The opening of Stockholm Public Library in 1928 was the last step in a long series of considerations, since the idea originated in Sweden at the turn of the century 1900. At that time there were numerous libraries in Stockholm, each organised to meet the demands of people from different classes. However, the contemporary development towards extended civic rights called for cooperation, and a special committee launched an official proposal for a central library in 1912.
When Gunnar Asplund joined the committee as architect in 1918, the design of the building was already subject to study by expert librarians. Thus, Asplund's work focused on a synthesis of existing ideas rather than personal invention. Asplund's assignment was to create an overall design, which combined a both functional and symbolic approach. Among Asplund's colleagues in the committee, the idea of public libraries was presented as emanating from the French revolution. Accordingly, Stockholm Public Library has been interpreted as "revolutionary architecture" in the tradition of Ledoux and Boullée. However, since such projects did not appear in popular publication until early 1930:s, Asplund's design seems to be based on other sources.
As a part of his preliminary work for the committee, Asplund travelled to the United States in 1920, visiting modern public libraries. During his visit, Asplund was also introduced to American examples of revolutionary architecture, based on French sources. Paradoxically, American public buildings offered a vivid experience, consisting of actual buildings rather than mere projects.
In the official report, published by the committee in 1921, Asplund analysed the results of his American studies in connection with his contemporary project for the library. His programme is easily summarised; since common knowledge was to be found mostly in books, it must be the aim to supply the citizens with the books they want at short hand. The path to knowledge should thus be designed as the easiest way to find a certain book, without great effort and hesitation.
For security reasons the path to knowledge had better be thoroughly organised. Asplund took advantage of this fact, leading the visitor through a veritable "rite of passage", combining both the functional and symbolic demands of the library. However, since public libraries were expected to be modest in character, Asplund's symbolic approach was rather criticised from a social perspective.
Eventually, to understand Asplund's design, it is important to note that the library was to meet the demands of people from all ages and classes. To secure the status of the library among the citizens, it was equally important to attract more demanding visitors. This called for a monumental approach, based on a rather traditional view of society. In fact, far from being a worker's initiative, Stockholm Public Library was in many ways a conservative project.
Venezia: Scuola di dottorato, Università IUAV di Venezia , 2009. 15-15 p.
History of Architecture, Swedish Architecture 20th Century, Library Design, Stockholm Public Library, Architect Gunnar Asplund
Erik Gunnar Asplund. Le radici della modernità. Convegno internazionale. Venice, Italy. 18 June 2009
Projekt finansierat av Riksbankens Jubileumsfond. QC 20120507