Jugendvillorna på Olympia i Helsingborg : en essä om arkitektur och livsmiljö i förvandling

Ann-Charlotte Weimarck

Research output: Book/ReportBookResearch


Summary in English

The Art Nouveau houses in the Olympia district in Helsingborg.
An essay on architecture and living space in transformation

The aim of this study is, in a longer term perspective and from various aspects, to discuss a group of distinctive buildings in Helsingborg. This consists of almost 30 detached apartment houses in the Art Nouveau style. They were built during a period of a few years immediately after 1900 on the four estates known as Staren (Starling), Lärkan (Lark), Vipan (Lapwing) and Ärlan (Wagtail). They lie east of the town centre, up on a cliff in the Olympia district. These Art Nouveau houses still have a dominating position in the four areas and create an unusual, comparatively harmonious architectonic environment.
By way of introduction, the development of Art Nouveau is described and forms a kind of background for understanding the original aesthetics of the Art Nouveau houses on the “Bird estates”. This is exemplified by the Art Nouveau style as it was created in Brussels where more than 500 buildings in this new style were built between 1893 and 1900. Above all, it is the originator of this style, Victor Horta, who is highlighted with his great variation of buildings where often each frontage and each interior represented something new.
The study also draws attention to another two relatively extensive Art Nouveau areas found in northern Europe, one in Ålesund, Norway, with up to 400 buildings, and one in the centre of Riga with more than 800 buildings. Both of these sites were developed over a very short time at the outset of the 20th century, each with its own special characteristics depending on its different cultural circumstances and on the architects who had drawn the buildings. With these examples, I wish to point out that in two other places in northern Europe at the turn of the 20th century a couple of other extensive, closely unified large areas were built in the Art Nouveau style; these have not previously been mentioned in connection with the Art Nouveau houses on the “Bird estates” in Helsingborg.
The sites for this new housing area had been carved out from the property that on the town map was denoted as “Farm 126”. The area had been planned at one time for the rapidly growing middle class population in Helsingborg at the turn of the century.
The process of dividing up the sites had begun earlier in the neighbouring area of Gladan which had been built with single occupancy houses during the time Mauritz Frohm (b.1840) was the town architect. That the architect Alfred Hellerström (b. 1863) from 1900 was employed now and then as deputy town architect is not without significance in the light of my later discussion. Alfred Hellerström was appointed town architect in 1903.
Whoever it was that drew the Art Nouveau houses is shrouded in mystery. For most of the houses no provenance is noted on the plans, but in the present study the hypothesis is tested that Hellerström was the architect who supplied the builders with the drawings for the Art Nouveau houses, that the Art Nouveau milieu of the “Bird estates” can have been his vision first in his capacity as deputy town architect and later in the official position. That we cannot find in the archives any proof of this is because the houses were built in an area that was not part of the town plan. In order to build there no planning permission was necessary with submitted drawings and suchlike that would then be stored in the archives.
It is the homogeneous Art Nouveau set-up of this area that has tempted me to reason around it and try to shed light on the difficult problem of who its originator was. One of my points of departure is the 1862 ruling of the reformed local community stating that it is the town architect who is to be responsible for the general aspect of the town, its architecture and artistic features, with particular emphasis on the frontage designs.
Hellerström’s considerable building enterprises in Helsingborg are also discussed in the introduction in connection with the new choice of aesthetic direction that he himself initiated and which meant a change of style vis-à-vis Frohm’s 19th century classicism. Hellerström effectuated this on the basis of new theories of architecture, manifested in, for example, natural stone and brick and with inspiration from an entirely different quarter than the previously current classicism.
Some of Hellerström’s other buildings in the Art Nouveau style from the beginning of the 20th century, in central Helsingborg and the district of Tågaborg north of the town, are also included in the discussion as an important part of the argument about the Art Nouveau houses in Olympia and their possible originator. Hellerström’s other buildings are, namely, interesting examples of his skill in varying one and the same Art Nouveau expression, a significant trait also of the so-called “Bird estates” in Olympia. In this study, I argue that the Art Nouveau milieu can have been his own concept and that even his own drawings can have been used for the unified, but equally individually well-planned buildings.
Moreover, the study is concentrated around questions as to how the houses, independently of who drew them, grew up in the district, the appearance of their frontages and interiors from the beginning and how the various apartments were originally planned. The study highlights both the large number of tiled stoves in the area as well as which professional groups were represented among those who moved in during the first decades. Here the factual details, to a considerable extent, are the result of examination of various archives; above all they are based on fire insurance certificates and the so-called church records. Here the purpose has been, with the help of such information gleaned from archives, to draw a kind of portrait of the original interpretation and expression of the single Art Nouveau house.
In another section of the study I discuss the original aesthetic forms of the Art Nouveau houses, characterized as they were by a very special style ambition. Here, I demonstrate that the frontages make up an extension of the inner part of each building, but I also ascertain that the houses together form an interesting conclusion to the common street space. This aesthetic connection between the houses is presented as something characteristic for the “Bird estates”. From the direction of the street, or from balconies and tower rooms, the buildings, by means of the shape of their frontages, stand in a convincing architectonic relationship with each other. It is this intimate relationship, this dialogue that is created between the body of the houses and their frontages that leads me to want to attribute almost all these Art Nouveau houses to one and the same architect. Here, namely, is an expression of a basic well-coordinated architectonic language.
The builder and his workmen were often the first owners of the different properties. They were able to get bank loans in the new spirit of the times; you built to sell on to others, so not in the first place to live there yourself. Up to the 1920-30s it is seen in the church records that the area was inhabited mostly by people with middle-class professions. Studies of a 40 year span of these records show that the residents’ social status has been relatively constant during this period.
A briefer section deals with documented changes in the structure of the houses, among others the building of garages in the 1950s which meant changes made to the buildings with little respect for their original style. This was the beginning of the period of aesthetic decline with accompanying alterations to the front yards and the street space which since then have simply escalated. During the 1960s and 1970s many of the exteriors were spoilt when the white lime wash was rejected and the frontages were painted with plastic paint in varying hues. The ornamentation was then often given an incorrect different shade of white.
In this study the conversions that have taken place since the 1980s are discussed. These have led to more and smaller apartments, which today are now cooperatively owned. It has meant considerable changes to the interiors with regard to the original and special atmosphere in the houses, peculiar to their period.
One section contains a discussion dealing with previously written texts about these houses, and at the same time I continue to pursue my argument. Once more, I approach my hypothesis that it could be Hellerström who actually changed “Farm 126” into a well-planned Art Nouveau district of the town. And I propose that this can indeed be possible. He had, already before 1900, been able to obtain the necessary general view of the planning of the town with regard to future building in the area. Moreover, he had an undeniably suitable network which he could utilize in order to draw plans just as much as he wished and had time for – up until 1912 when a rule about sidelining was enforced in Sweden which prohibited the town architects from engaging in private enterprise.
This study has underlined Hellerström’s architectonic competence to build with a greatly varying Art Nouveau expression. The method that is finally adopted in the study with regard to the special expression of the Art Nouveau houses on the “Bird estates” is a comparative critique of style, set against the background of a considerable number of illustrations. It is with the help of these that I finally summarize my views in relation to both old and new photographs of the houses and their environment.
A concluding reflection builds on thoughts and memories that have their point of departure in my own rich experience as a child of the spaces in this district. Theoretically I start from E.S. Casey’s discussion about "body memory and place memory", that is memories that takes its place in the body in the form of deep and fruitful experience of places, events and people. Some of his basic phenomenological theses are that we are never without experiences, just as we are never without bodily experiences. The dynamics in itself lies in the interaction between body, place and the possibilities for movement that are presented. It is easy to state, finally, that when I was a child in the mid-1900s it was to a high degree the architectonically accessible environment that at the time provided the means for children to play both in- and outdoors. We could move around fairly freely in the area which created both a broad and deep bodily impression and understanding of a room that was not only accessible through seeing. Today all the front doors have entry code numbers and all the attics, tower rooms and basements are locked. Cars rule the common spaces in the district. It is clear that the accessibility for spontaneous games - indoors as well as outdoors – that the different areas in this district once offered us children, no longer exist for those children who are now growing up on the “Bird estates”.
Original languageSwedish
PublisherBrutus Östlings Bokförlag Symposion
Number of pages230
ISBN (Print)978-91-7139-886-4
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Art History

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