Skogskyrkogården’s two architects, Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz, met as students and crossed paths several times over the years. When the Cemetery Committee announced an international competition to design Skogskyrkogården, they decided to produce their own entry together.
Their entry “Tallum” won the competition and work started a year or so later. Together they created a unity of landscaping and buildings that has become one of the world’s leading architectural sites.
Lewerentz was responsible for much of the landscaping. He also designed the classicist Chapel of Resurrection in the southern part of Skogskyrkogården. Asplund designed the other main buildings: the Woodland Chapel, the Woodland Crematorium with its three different chapels, and the Tallum Pavilion.
Asplund and Lewerentz both came to be seen as leading architects of the 20th century.
Erik Gunnar Asplund
Asplund is considered one of the great architects of the interwar period, and also played a key role in the development of other Nordic countries. He was one of the leading proponents of 1920s neoclassicism and also one of the pioneers of functionalism.
He completed over 40 projects, most of which were public buildings. As well as Skogskyrkogården’s Woodland Chapel and the Woodland Crematorium, with its three chapels, his designs included Stockholm Public Library (1920-1928), the extension of Gothenburg City Hall (1913-1937), the schools Karl Johansskolan, (1915-1920) and Karlshamns Läroverk (1912-1918) and the Skandia Cinema in Stockholm (1923).
During a prolonged field trip to Italy in 1913-1914, he experienced the strong link between landscape and buildings. This proved to have a major impact on his future work, and plays a prominent role in the design of Skogskyrkogården.
Asplund was a sympathetic and empathetic man who was able to listen to and understand the client and the feelings that needed to be conveyed. His buildings are often shaped around the experience of the interior and the building’s inner sanctums. This is particularly true of Stockholm Public Library, where he developed distinctive attributes of space and light.
Many of his works also reflect square shapes bound by circles, including the Woodland Chapel, the Tallum Pavilion and Stockholm Public Library.
Asplund was also chief architect for the Stockholm Exhibition of 1930, making him one of those who introduced functionalist architecture to Sweden. The exhibition also attracted international attention.
Gunnar Asplund died on 20 October 1940, at the age of only 55. His great work, the Woodland Crematorium and its three chapels – those of Faith, Hope and the Holy Cross – was inaugurated only four months earlier. He was buried right outside the Chapel of Faith. A simple memorial stone bears the inscription: “His work lives on”.
Sigurd Lewerentz was involved in shaping the architecture of the 20th century early on, but did not achieve the same immediate recognition that his colleague Gunnar Asplund enjoyed.
His genius was really only recognised much later on, particularly in his churches Markuskyrkan in Björkhagen and S:t Petrikyrka in Klippan, which brought him his own acclaim. To this day, he remains one of Sweden’s most celebrated architects abroad.
After graduating in 1908, Lewerentz worked for a while at architects’ firms in Hamburg and Munich, gaining inspiration all the time. Waldfriedhof cemetery in Munich, for instance, was a model for his work on Skogskyrkogården, where Lewerentz was mainly responsible for the landscaping. He also designed the strictly classicist Chapel of Resurrection.
Lewerentz’s most personal works include the cemetery Östra Kyrkogården in Malmö, which he worked on from 1916 to 1969. He was also one of the leading lights of the Stockholm Exhibition of 1930, for which he designed a couple of pavilions and helped create the graphic design. 1933 saw Lewerentz win the competition to design Malmö City Theatre, which was completed in 1944.
Lewerentz was introverted and considered quite headstrong. Above all, he was incredibly stubborn, as many developers and colleagues found out. More often than not, he would change his mind and want to make amendments or try something new in the middle of the building process. Some of his work therefore took a very long time and led to disputes.
He withdrew from architecture for over a decade, after a series of major disappointments. For one thing, he was sidelined and dismissed from the Skogskyrkogården project in the late 1930s. At the end of the 1940s, Lewerentz won the competition to restore Uppsala Cathedral, but he eventually had to stand down from the project due to old age.
In his latter years, Lewerentz was held in high esteem by his colleagues, and his two churches – Markuskyrkan and S:t Petri Kyrka from the late 1950s and early 1960s – are considered pinnacles of 20th century architecture.