Legible history in preserved warehouse

ARTICLE Author Carl Jonas Love Almqvist wrote an acclaimed essay titled »The Significance of Swedish Poverty«, and nothing could better exemplify his much-quoted words than Gunnar Asplund’s warehouse, which was born out of the hardships of the 1910s.

The state-owned grain warehouses built in 1917–1919 can be seen as building on the crown and parish storehouses of earlier times, which were intended to provide for the population in the event of famine and war. In 1916, in the wake of the First World War, the National Warehouse and Cold Storage Board was set up to investigate the national supply situation and find solutions to poverty. Nine warehouses were soon completed across the country – all with exteriors by Gunnar Asplund and built with a mass timber frame based on drawings by concrete engineer and professor Carl Forsell at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

In this context, the timber structure trumped concrete because of the speed with which it could be erected, the lower cost and the ease with which the logs could be transported from northern Sweden by train directly to the construction sites in Tomelilla, Åstorp, Östra Klagstorp, Linköping, Eskilstuna, Roma, Hallsberg, Vara and Eslöv.

Saving the original building

Of the nine, only two warehouses remain today, one in Vara and one in Eslöv, the latter of which has been converted into apartments. When the conversion was completed in 2008, it stood as Sweden’s tallest wooden residential building. This warehouse was also in disrepair and at risk for a long time, but was saved from demolition thanks to the commitment of architect Curt Salomon-Sörensen. Several bodies had considered the possibility of preserving the building, but it was not seen as economically viable. The municipality had already granted a demolition permit when a new owner arrived who shared Salomon-Sörensen’s vision of converting the building into housing, and so the municipality changed its mind and the building was saved. The redevelopment of the warehouse in Eslöv highlights the importance of commitment and economics.

Salomon-Sörensen, who had had a relationship with Asplund’s buildings since childhood, felt a great sense of responsibility for the conversion. Although the building had stood empty since the early 1990s, with only damp and birds for company, the structure was in very good condition and the project »went like clockwork«, according to the architect. The original structure was solid, even oversized for its new purpose, the other design requirements were resolved and attention was paid to the requirement for a sympathetic design. The new detailed development plan required respect for the building’s distinctive features, while also allowing for the original volume to be refined.

Permission was given for the outbuildings and added silos to be demolished, and the 1930s façade in fibre cement sheeting was replaced with a red-painted timber façade in keeping with the original. A new façade configuration was also superimposed onto the original design.

»I was strict with myself,« says Salomon-Sörensen about the treatment of the façade and Asplund’s legacy.

Combining old and new

The new iteration of the old building is a fine example of how respect for the original can be combined with both new functions and new additions in the form of more and larger windows and balconies. Both the original and the additions are legible, forming two layers of time that each tell the story of the building.

In both cases, necessity and thrift can be said to have played a role. The volume with its distinctive roofline remains a landmark around Eslöv, reminding us of times when frugality was a virtue, but also that the fundamental principles laid out in Vitruvius’ Ten Books on Architecture from around 80 BC still apply to this day. Beauty, utility and strength (or durability) are as fundamental now as they were then.

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