I. The School’s Beginnings
The Engelsberg Summer School in Classical Architecture was a four-week intensive programme taught by leading practitioners and academics of modern classical architecture. Practical and theoretical modules gave students both taught and hands-on experience, with opportunities for discussion, debate, and learning throughout. The combination of individual projects, group work, and one-to-one support from tutors provided a unique learning experience for students and practitioners of all levels of ability and experience. Visiting tutors from France, Britain, Estonia, The Netherlands, Portugal and the USA lectured on subjects relating to applied classical architecture, and also led three design projects: a park pavilion, a mixed-use building and a public building.
“By ‘classical’ we mean the aesthetic and architectural principles, patterns, elements, and features of architecture that span across time and are shared across cultures. It refers to an architectural expression that remains valid even as politics change. Classicism is not a single style, but rather a philosophical approach that results in an infinite number of possible styles. Its expression ranges from the smallest of scales to the largest, from door hardware to street furniture, from simple private buildings to monumental public ones. As Architectural historian Johan Mårtelius describes it, “the classical tradition provided a system for uniting the scales of details and of the individual building with that of the city.” – (Building a More Beautiful Borlänge, Bevan and Liberatos)
Engelsberg: the early days
So how did this unique learning experience come to fruition? In 2016, Peter Elmlund, Director of Urban City Research and manager of the Axon:Johnson Foundation, approached Classical architect Robert Adam, to propose that a summer school teaching classical architecture be hosted at the Foundation’s properties at Engelsberg.
Engelsberg is small village in Västmanland, Sweden, 170 kilometres north-west of Stockholm. The Foundation are the stewards and owners of the ironworks, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which are a collection of historic buildings, including an industrial building converted to a conference and teaching centre. It is secluded and in a fine landscape, ideal for an intensive month of teaching and the formation of a community of students.
In 2016, a curriculum was developed to include:
-the teaching of graphics, measured drawing and drawing from nature;
-a history of classical architecture;
-visits to a series of locations to view classical buildings of all periods both local and, in particular, the rich and inventive architecture of Stockholm; (images)
-design exercises which were graduated from drawing the classical Orders to a building design for a real site;
-teaching and lecturing from notable practicing classical architects from the USA and Europe.
Over a five year period, the course kept these essential ingredients but was modified by feedback from students each year.
For the full month of the course, two talented architects from the USA, Christopher Liberatos and Jenny Bevan of B&L Architects, were resident and provided pastoral and educational support to the students.
Over the four years the programme was run, a wide cross-section of students from around the world attended, from Asia, South America, Africa, Australia, the USA, and a number of European countries. The course was selective and always over-subscribed, accepting a maximum of 22 students. These ranged from senior practicing architects to students at architecture schools. All were encouraged to give their reasons for attending and most expressed deep frustration that classical architecture was not only omitted altogether from architectural education but actively discouraged. You can read student feedback from 2019 here.
All the students made great progress and often worked late into the evening in the studio. The final project, for a linked series of sites in a local town, produced many high quality and inventive designs. At the last school, these were gathered into a publication to demonstrate how the urban design of the town could be improved and exhibited in the online exhibition, ‘Learnings from Borlänge’, below.
All the 100 alumni expressed a great feeling of achievement and comradeship in attending the course and to this day many remain in contact via the ‘T-Square Club’. The course not only spread a knowledge of classical architecture around the world but expanded the membership and active participation in the activities of INTBAU’s network, many alumni going on to become INTBAU professional members, and one alumni, Nadia Everard, set up her own Summer School via La Table Ronde.
The Foundation now run a summer school from The Centre for the Study of Classical Architecture in Cambridge. In 2023, students will once again visit the Engelsberg Ironworks as part of this new programme ‘Learning from Tradition.’
Post pandemic, with an increasing demand for educational initiatives that promote traditional methods of designing and building, four ambitious and exciting summer and winter programmes have launched or re-launched, now offering vigorous, in-person educational opportunities for young and experienced aspiring traditional designers. Read more about these opportunities here.
For those that want to remenice further, pictures from past cohorts can be found on the Instagram page for the summer school here.
2019: The Swedish city of Borlänge
During the last Engelsberg Summer School in 2019, students made trips to Stockholm, Falun and other cities around Engelsberg to study design patterns and different urban, architectural and construction scales. The final site chosen for all three of the design projects was the small city of Borlänge located north of Engelsberg, in Dalarna County. Borlänge, referred to as ‘the smallest big city in Sweden’, features great examples of traditional vernacular architecture with a dense, human-scale street pattern made of two to three-storey single and mixed-use buildings. Unfortunately, in more recent years ‘urban renewal’ has hurt the streetscape of Borlänge. With the city experiencing increasing pressure to build larger housing complexes, squares and buildings were torn down to make space for surface parking, and statement steel and glass buildings were built to stand out from the existing context. The drawings in this exhibition are proposals both for new buildings on existing empty sites, and for new buildings to replace existing ones in Borlänge.
The directors of the school, along with teaching assistants Nils Gustafsson and Carl Arvidsson, took students’ projects one step further and incorporated them into a new masterplan proposal dedicated to the citizens of Borlänge, which can be found in the publication Building a More Beautiful Borlänge by Bevan and Liberatos.
II. Small Scale
A Promenade Park Pavilion
The proposal to upgrade the existing public toilet gave students the opportunity to employ canonical classicism at a small scale. A new public toilet pavilion would be a functional ornament between Stationsgatan and the proposed new Promenade Park, which would replace an existing surface parking lot. It would also form a visual link between Stationsgatan and the new Station Square to the south. The design brief called for public toilets with room for a custodian and an optional cafe. Students chose the materials and were encouraged to consider how material choice affects the expression of the orders, and how the orders can be used to express the public nature of the building. (Building a More Beautiful Borlänge, Bevan and Liberatos)
III. Medium Scale
Mixed use buildings around Svea Square and Svea Theatern
This project was to design the public-facing façade of a proposed new mixed-use building consisting of shop space on the ground floor, and offices or residential apartments above. Some proposed buildings would be sited on empty lots currently being used for surface parking, including three new blocks of buildings on what is currently surface parking along the railway line. This would create a new street terminating at the existing tourist pavilion on Stationsgatan. Other proposals include varied replacements for existing incongruous buildings and the refacing of existing, incongruous buildings with new façades. (Building a More Beautiful Borlänge, Bevan and Liberatos)
IV. Large Scale
A library, a school and a train station
The final design project was for a large-scale public building for the city of Borlänge. Students chose between designing a library to replace the existing one facing the main city square, a new Högskolan (college) building or a new train station. For all projects, students selected the materials and the styles with which they wished to design.
A few projects were selected to be turned into 3D rendered models for the purpose of the physical exhibition at BOMO Borlänge Modern. The models were made by Vincent Veneman, and the final rendered images where executed by Charles Roberts Studio.
V. A Year On
More than a year has passed since the newly graduated class of 2019 left the Engelsberg Ironworks. Each student left with new skills, thoughts and ideas to bring back home with them. We wanted to reconnect with our alumni and hear the many ways in which the summer school has helped them shape their personal and professional careers. Below is a live Zoom event and online panel hosted by INTBAU and featuring students from the USA, Australia, Belgium, Sweden and The Netherlands.
A detailed and comprehensive publication entitled Building a More Beautiful Borlänge and written by the directors of the school, Jenny Bevan and Christopher Liberatos, has been compiled to offer an alternative future for the city of Borlänge. The publication is dedicated to the citizens of Borlänge and will be available shortly. Contact us if you wish to receive a copy.