Sigurd Lewerentz’ St. Petri Kirche
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Sigurd Lewerentz’ St. Petri, Klippan, celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2016 with an exhibition, curated by Matthew Hall, in Klippan.

S:t Petri at 50: context, fragments and influence
2 Jul – 28 Aug 16
Klippan Arthall, Storgatan 9, Klippan

On the occasion of this exhibition, Matthew Hall and Hansjörg Göritz have edited a catalogue with several essays, including one by Wilfried Wang entitled “Substance and effect”, p. 34 – 39.

Substance and Effect
Architectural discourse has been dominated by authors who have been successful in presenting their egos at the expense of anything else. The two–dimensional media such as books, journals, photographs, web sites and so forth have been instrumentalized in this regard. An immanent logic has developed over the centuries, in which motifs, not actually built three–dimensional spaces and forms; gestures, not experienced atmospheres; and carefully staged visual documents, not lived reality, have survived as image strategies to this day. Adolf Loos was one of the first to recognize these shortcomings in the media’s inability to discern true, substantive architectural quality. Inevitably, according to Loos, the media would fall for the “talented“ draughtsman and the photogenic image. Substance is not identified, while the graphic effect of a drawing or of a photograph seduces all of those unable to properly discern quality. Added to this, there is the dissembling use of words, words which appear to offer more than that which is built, catchy phrases that are used like marketing tools, and entire schools of thought (especially developed over the last decades on the east coast of the USA) have arisen out of the secondary and tertiary regurgitation of texts without reference to real space and form, without understanding of what matters in architecture. These literary dominated schools of thought value words over built matter and space. Reference is made to these debilitating developments in architecture as the undercurrent of interest of the last few years in the work of Sigurd Lewerentz, who wrote next to nothing, rarely spoke in public, never published a literary manifesto, let alone a monograph of his own work, appears to have risen in recent times. Why is that? If the dominant way of understanding architecture is not through its real substance, but rather through images and words, why would there be an interest in the work of an architect, who was only able to realize a few buildings (compared with the louder colleagues) and who never sought to proselytize his approach to architecture other than through the built fact? Sigurd Lewerentz’ work demonstrates a gradual search for a substantive architecture that does not have the discipline of architecture as its primary focus, but the life that is to take place in it. Paradoxically, this search required a precise architecture, in which the built spaces and forms are poetic compositions that allow the users to incidentally perceive the resultant architecture only to be made aware of the larger, existential issues. Lewerentz’ architecture is one that transcends its own presence in deference to life. If this thesis were true, then it could help to explain the smaller and larger compositional decisions, be they Lewerentz’ insistence on the haptic credibility of construction; the physical presence of building materials and their logical tectonics; his constant counter–balancing of conventional, regular readable forms with picturesque irregularities within such forms; his use of simple spaces and forms such as apparently rectangular or square rooms together with slight “distortions“, and so forth. Lewerentz embraced the radical normality of things as much as he rejected their mechanistic reproduction. That is to say that the substantive aspect of an idea can be readily communicated using commonly known “signs“ (both spatial or formal elements), but that the simple or simplistic reproduction of such signs would only add to the depletion of their meaning. Hence, Lewerentz’ dual use of the signs’ “radical“ normality while at the same time reproducing these signs in a way that denotes their uniqueness. It would be true to say that Lewerentz was both caught within the norms of Swedish culture as much as he was interested in developing these. Throughout his career, his attempts at both the breaking of the mold of conventions as well as their reformulation can be witnessed, whether it be in the design for funeral chapels and churches or office buildings and houses. Or indeed in the design of hardware, such as he undertook from 1929 onwards with his company that was called Idesta in Eskilstuna. “It is“ (from the Latin id est) might be argued to be the shortest manifesto ever written in architecture. The claim to the substantive being of a phenomenon could not be more succinct. Using this ontological notion as a foil to read Lewerentz’ projects is as enlightening as it is challenging, given the fact that not every detail and space immediately discloses its raison d’être. The craftsman’s flourish, the willful inclusion of irregularities–in the sense of the Amish’ respect for perfection being the Creator’s preserve, the simultaneous presentation of radical normality of an architectural element while it bears departures from convention, in short, Lewerentz’ mastery of the picturesque (in the original positive sense of the word), render his work of interest to discerning eyes and inquisitive minds. For those fortunate enough to have witnessed Lewerentz on a building site, the conversations between foremen, craftsmen and Lewerentz were revelatory for their mutual respect for both the creative as well as constructive processes and the symbiotic relation between a doubting architect and the searching craftsmen. All that is tempi passati for contemporary practice. And of course, there is no point in “copying“ Lewerentz’ architecture. What we can learn from Lewerentz’ work today is the incessant search for our time’s notion of the substantive. What role can be played by materials, structure and tectonics, space making, the shaping of a building’s configuration, its relation to the wider built context? How does all of this defer to the larger protagonist, that is life with all its complex social, cultural and existential meanings? In an age in which forms have been devalued through the boundless inventive capacity of software programs that have been let loose by an army of sorcerer’s apprentices, which spaces and forms are at all culturally relevant today that are capable of allowing users and “disinterested“ observers alike to casually apprehend their transcendent meaning? In an age that literally values brands more for their ability to superficially tie consumers to their products and services, what role does an architecture have, that both rejects its possible reduction to an egotistical label (“look, that’s a building by architect xyz!“) and its unsubstantiated marketing claims (“the most sustainable high–rise apartment block“)? Architectural quality can be analyzed and assessed. Many of the architectural heroes of the 20th century have failed on closer inspection, be it that their deeds have not matched their words, be it that their projects have exacerbated the human condition or be it that their architecture has become the modern version of the official pedagogy just like that of the École des Beaux–Arts for the 19th century. The work of Sigurd Lewerentz however stands out, not only to an apparently small “sect“ of admirers, but to an increasingly skeptical generation of architects who are searching for certainty, for authenticity, for a critically–creative approach to design, for an architecture that defers to matters larger than itself: in short for a transcendent substantive architecture.

ISBN 1–939492–00–9
ISBN 978–1–939492–00–5