A city can be made or unmade by its civic centre, and a grand city hall can do wonders to create a locus for civic activity, both mundane and the ceremonial. And no surprise in such historical cities with a strong social conscience, the Scandinavian city halls were something to behold.
Let’s start in Stockholm, where the city hall is, among all its other roles, the host of the annual banquet for the Nobel Prize winners (well, except for the Nobel peace prize, as that’s presented and hosted in Oslo – why? No one is sure… “Maybe Nobel thought Norwegians were more peaceful,” joked our tour guide). But before we get inside to see the grand halls, the outside and its courtyard is nifty on its own, starting to display the building’s curious mix of rugged brick, planar and bold in its geometries, punctuated by both subtle tracery and highly visible ornamentation. It sounds like an odd mix, but it really works, creating something very down to earth yet still ceremonial, capped by a series of expressive towers, including one with a beacon lantern.
Inside, we first get to the Blue Hall, an interior courtyard of sorts where the banquet is held and the recipients walk down that grand staircase after being introduced. If you’re noticing it’s not blue, well, yes… during the design the architect removed the blue tiles he had originally planned, but the name stuck. But best of all, hidden in the band of wood near the ceiling is a pipe organ! (For a 360 degree view of the hall, click here)
Overlooking the Blue Hall is the Golden Hall, and well, the name doesn’t disappoint here. Nor does the mosaic that forms that gilding, filled with abstract allegories to Swedish history. (This hall was originally going to be used for the banquets, but they moved it downstairs for more space – which means the waiters need to carry the food down that same stairway… and hope no one trips)
And no, this one is not called the Red Hall, but the council chambers is equally impressive, especially with its amazing painted ceiling.
On the whole it’s a great design, bold and approachable, with spaces that feel great and filled with great little details and sculptures and carvings. A perfect centre for a city.
The Stockholm City Hall by Ragnar Östberg