Through the history of modern architecture, avant-garde periodicals have played an important part in implementing new theoretical perspectives. Swedish architecture is no exception, although "Spektrum", the first generally acknowledged avant-garde periodical in Sweden, started with literature as its main object. "Spektrum" was founded in 1931 by the Russian immigrant Josef Riwkin. The first editors were the writer, Karin Boye, together with the literary critic, Erik Mesterton, later joined by poet Gunnar Ekelöf.
Economic difficulties, following the Kreuger affair in spring 1932, forced the publisher to reorient towards architecture, thus attracting advertisers from the building industry. The first issue on architecture was called "Arkitektur och samhälle" (Architecture and Society) and was in fact identical with the last issue of "Spektrum". During the next three years, "Arkitektur och samhälle" took a radical position in promoting modern architecture. Later on, it gradually changed its position, eventually advocating reactionary ideas, paradoxically contrary to those promoted in the first issues.
The Library of Architecture at the Royal Institute of Technology contains a single copy of the first issue of "Arkitektur och samhälle". Unfortunately, as this issue was originally spiral bound, cover and title page are missing. The cover was extremely fragile, made from Salubra wallpaper, of the collection designed by Le Corbusier. Furthermore, a photographic composition by El Lissitzky was printed on the cover, which is documented in the Royal Library and the Museum of Architecture in Stockholm.
Editor of this first issue was architect Sven Markelius, most probably cooperating with his fiancé, Viola Wahlstedt, a professional journalist, who had previously been a co-editor of "Spektrum". Markelius invited a prestigious group of writers: architects, art historians, and critics from his personal network. Although Alvar Aalto and Gregor Paulsson were among the contributors, the only text later acknowledged was written by Gotthard Johansson, at that time an influential critic, strongly promoting modern architecture or "functionalism"– the notion that he preferred to use.
In his article, "Är funktionalismen en stil?" (Is Functionalism a Style?), Gotthard Johansson took the chance of criticising a contemporary approach to architecture, advocated by art historian Heinrich Wölfflin and later further developed by Wölfflin's disciples Sigfried Giedion and Nikolaus Pevsner. Wölfflin's approach was based on perception and a new concept of space, which priviliged formal qualities and neglected cultural and historical aspects. In Sweden, this approach had recently been acknowledged by Gunnar Asplund, in his inaugural lecture as professor of Architecture at the Royal Institute of Technology in 1931.
Thus, Gotthard Johansson's aim was to contribute to an ideological debate, and he strongly opposed the idea that architecture was the product of formal qualities. From his point of view, no formal approaches were sufficient, no matter if they were based on psychology or on philosophy. Instead, he advocated a cultural approach to architecture, based partly on the use of material and technique, partly on the practical use of the actual building. Eventually, he exclaimed that functionalism demanded a new science of architectural history, focusing on architecture as a cultural phenomenon.
Later on, these ideas played an important part in the foundation of architectural research on housing and planning in Sweden. In 1939, Gotthard Johansson took charge of the first official housing research programme, initiated by the Swedish Society of Arts and Crafts, together with the National Association of Swedish Architects. That marked the beginning of an era of architectural research, strongly influencing architectural practice and education. However, by that time, "Spektrum" had long lost its significance for an avant-garde that was already well established in society.
Stockholm: KTH Arkitekturskolan , 2011. 22-25 p.