Architecture at Chalmers 1856–2016

Architecture at Chalmers has a 160-year history. It is thus the oldest of the four Swedish schools of architecture today.

Over such a long period both the profession and the teaching of it have of course changed several times. What follows is an attempt to describe these changes in very brief form, organized around ten moments in time that were of some importance for the development of the subject.

As manifold as such a development may be it is nevertheless tempting to try to summarize it and look for some typifying characteristics, however provisional. In economic history and human geography there is a concept called “path dependency.” The idea is that institutions (not only in the academic sense but also companies, for example, or cities or regions) have a certain built-in inertia that makes them continue along the same path. There is always a culture carried by people but also “institutionalized” in courses, faculty positions, administration, and buildings. History matters.

One such path at Chalmers School of Architecture might be called the technical-practical path, which extends from the reading of Bötticher to the teaching of Gegerfelt or Hedlund to the Architecture and Engineering program of today. Technical knowledge, rather than artistic, has dominated the school — as might be expected from a technical university, and yet Chalmers is probably more technically oriented than KTH in Stockholm, for example. Some of the architects who studied at Chalmers are also well known for their technical and practical perspective, like Ivar Tengbom, Sigurd Lewerentz, and Klas Anshelm.

Another path is the historical. Elias Cornell was the first professor in the history of architecture at a technical university. He developed an institution with an outspoken ambition to influence the role of architecture in society. A Centre for Building Culture was formed in 1974 as a tool for that end. It cultivated urban renewal and rebuilding influenced by citizens and users.

A third and still shorter path is sustainability — ecological as well as social. It has had its own master’s program and strong research environment since the early 2000s, but also a longer history in subjects like workplace design with its roots in the activism of the late 1960s. Evaluations of master’s theses have indicated that Chalmers is especially strong at sustainability.

This history is presented here in Swedish. The reason is to give Swedish readers access to other times through the language of those times, using quotations or names of subjects that would be lost in translation. Cultivating your own language is a fundamental asset for historical subjects.

Let me briefly summarize the ten moments in time on which the chapter's sections are based. 1856 was the start of the degree program in engineering and “the civil art of building” at Chalmers. Hans Hedlund began teaching in 1886. He stayed for thirty-seven years and became the first professor of architecture in 1911, influencing a series of important architects. In 1923 he was succeeded as professor by Melchior Wernstedt. The first women students came in the 1920s, in classes of only about four to six students. In 1937 Chalmers became a technical university and the number of students slowly began to increase. In 1951 Helge Zimdal became professor of architecture. Now the number of students increased rapidly to sixty per year, and a new school needed to be constructed. In 1968 the new building opened, designed as a materialization of the school at the time with its four main professors. In 1974 a new “project-oriented” teaching approach was initiated by a generation of social activist faculty. In the 1980s the expansion and reforms were put on hold in reaction to the failure of the nationwide social housing initiative. From mid-1980s on the majority of students in the Architecture program have been women. The first woman professor joined the faculty in 1989. In 2006 the number of students increased with the start of the Architecture and Engineering program. The Chalmers Environmental Initiative at that time supports two new professors and a master’s program. In 2016 the school is vacating the 1968 building for a year to allow it to be remodeled to foster “collaboration, integration, and an inviting attitude to the surrounding society and our partners.”

Studio in Chalmersska institutet Storgatan 43, 1905 (above)
Architecture building, Chalmers University of Technology 1969 (above)
The atrium 2016, by Krister Engström (below)

Text: Claes Caldenby

Read more in Chalmers School of Architecture Yearbook 2016 >>

Published: Mon 08 Jan 2018. Modified: Tue 09 Jan 2018