Thursday, January 28, 2016

Stockholm - City Hall

Date of visit: 17th October 2015

Stockholm City Hall is locally called as Stadshuset. The building was built for the Municipal Council for the City of Stockholm in Sweden. It stands on the eastern tip of Kungsholmen Island, next to Riddarfjarden's northern shore and facing the islands of Riddarholmen and Sodermalm. It houses offices and conference rooms as well as ceremonial halls. There is also a luxury restaurant, Stadshuskallaren inside. It is the venue of the Nobel Prize banquet and has been one of Stockholm's major tourist attractions due to many reason, among other is the Golden Hall where 18 millions mosaic was laid.

Stadshuset is considered as one of the Sweden's foremost examples of national romanticism in architecture. The unique site, overlooking Riddarfjarden, inspired a central motif of the construction, namely the juxtaposition of city architecture blended with water element that also represents a central feature of Stockholm's cityscape as a whole. The architectural style is one of refined eclecticism, blending massive, austere, North European brick construction and playful elements reminiscent of oriental and Venetian architecture, such as turrets adorned with golden starlets, decorated balconies, wooden masts, and statues. The architect wanted the building looks ancient though it is not.

In 1907 the city council decided to build a new city hall at the former site of Eldkvarn. An architectural contest was held which in the first stage resulted in the selection of drafts by Ragnar Ostberg, Carl Westman, Ivar Tengbom jointly with Ernst Torulf, and Carl Bergsten. After a further competition or rather a shorlisted participant between Westman and Ostberg, the latter was assigned to the construction of the City Hall, while the former was asked to construct Stockholm Court House. Ostberg modified his original draft using elements of Westman's project, including the tower. During the construction period, Ostberg constantly reworked his plans, resulting in the addition of the lantern on top of the tower, and the abandonment of the blue glazed tiles for the Blue Hall. Take note that a visit to Stockholm City Hall would not be complete if not include a visit to the blue hall.

Islands of Riddarholmen and Sodermalm,seen from the City Hall

Oskar Asker was employed as Main Contractor overseeing the whole construction and Paul Toll, of the construction company name Kreuger & Toll, designed the City Hall foundations. The construction took twelve years, from 1911 to 1923 to complete. Nearly eight million red bricks were used. The dark red bricks, called "munktegel"  or monks's brick was selected because of their traditional use in the construction of monasteries and churches. The bricks were provided by Lina brick factory near Sodertalje, about 34km away from the city hall. Construction was carried out by craftsmen using traditional techniques.

A gold-plated cenotaph of Birger Jarl

The building was inaugurated on 23 June 1923, exactly 400 years after Gustav Vasa's arrival in Stockholm. Verner von Heidenstam and Hjalmar Branting delivered the inaugurational speeches. The site, adjacent to Stadshusbron, being bordered by the streets of Hantverkargatan and Norr Mälarstrand to the north and west, and the shore of Riddarfjärden to the south and east, allowed for a spacious layout. The building follows a roughly rectangular ground plan. It is built around two open spaces, a piazza called Borgargarden on the eastern side, and the Blue Hall to the west.

Blue Hall

The Blue Hall, with its straight walls and arcades, incorporates elements of a representative courtyard. Its walls are in fact without blue decorations, but it has kept its name after Ostberg's original design. It is known as the dining hall used for the banquet held after the annual Nobel Prize award ceremony. The organ in the Blue Hall with its 10,270 pipes is the largest in Scandinavia. Above the Blue Hall lies the Golden Hall (Gyllene Salen), named after the decorative mosaics made of more than 18 million tiles. The mosaics make use of motifs from Swedish history. They were executed by the Berlin, Germany, firm of Puhl & Wagner (Gottfried Heinersdorff), after nine years of negotiations by Gottfried Heinersdorff (1883-1941) for the commission. What a long drama to have the unique hall being part of the building.

Council Hall

Since the City Hall is a political office building, visitors cannot walk alone in the halls; instead visitors are to join public tours arranged by City Hall administration staff. Tours in English are available daily at 10.00, 11.00, 12.00, 13.00, 14.00 and 15.00. Take note that due to the large number of events in the City Hall, tours are frequently cancelled. There are limited number of tickets for each tour, so the public tours are aimed at individual visitors, not larger groups of more than 10 people. Tickets are purchased at the City Hall on the day of the visit, cannot be pre-booked or purchased online. A tour of the City Hall takes the visitor through the halls, such as the Blue Hall and the Golden Hall, where the Nobel festivities take place. During the tour, the guide will talk about the many aspects of the City Hall such as the historical background, the interesting architecture, the important political work, the many events and banquets, such as the Nobel Banquet.

Unique roof at the council hall. It was made to look like a timber roofing but, it's all concrete beams and rafters, guys!

The southeast corner of the building, immediately adjacent to the shore, is marked by a monumental tower crowned by the Three Crowns, an old national symbol for Sweden. The tower is 106 metres high and is accessible by an elevator or by a stair of 365 steps. The eastern side of its base is decorated with a gold-plated cenotaph of Birger Jarl.

The Golden Hall or Gyllene Salen in Swedish is a banqueting hall in Stockholm City Hall. Measuring 44-metre in height, received its name when its walls were decorated by 18 million pieces of mosaics created by the artist Einar Forseth on a proposal by the City Hall architect Ragnar Ostberg. The hall is best known as the location of the ball after the annual Nobel Banquet in the City Hall's Blue Hall.

A location for festivities in the central building of Stockholm City Hall was ordered in 1908 by the city councillor in the building programme for Stockholm's city hall, and the name Gyllene Salen was given to it in 1909. Initially the Golden Hall was not supposed to have a golden mosaic but was proposed with stone and granite.Thanks to a hefty donation by a private person who wished to remain anonymous, the Golden Hall was reworked to its current form. The donation granted by the anonymous person is said to be of Swedish Kronor 300,000. The balls after the annual Nobel Banquet are always held in the Golden Hall, ever since its completion. Our tour guide was pointing to some errors in patching up the small mosaic pieces which I forgotten to take photo. The mosaic is actually layered with a gold dust mixed onto the surface. 

The walls of the hall are covered completely in mosaic that was installed between 1921 and 1923 by the mosaic firm Puhl & Wagner in Berlin. The firm received the contract in March 1921 for an original amount of SEK 280,000, later receiving an additional SEK 60,000 as a result of rising costs. The mosaic presents allegories of events and persons from Swedish history in the Byzantine idiom. 

The southern wall of the Golden Hall shows different motifs from all around Stockholm: on one side it is illustrated with the Stockholm Harbour, the Katarina Elevator and the Riddarholmen Church. Stockholm City Hall itself is also depicted. The Tre Kronor castle and a horse ridden by Saint Erik are also there. St. Erik's head cannot be seen from the hall due to an error in construction which left it above the roof of the hall. 

The City Hall Tower is open from May to September. Rising 106 meters into the air, it offers a breathtaking view of Stockholm. Since we were there in October, we missed the opportunity for an exciting walk up staircases and narrow passages as people said, is well worth the effort. There is a lift that can take allow visitors to take half-way. A visit to the Tower Museum, located in the middle of the Tower is allowed during the visit. 

Last but not least, do take note that Stockholm City Hall is a very popular venue for wedding ceremonies. Wedding ceremonies are arranged on Saturdays between 12.00 and 18.00. The ceremonies took place in the Oval Room and lasted for about five minutes only. The Oval Room has a maximum capacity of 15 guests. The ceremonies can be performed in Swedish or English.

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