monumental portico always symbolize a rigid social hierarchy? Can traditional form ever be properly incorporated into modern society without appearing as kitsch? These are the questions which animate Nicholas Adams’s thorough tale of Gunnar Asplund’s extension to Gothenburg’s courthouse, a work of modern architecture in a prominent location that attempted to respect the classical language of its host building, and caused a calamitous uproar.”

—Douglas Murphy, Times Literary Supplement



“Adams has given us a serious and well-researched book with much valuable translation from the Swedish and a welcome emphasis on social and political history.”

—Peter Blundell Jones, Architectural Histories



“Nicholas Adams achieves his own feat of construction by placing Asplund’s extension into a broader historiography of mid-twentieth-century modernism and by contextualizing the building’s reception and effect upon the development of attitudes about modernist architecture. That a scholar could write an entire study on one building’s extension, and hold the reader’s interest so intently throughout the process, is its own singular achievement.”

—Mark Mussari, Scandinavian Studies

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