Lasse Olsson Photo photographs architecture, interiors, and lighting. My newsletter is published 6-8 times a year. It presents photographed projects and reports from furniture fairs in Stockholm and Milan. You can read my previous newsletter om my website. Click Here!
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Lister District Courthouse - a travel back in time to 1921

“I think we can – without exaggeration – state that the building will be one of the best we have seen in recent years.” This is how Gunnar Asplund describes it in a letter to the district court judge G. Söderlund, as the new district courthouse in Sölvesborg is almost finished. The year is 1921 and the young architect realizes that he has achieved something very special.

With the district courthouse in Sölvesborg, Gunnar Asplund displayed his own, highly personal, depiction of Nordic classicism that prevailed among architects in the late 1910s. The playfulness of the architecture is striking. But the blueprints for the new district courthouse were controversial. There were people in Sölvesborg who believed that the project was going to be the city’s ugliest building. Had it not been built outside the city-planned area, the building committee and mayor probably would have stopped the construction.

In this newsletter we will visit a fantastic district courthouse from the past.

If you want to see all the details, click on the pictures and they will open in a larger size.


A small building that looks big

The building’s plan consists of a rectangle that partially encloses a circular courtroom that protrudes at the back of the building. A different architectural approach was to have a gable as the main facade, which makes the building seem larger than it is.


The building’s hub has a special floor

Inside the entrance doors is a large hall where all rooms on the ground floor feature a door to the common area. Here, everyone that occupied the building could meet in a natural way. The round shape of the courtroom, which extends into the room, is also found in the sunken arches that are inspired by antiquity found in the facade and the outside stairs.

In the floor, Asplund has provided us with an optical illusion. If you look at it straight or diagonally, all tiles will appear to be the same size. This is because each plate has a unique shape. The picture below to the right is photographed straight down from above. Just coming up with the idea is a feat but made more remarkable by Asplund drawing and measuring each plate without the help of computers.


The lay assessors board room flirts with antiquity

Asplund turned the space into a Gustavian salon; airy, beautiful and comfortable. A classic detail that is found in the rest of the house is the tall dark base. The classicistic room stands firmly on the ground and rises in elegant shapes. The two black Doric columns are exemplified in classicism’s flirtation with antiquity.


The secret space was an experiment

The round courtroom is encircled by a double wall. In the space between the walls, all vertical communication in the house is hidden, from the jail in the basement to the district court judge’s residence upstairs. The solution was an experiment that Asplund fully developed in his next major project, the world-renowned Stockholm Public Library.

A courtroom with two principles

In this room, two room principles meet. The first principle is the round shape that focuses attention on the important activities in the room. The second is the axis principle. There is a straight line that begins at Sölvesborg’s train station and from there runs through the courthouse building up to the district court judge’s seat. What further reinforces the end of this axis is the tall triumphal arch that surrounds the judge’s chair.

Walking the long straight distance from the station building would allow time to reflect for those on their way to meet the district court judge. This was an idea that Asplund reused when he created the long wide staircase in Gothenburg’s City Hall.


The light of truth

Through the two façade windows, the light from the southwest falls on the accused, or a witness, and urges them to speak the truth. This light also breaks the general lighting from the sky light in the room.

The architect had his hand in every detail

Asplund was very interested in the construction and participated throughout the process. He also designed interior details and furniture, such as the district court judge’s chair, table, floor clock and the relief over the entrance. All the round shapes that recur in the wood carpentry, room design, windows etc. some feel are because his wife was pregnant during this period.

From district courthouse to cultural building

The courthouse was built between 1920 and 1921. For eighty years, the building was used as a district courthouse until 2001 when the district court for Lister moved to Karlshamn. After that, the building stood empty until 2005 when local bank, Mjällby Sölvesborgs Sparbank, bought the property and donated it to the municipality of Sölvesborg, with the requirement that it become a cultural building. In addition to a museum, there is currently a music school and a cultural school in the property.
Renovated to the original from 1921

The district courthouse was declared a heritage building in 1993, and in 2009 the municipality produced a maintenance plan. The goal was to save, lift and develop the cultural heritage values of the district courthouse and to make the building accessible to the public.

Between 2012 and 2017, an extensive restoration of the premises was carried out in three stages. What is unique is that everything was restored as it was in 1921 when the building was inaugurated. And now the doors have been opened to the public. If you want to get married, baptize your children, or just have a meeting in style, you can rent the newly restored building. Or just visit it and see the amazing architecture as a unique historical document.
Lasse Olsson Photo photographs and films architecture, interiors, and lighting. My newsletter is published 6-8 times a year. It presents photographed projects and reports from furniture fairs in Stockholm and Milan.

You can read my previous newsletter om my website. Click Here!