Skogskyrkogården
Skogskyrkogården
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The creation of Asplund and Lewerentz at Skogskyrkogården established a new form of cemetery that has exerted a profound influence on cemetery design throughout the world. It is an outstandingly successful example of a designed cultural landscape and buildings conceived as an integral whole, which blends landform and natural vegetation with architectural features to create a landscape that is ideally suited to its purpose as a cemetery.

In 1912 an international architectural competition was organized for the purpose of creating a new cemetery in a 96 ha tract of pine-clad sand and gravel with the following conditions: the basic plan must be clear, simple, and efficient without sacrificing any of its artistic merits and without undue alteration of the natural contours of the existing landscape;dignity must play an important part in the design;details should contribute to an attractive overall impression of artistic value;and the natural formation of the existing gravel pits should be used as far as possible to form valleys and glens. The first prize was awarded to two 30-year-old Swedish architects, Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz. The design of the cemetery stands out for its intense romantic naturalism. It turned the existing, essentially untouched, Nordic forest into the dominant experience, and it is the evocation of raw Nordic wilderness that constitutes a radical departure in landscape architecture as well as cemetery layout at this time.

Work began in 1917 and the formal consecration of the Woodland Cemetery (Skogskyrkogården): its first chapel, the Woodland Chapel, was built in 1920 and soon proved to be too small and so the Chapel of Resurrection and a service building was added between 1923 and 1925. The Stockholm Cemetery Board also introduced special restrictions regarding the size and form of gravestones in the new cemetery. In 1935 Asplund draw up a group of three chapels (Chapels of Faith, Hope, and the Holy Cross) and a crematorium complex. The huge granite cross on the lawn outside the chapels was a gift from an anonymous donor.

Unlike most of its contemporaries, Asplund and Lewerentz's cemetery design evokes a more primitive imagery. The intervention of footpaths, meandering freely through the woodland, is minimal. Graves are laid out without excessive alignment or regimentation among the natural forest. Such interventions as the architects allowed themselves, such as the reshaping of the two old gravel pits and the layout of the area round the main chapel, are effectively concealed within the virgin forest around them;yet provide a vivid contrast to them. Their sources were not 'high' architecture or landscape design but ancient and medieval Nordic burial archetypes. Nonetheless, skilful use was made of elements from Mediterranean antiquity, such as the Via Sepulchra at Pompeii, but these are not allowed to dominate the essentially Nordic whole.

The Woodland Chapel, built from wood with whitewashed walls and a shingled roof, represents both intensification and a formal disciplining of the romantic naturalism of the competition scheme. Its severity reflects Asplund's increasing interest in classicism and classical composition methods. The point of departure for the chapel, set in a grove of mature fir trees surrounded by a wall, is an indigenous vernacular landscape element, the country church surrounded by a walled graveyard. This is further evoked by the chapel's black shingle roof, but this is subtly shifted by isolating it on Tuscan columns, which give it the appearance from a distance of a wooden pyramid emerging from the surrounding trees.

The second group of chapels is designed to permit funerals to take place simultaneously. Each of the chapels has its own enclosed garden, and as a group they take full advantage of the natural landscape. The gentle slope is accentuated by the gradually descending height of the buildings to the open-air columbarium and the main gate. The largest of the chapels, Holy Cross, has a monumental hall in front of it, and adjoining this is a lily-pond. Beyond the pond is the space for open-air ceremonies. The columbarium, with niches and graves for urns, lies to the north of the chapels. Decorations inside the three chapels resulted from a competition held in 1937. They maintain the austerity that is characteristic of the entire Skogskyrkogården complex.

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