“Upwind!” was the motto of Léonie Geisendorf’s competition entry for the new parliament building overlooking Stockholms Ström in 1971. It also aptly describes her career as an architect and entrepreneur – for over half a century she has guided her practice with a firm hand on the tiller, steering, against the odds, upwind. She calls herself uncompromising, but, of course, seeing a vision through from idea to finished building takes courage, strength and awareness, qualities which have accompanied Léonie Geisendorf from childhood: “I want to design buildings! Great, powerful, proud, beautiful buildings.”
When Léonie Geis endorf turned a hundred this year (2014), she became one of the world’s oldest architects and an inspiration to several generations of architects in Sweden. Together, she and her Swiss husband, Charles-Édouard Geisendorf, started an architectural practice in Stockholm in 1950. It caught the public eye in the late 1950s with its expressive, meticulous treatment of raw concrete. The entrance hall of St Göran Gymnasium, a former domestic science and needlework college in Stockholm (p. 28), is one good example of this, and Villa Delin in Djursholm (p. 50) is another. Both provide a vigorous, three-dimensional spatial experience and a distinctive treatment of daylight, which, quite simply, creates warm, sunny interiors – from raw concrete. Sadly, the Catholic Church in Kungsträdgården (p. 18), a masterpiece that the practice designed for over thirteen years, never materialised. The carefully sculpted concrete façade addresses the street with an open portico of varying height. The portico elegantly filters the light coming from the west, imparting lustre to the majestic columns supporting the office floors overhead.
One may ask why the city of Stockholm has not been blessed with more landmark buildings. Was Léonie Geisendorf too stubborn, too uncompromising? Did she do herself no favours? Or could it be that Sweden at that time was not ready for her particular brand of expressive architecture?
Stockholm, 2014. , 68 p.