Sigurd Lewerentz (1885-1975) is one of the modern masters for whom recognition has been late in coming. He was eclipsed by his partner and friend Erik Gunnar Asplund, whom he outlived by thirty-five years, and even so, more years had to pass before his work could be acknowledged beyond the frontiers of the Nordic countries. That is, acknowledgement of Lewerentz was post mortem. Apart from his introverted and distant personality, one reason for the delay would have been lack of understanding of his discourse, removed as it was from the orthodoxies of Modernity.
This book by Janne Ahlin, originally published in 1987 as the first monograph on the architect, highlighted these problems while bringing to light an extensive but little-known body of work. More was written about Lewerentz thereafter, and by architects and scholars as notable as Colin St John Wilson or Gennaro Postliglione, and in recent times he has been the object of special attention on the part of certain contemporary architects. In fact it seems that the message conveyed by the work of the Swedish architect – who does not seem to have left any writings – is more contemporary now than it was in his time. On the one hand, we now know that some of what is traditionally attributed exclusively to Asplund was Lewerentz’s as well. In Stockholm South Cemetery, Lewerentz’s footprint is not only in the competition and in the Resurrection Chapel, but in the entire development of the project over many years, before and after Asplund’s death. His contributions there are works of Land Art, avant la lettre. Later came projects as acclaimed as the churches in Stockholm and Klippan and the Flower Kiosk at Malmö Eastern Cemetery.
But Lewerentz was not just a builder of chapels and cemeteries, though his are all masterpieces. He built other works, including Villa Edstrand, which throw light on the continuity of his path. Manifest here is constant reflection on the fragment as bearer of values now lost to modernity’s crisis of order, to which the architect responded radically. A vision of his own which was incomprehensible at a time when the conventions and convictions of functionalism were still in force.
Hence, the seeming archaism of many of his projects in fact testifies to a profound modernity that transcends all cliché, including that of modernity itself, belonging to a realm of mystery that only lovers of paradox can step into. For Lewerentz, architecture admitted no formal or temporary adjectivation, let alone surpassed concepts of rationality. This non-writer architect expresses immutable and contradictory principles that only make sense in buildings as unrepeatable realities.