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Historical Homestaging: The Return of the Period Room
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Architecture, History and Theory of Architecture.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-9640-6499
2017 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation only (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

The project Historical Homestaging examines how the image of the Swedish home has been constructed and communicated though various forms of full-scale models at history museums. A major issue is how these installations relate to historiography and to the formation of a national canon. Here I will briefly present a part of the project that deals with the Period Room, once a main attraction but later rejected as historical evidence. By looking at three recent installations, the case study ‘The Return of the Period Room’ raises the question whether we are actually witnessing a revival of this specific form of display, which was practically abandoned some fifty years ago.

Nordiska museet (The Nordic Museum)

In Sweden, as in most European countries, and the United States, cultural history museums were keen to present full-scale installations of domestic environments. Artur Hazelius, the founder of Nordiska museet, introduced the concept at his ethnographical displays already in the 1870s, and a whole series of period rooms were installed in the new museum building in 1907. For many years, the period rooms were regarded as trustworthy illustrations of the traditional Swedish home. Although they represented historical styles, the rooms were also meant to have an impact on contemporary architecture and interior design. And they were closely linked to contemporary academic research and historiography. Eventually, their authenticity was disputed, and the period rooms at Nordiska museet were finally dismantled in the 1970s.

Sven-Harry’s Museum

At the turn of the 21stcentury the situation had changed, and in the post-modern era, reconstructions and replicas were no longer looked upon with the same suspicion. The new cultural climate seemed to allow the period rooms to reappear. My first example is Sven-Harry’s Museum in central Stockholm, which opened in 2011. The founder, the building contractor Sven-Harry Karlsson, chose to display his private art collection at the top of the building, and to design the premises as a full-scale replica of his former home. The setting contrasts radically with the strict White-Cube concept that prevails in the other part of the museum, the art gallery on the lower levels.

Folkhemslägenheten

The second example is an installation at Nordiska museet in Stockholm. In 2013 the museum opened ‘Folkhemslägenheten’, a small apartment representing the housing and planning ideals of the welfare program, which were implemented in Sweden between the 1930s and 1970s. In the last decades, the Swedish welfare state has emerged as a major issue for historical research and public debate. At the same time, modern architecture has been acknowledged as cultural heritage, thus added to the long line of historical periods, and inscribed in the national canon. The social aspects of the installation highlight the strong links between social history and architectural history in contemporary heritage discourse.

The IKEA museum in Älmhult

In 2016 the originally Swedish furnishing company IKEA opened its own museum, located in its first store, built in 1958 in Älmhult in southern Sweden. Although the company today operates on a global market, the idea of a Swedish identity, in terms of design as well as mentality, is still a fundamental element of the brand. Consequently, one part of the exhibition is devoted to the Swedish vernacular culture. Another part contains around a dozen period rooms. They are free reconstructions of interiors from old catalogues, and originally nothing more than stage sets for the photo session. The objects play a more important role, but not, of course, as unique artefacts.

Conclusion

Even though these new installations are housed within museums, and clearly rely on the classic period room, they transcend the traditional concept. Instead of representing style or artistic development, they seem to focus on other aspects of historical representation. The issue of authenticity, for instance, which once was a precondition for the period rooms, seems to have changed in character. By being openly non-authentic constructions, not least regarding their architectural framework, the new installations cleverly avoid the critique that affected the period rooms by the middle of the twentieth century. The recent displays support other kinds of narratives than the old period rooms. They open for a varietyof uses, and users that can afford such an expensive medium to support their brand. Still, the urge to situate the display within a solid frame of national history seems unchanged.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2017.
Keywords [en]
architectural exhibition, Period room, Swedish museums
National Category
Architecture
Research subject
Architecture
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-240312OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-240312DiVA, id: diva2:1271042
Conference
Making Effekt: Research in Architecture, 14–17 September 2017, Arkitektur och Designcenter, Stockholm
Projects
SRE – Architecture in Effect
Funder
Swedish Research Council Formas
Note

QC 20190107

Available from: 2018-12-15 Created: 2018-12-15 Last updated: 2019-01-07Bibliographically approved

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