Engelsberg Summer School featured in ARKITEKTEN Magazine

English translation of the article: Arkitekter söker klassisk skolning – i Bergslagen:

 

Architects are looking for classical education - in Bergslagen

By Jonas Lindgren, September 25, 2017

There are few architects who specialize in new projects in classical style. However, the Ax-son Johnson Foundation's initiative aims to change this. This summer, the foundation gathered the world stars in the field to train a new generation of architects who want to reconnect the ties to history.

 The architect Shan Lae Aye from Burma thinks she has learned a lot in just a few days.PHOTO JONAS MALMSTRÖM

The architect Shan Lae Aye from Burma thinks she has learned a lot in just a few days.PHOTO JONAS MALMSTRÖM

The sound of pencil pressed against paper is the only thing that breaks the silence in the Swedish summer slate. Each move with the pencils is carefully weighed out, and the house details grow out in the drawing blocks. The measurements of pillars, pilasters, sprinkles, slag and leak are noted minutely for the images to be flawless.

In the lawn in front of a home in empire style from the 1840s, Laura Hutton with her legs crossed over his drawing in deep concentration. When we arrive she shoots up her sunglasses so that they rest against her head and lighthouses a smile as shining white as the beads around her neck.

"This is a liberating experience for me. In my education, we were not allowed to draw classical architecture, but here I am among like-minded colleagues acquiring basic knowledge that nobody has been able to give me before," she says, stroking her blonde hair aside.

Everyday, she is a practicing architecture at home in the United States. But this summer she is in Engelsberg together with 20 strangers from around the world, including four from Sweden, for a month-long intensive course in everything from typography to drawing classic details. They come from Australia, Mexico, the Philippines and even from Italy for a deep diving in architecture history in the heart of the Bergslag.

It may seem strange to leave Sicily to study classical architecture in Västmanland, but there is an explanation. There are simply very few trainings of this kind throughout the world and here in the field, those who want to revive the classical architecture have found a benevolent patron - the Ax: son Johnson Foundation.

 "Modernism exists in all art forms, but at the music school you get to learn the subject from scratch," says Christopher Liberatos (right), who argues that the same should apply to architects. Here together Jenny Bevan and George Saumarez Smith.  Photo:  Jonas Malmström

"Modernism exists in all art forms, but at the music school you get to learn the subject from scratch," says Christopher Liberatos (right), who argues that the same should apply to architects. Here together Jenny Bevan and George Saumarez Smith. Photo: Jonas Malmström

 "I want a broader knowledge of history," says Jacob Star (left) who recently graduated from KTH.  Photo:  Jonas Malmström

"I want a broader knowledge of history," says Jacob Star (left) who recently graduated from KTH. Photo: Jonas Malmström

Peter Elmlund is responsible for the part of the Foundation's program that deals with cities and those who have taken the initiative to start the summer course in classical architecture. He turns up for lunch after the morning tennis game and greets us with a firm handshake and an equal look.

Under his direction, the Ax: son Johnson Foundation has been working on urban development issues for several years. Among other things, they support education and research on architectural education in Lund and Stockholm and work internationally with UN habitats.

"When we started in the early 2000s, nobody talked about the city and public space. Our focus has always been to shift the discussion from buildings to places, "says Peter Elmlund.

The idea of the summer school really did not come when they needed to hire an architect to draw a new farm that could melt into the world-class environment of the ironworks site. When they had to look abroad to find an architect who managed the sensitive task, Peter Elmlund saw a need to fill.

"Our mission is to do what the market does not support," says Peter Elmlund, and continues: And nobody can think this pluralism is bad?

Upstairs from the lunch room are easels and drawing boards set in small groups under the exposed roof beams of the old valve factory's roof. A single window on the short side of the room emits natural light and the desk lamps make the furniture shed long shadows. In the middle of the room stands Christopher Liberatos and Jenny Bevan, who are the main instructors of the course, and together they run the Bevan & Liberatos office in Charleston, South Carolina, USA. Both are dressed in blue checked shirts. Together, the couple are behind the syllabus for the summer school and although classical architecture is in the name, they both mean that what they really learn is not tied to a particular style - it is traditional architecture.

"Before modernism, there was only architecture - not modern or classic," Chistopher Liberatos said emphatically, resting his chin on his hand.

The concept of classical architecture includes the styles consciously following the principles of classical Greek and Roman architecture. However, with the concept of traditional architecture, they cover all architecture that links to local traditions, culture and materials, which many of the modernists rejected. It's important to them, not least because they have students from all over the world. The goal is that the students in four weeks will get a method that enables them to study the architecture at home and understand how they can build on the culture that has evolved over generations.

We teach them to read traditional architecture. It is a language that they can then use to express themselves, "says Christopher Liberatos.

It is the common language that makes older buildings harmonize with each other in the city and allow them to be perceived as a whole, although it can separate hundreds of years between them, he believes. This also creates a readability in the city, important buildings stand out and other buildings retreat. But he believes that for that matter, it does not need to be rectified.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but surely the modernist city planning is completely condemned nowadays? Everyone agrees that it is unsuccessful. Then it may be time to question modernism even in architecture.

Christopher Liberatos draws a similarity from a scene in the movie Harold to Maude, where the main characters are sitting in a field of daisies.  Where Harold sees a field with similar flowers, Maude gets him to look at them one by one. There are long, short, thick and no one is identical to the other.

 

Correct me if I'm wrong, but surely the modernist city planning is totally condemned nowadays? Everyone agrees that it is unsuccessful. Then it may be time to question modernism even within architecture, Christopher says.

 

Although he does not want to judge all modern architecture, it is clear that he does not see much to gain in modernism.

There is no commonality between classical and modernist architecture because modernism is about breaking the past. In CIAM's document there is even a picture of a classic house with a big cross, says Christopher Liberatos.

But the important thing is to recognize that classical architecture does not fit anywhere. For example, a Renaissance palace has no place in the White City of Tel Aviv, Israel, a continuous modernist area. "There it would be perfectly natural to draw in the Bauhaus style," he says.

 The whole group meets for criticism. Everything on the course is done by hand. Photo: Jonas Malmström

The whole group meets for criticism. Everything on the course is done by hand. Photo: Jonas Malmström

The two main teachers say that students who master the traditional language are highly sought after in the market - not least because there are so few training courses. Christopher Liberatos and Jenny Bevan are classically educated from the foundation of the University of Notre Dame in the United States, which is one of the very few architectural schools of its kind. Jenny also has a "regular, modernistic" education at the bottom and assumes her experience as she draws up the curriculum.

"I'm trying to give them what I would have liked when I was a student," says Jenny Bevan.

Many of the summer courses in Ängelsberg are architectural students, and several of them have encountered opposition when they attempted to draw so-called new classical architecture at their schools.

"For some of them architecture school is a disappointing experience. Some have been threatened with disapproval or failure for exploring these styles. I get so tired of people saying that what we are doing is not "of our time". Our students are 19-20 years old, how can they do not be out of our time!" says Christopher Liberatos.

Even those who had encouraging teachers have had difficulty in developing their skills at the schools. Very few teachers have enough deep architectural skills, they say.

"Several students have wanted to show their old school projects here just because they would like to make sensible criticism," said Jenny Bevan.

 "Many architects have different social issues as a starting point today, but why can not it be beautiful too?", Says Eric Norin who reads the final year at KTH together with Elise Wiklund. Photo: Jonas Malmström

"Many architects have different social issues as a starting point today, but why can not it be beautiful too?", Says Eric Norin who reads the final year at KTH together with Elise Wiklund. Photo: Jonas Malmström

 "We have no traditional architecture left, everything is torn to build European modernism. Our culture disappeared without trace, "says Fatou Jobe from Gambia.  Photo:  Jonas Malmström

"We have no traditional architecture left, everything is torn to build European modernism. Our culture disappeared without trace, "says Fatou Jobe from Gambia. Photo: Jonas Malmström

In the sunshine on the stairs to what is used as a residence hall, but which is actually a 17th-century guesthouse moved here from Dala Floda at the beginning of last century, Elise Wiklund and Eric Norin are sitting. On their knees, they have an improvised drawing board, a wooden fiberboard with a neatly stuck paper and their attention is directed to a sketch block between them, where they noted the dimensions of the house, which are now to be transferred to a detailed drawing. Around them, their classmates strive with scales and tape measure to map each millimeter of many details.

"Much of what we do here should be part of the basic education. It's as the teachers say; It's a language and you can not understand what previous architects have done and why, if you can't speak the language "said Elise Wiklund (who will soon start the year at KTH) as she lifts her eyesight from the drawing.

Going to school she should learn to read older architecture and be able to see what time period a certain detail comes from, she believes. Eric Norin, who will also start his last year at KTH, looks up from his drawing with one eye in the strong sun. It becomes a fame in the dark, a naive denial of history. It's not about recreating old styles but re-connecting the ties to history, he says.

Then he draws a quote from British architect Robert Adam, one of the new architectural starchitects, and will be repeated by several students at the Ängelsberg summer school: "Architecture history is like a book and in order to write the next chapter of the book, we need to know what it says in the foregoing."

 Hariette Nuestro from the Philippines wants to bring the method she learned at the summer course and use elements of traditional architecture in her native country. Photo: Jonas Malmström

Hariette Nuestro from the Philippines wants to bring the method she learned at the summer course and use elements of traditional architecture in her native country. Photo: Jonas Malmström

On the gravel road, which is the main street of the grounds, the British guest teacher, George Saumarez Smith, moves through today's practice with the students' small groups. He has a turquoise pullover vest over his sky-blue shirt and a bag freely thrown over his shoulder. Everyday, he works with Robert Adam at ADAM Architecture, one of the few companies specializing in new classical architecture. There are some schooling opportunities in the UK and some others in the United States but in this form the Engelsberg program is singular in the world. It makes it difficult for those students who are interested in finding someone to learn from.

"There is a whole generation of architects who can not teach classical architecture," said George Saumarez Smith with soft voice.

 

Interest in tradition flourishes again in all forms of art. Just look at the renewed interest in crafts and, for example, the slow food movement. We see ourselves as part of it.

 

Christopher Liberatos and Jenny Bevan have just approached with their bikes. Jenny fills in: "We traditionalists live a right marginalized existence. But soon there will be a change. The interest in tradition flourishes again in all forms of art. Just look at the renewed interest in crafts and, for example, the slow food movement. We see ourselves as part of it," she says as she lets her arms rest on the bike.

From having worked for themselves in different parts of the world, they have now also been built by their own organization, INTBAU, who co-sponsors the summer course in Ängelsberg together with the Ax: son Johnson Foundation.

INTBAU, an acronym for the International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism, was founded by Britain's Prince Charles and today has collected around 5,000 members worldwide. The organization's goal is to support the construction and preservation of traditional architecture, that is, based on local culture, crafts and materials.

In recent years, the same ideas have been picked up seriously even in Sweden, perhaps above all by the Association of the Architecture Revolution. The ideas have also been attached to the newspapers' lead pages. Both Sydsvenskan in Malmö and Göteborgs Posten, two of Sweden's largest morning newspapers, have propagated in leadership to build new in older styles. The same views have been made in several local newspapers and on discussion pages in the last year, and lobbyists in thought media Timbro have organized seminars on the theme and conduct opinion on classical architecture in its online magazine Smedjan. So far, there has not been a particularly big impact among architects, but four of the course participants in Ängelsberg are students from KTH. Although not all four are here because they want to draw new classical architecture themselves - some want to fill a gap of knowledge or to have a better reason to stand on - they agree that interest has grown at school in recent years.

"What premiers at the school is to find your own style, not to learn from others," said Elise Wiklund, one of the students.

Eric Norin is one of the longest, he was himself one of the first members of the Architecture Revolution, and has principally drawn classical projects throughout the entire program. Teachers take him seriously, he believes, but has difficulty giving any wise guidance or criticism. "The best criticism I received is a guest critic who said," What a nice drawing! But where is your project?" She was looking for something stripped of glass and concrete and could not discern my addition, says Eric Norin. 

It was worse when he took a replacement year in France. There he found that they made excuses to avoid discussing his project at all - he could get out of criticism because a piece of paper was cheated.

 "Modern architecture has never spoken to me in the same way as classical," said William Barnum from the United States, telling him that he faced strong negative responses to the university for his classical interest.  Photo:  Jonas Malmström

"Modern architecture has never spoken to me in the same way as classical," said William Barnum from the United States, telling him that he faced strong negative responses to the university for his classical interest. Photo: Jonas Malmström

When the whole group is gathered for an open evening discussion, Eric Norin's experience in France does not prove to be unique. Many have felt isolated in their interest. Someone says it's shameful, a little taboo with classical architecture at school. It means a lot for them to meet like-minded and, for once, to be in the majority.

"Everyone here loves classical architecture as much as I do and that makes me very happy to meet others with the same interest. I thought I was alone. There is no classical architectural education in Australia and before I came here, I did not even know that there was another Australian who liked the same things as I, "said Christopher Filippidis, who was surprised when he met his countryman Adam Vandepeer at the summer course.

 

Unfortunately, the populist right has cut this issue at least in Britain and it is important not to let it happen.

 

Several of them have felt opposed, some have even had a teacher called classical architecture fascist. The political aspect can not be ignored, among other things, Jack Handscombe, an art student from Edinburgh.

- Unfortunately, the populist right has cut this issue at least in Britain and it is important not to let it happen. The classical language is flexible and we can use it to express democratic values, he says.

He himself explores classical architecture in his art and emphasizes that he really wants to create modern works, but has a connection to history.

"Modernism is an irrational break on a millennial line and we should be able to pick up that thread again," he says.

 "The important thing is to assume the place and what people want. Architects will work in the service of the people, "says architect Nils Gustafsson.  Photo:  Jonas Malmström

"The important thing is to assume the place and what people want. Architects will work in the service of the people, "says architect Nils Gustafsson. Photo: Jonas Malmström

The following day, it will take off to Falun for excursion. On the sloping square outside Kristine Church under a smooth sky, Ricardo Mouret from Mexico is completely dressed in black with a light yellow trenchcoat and Eve Zeltina from Lithuania in a long green jacket and the hair set in a tassel. For Ricardo Mouret this is the first time he met like-minded students. Everyday, he studies in Mexico City but does not feel at home.

"They always want me to make strange creations," he says, laughing shyly.

Eve Zeltina is ready for her architectural education. At last, after five years, she can draw what she wants.

"Yes, they really can make you feel like an idiot at school," she replies.

All modern architecture is of course not bad, and everything in classical style is of course not good, she continues. But, for example, take Poundbury, a newly built British city in the traditional spirit, people love it while architects hate it and think it's a joke.

- So who's right? The 1%?

 

Although it has been very intensive, everyone has gone around with a smile on their lips, comparing it to a regular architecture school - where everyone is filled with anxiety.

 

Two weeks later in the Old Town of Stockholm, the tourists fill the narrow, winding alleys. With their sketchbooks in hand and their eyes attached to a port from the last century, Monali Wankar Chakraborty from India and Ionut Dohotariu from Romania form an island in the stream of people. During the past week, the course participants have had their first design tasks - a challenge for both restoration experts.

"I am so focused on conservation and there is a different way of drawing something new, it felt a little strange," says Monali Wankar Chakraborty with a smile.

"It actually surprised me that I could use the classic motives on a new building. It was exciting, says Ionut Dohotariu.

Around the corner, Nils Gustafsson is sitting on the bench with a tape measure in front of another of the gates of the district. This spring he raised some hackles with his exams at KTH - a further development of Ferdinand Boberg's Nobel Palais proposal. Of course, it ended up in the current debate about the Nobel Museum and was celebrated online by, among other things, the Architecture Revolution, but the timing was actually a coincidence for Nils Gustafsson, fascinated by the project for several years. He has also tried to explore older styles earlier, but it is only during the summer course that he feels he has the right tools.

"It has been a great relief indeed. At the architectural school you are just thrown out to discover yourself, here we have teachers who give us encouragement, knowledge, tools and a working method. Even though it has been very intensive, everyone has walked around with a smile on his lips, comparing it with a regular architectural school - there everyone is filled with anxiety, he says, stretching out his arms.

In Stockholm, among other things, the students are introduced to Swedish Grace, a style that mixes the traditional with the classics according to the teachers of the summer course.

"All architects love Asplund and he had classical schooling and when they talk about him it's a positive thing. Classical architecture is the foundation and everyone should be able to study it, "says Nils Gustafsson.

The KTH students Elise Wiklund and Eric Norin meet at Stortorget. They agree. It's not that everyone will go from here and draw classic projects, but they've found teachers who listened and could help them further.

"After this course, I'm studying more carefully why I'm drawings what I'm drawing," says Elise Wiklund.

They feel that the interest in classical architecture is increasing in school and an open mind toward exploring other styles exists both in students and teachers. Maybe it is a breakthrough for traditionalists in Sweden?