Wednesday, January 07, 2015

overcome with light

Stockholm Public Library with reflecting pool - Gunnar Asplundthe Swedish noun upplysning has three meanings:

1. information, explanation

2. lighting, illumination

3. enlightenment (and in the definitive form upplysningen it's also the Age of Enlightenment)

in this way - in Swedish - illumination and lighting is intrinsically linked with the mental act of enlightenment. or you could state it the other way round: the mental act of enlightenment is intrinsically linked with the physical phenomenon of light. this has been given the most basic and literal architectural form in Gunnar Asplund's Public Library in Stockholm.

let's take a short walk through the building to see just how:

podium stair, Stockholm Public Library - Gunnar Asplund
when approaching the building on Sveavägen you're met by a long stair leading up a podium on which the actual building is placed. you walk towards the faux-Egyptian entrance opening within which the entrance door is set. originally the door was a hinged door, in the 50's changed to a storm door and finally in the late 70's to the revolving door that's still in use.

entrance hall, Stockholm Public Library - Gunnar Asplund
inside is the entrance hall: a high room with dark walls in a sort of stucco lustro (technically they're 'kalkspacklade' but I'm afraid I don't know the exact term in English) adorned by Ivar Johnsson's low-reliefs of scenes from the Illiad. in front of you is a drum pierced by another Egyptian portal while to either side of the drum a curving stair runs up into darkness. the Egyptian portal opens to a stair leading on towards a bright room one story up.

central hall, Stockholm Public Library - Gunnar Asplund
continuing up the stair you find yourself in the middle of a high white drum whose lower parts are lined with bookshelves and whose top is pierced by high windows marching steady all around the drum.

this is the centre of the library, from here you can continue in several different ways depending on what you're looking for: you can make your way up the shelves running around the drum or you can go to the reading rooms and specialist collections in any of the four wings.
exit stair, Stockholm Public Library - Gunnar Asplund
when you later want to leave the library and make the reverse journey you did on your entry everything's suddenly inverted: the bright drum you encountered before is revealed to be dark and dreary compared to the bright light coming up the entrance stair (also note the, non-original, bust of August Strindberg on the top floor misaligned compared to the stair but aligned with the doors on the floor below).

exit hall, Stockholm Public Library - Gunnar Asplundas you walk down those stairs you're constantly able to see out through the glazed entrance portal and upon reaching the bottom step you find that what was a dark and somewhat oppressive entrance hall is suddenly a bright exit hall with light bouncing off the shiny walls and even the ceiling.

continuing out through the revolving door you're back in the same spot where you started from, exactly the same but having been subjected to some both literal and figurative upplysning since last.

you could find this analogy a little cheesy and over-didactic (well, assuming this was actually how Asplund thought about the project, something I haven't got a clue about) but there is no way of denying that the way the different rooms change their appearance and mood depending on if you're entering or exiting the building is plain masterful.

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