CourtyardSlab, corridorSlab, gallery-accessSlab, point-accessTower
Erskine, Ralph | Sandviken, Sweden | 1962-4;1968-70
Image of Barberaren
Facade facing the square in the center of town.

ArchitectErskine, Ralph
AddressHyttgatan 29-31
Building TypeCourtyard
Slab, gallery access
Slab, point-access
Number of DwellingsNA
Date Built1962-4;1968-70
Dwelling Typesflats and duplexes
No. Floors5
Section Typepoint access flats, gallery access
Exterior Finish
brick, concrete, copper, wood windows
Construction TypeR-C frame, brick
Ancillary Servicesshopping at grade

Ralph Erskine's commissions in the Sandviken area, including nearby Hammrby and Jädraés, span a period of about 40 years and include several sites and projects that are essential to understanding Erskine's ideas about housing and urban design. Sandviken is a steel town specializing in high-quality stainless steel products. Following World War II there was a rapid increase in Swedish industrial production with resulting economic growth and many building opportunities. Some of Erskine's first projects as a young architect were done for one of the companies leading this growth, the industrial firm Gästrike-Hammarby. It is through contacts made on these projects that Erskine got the commission for the Barberaren in Sandviken; the client /contractor on Barberaren, Söderman & Söner, had worked with Erskine on earlier Gästrike-Hammarby projects.

Barberaren is a mixed-use development on a prominent site along one side of the main plaza of Sandviken. Several important streets in the city converge on the square. The Town Hall occupied one block on the south side of the plaza, but there was only one building standing midway in the other block so that the most important public space in Sandviken was in need of building to finish the enclosure of the sides of the plaza. Erskine's design was built in three phases over a twenty year period. The Barberaren block was built in two phases, 1962-1964 and 1968-70. The last phase, for a separate mixed-use building called the Tapetseraren, was built on the southwest corner of the plaza between 1980 and 1982. Taken altogether, these buildings constitute a remarkable urban intervention on a difficult site. They virtually complete the most important public space in the city and help establish City Hall as the center of town.

The Barberaren complex consists of three basic building elements all of which share similar materials and details. Red brick, exposed concrete and wood planters, trellises and windows and the vaulted copper roofs are used throughout. The long building along the plaza is 4 stories high with shops and commercial space on the ground floor and three floors of apartments above. The same building form is used along the two side streets and make a connection between the buildings along the streets and the buildings along the plaza. The exaggerated vaulted copper roof is tilted away from the north side creating an additional floor on the opposite side of the building. Large concrete beams, "gantries", from which the balconies are hung, cantilever from the roof and further add to the impression of the exaggerated roof form. This vaulted, form produces a typical section with a partial mezzanine level on the higher side of the building. A group of three, three-story versions of the same building type is used on the interior of the block to define a series of courtyards. These three short blocks contain offices at the courtyard levels with stairs to a gallery at the second floor serving the apartments on the upper floors. Finally, the extruded, vaulted, form is used for the two nine story towers on the interior of the block. The tower as a thin vertical marker for an important public space is a spatial concept Erskine used earlier at Kiruna. Both towers here are set back from the street creating defined public spaces, a small shopping plaza on the east and a small entrance court on the east. These two spaces are connected by a covered pedestrian walk which runs through the interior of the block, east to west. Two courtyards on the inside of the block at the west end of the complex are part of the medical center which is located at the corner. The ground floor of the west tower is part of this complex. There is a parking garage under the courtyards. Many of the fir and birch threes which originally stood on the site have been keep and are part of the landscaped courtyards and open spaces between buildings on the interior of the block.

Like most of Erskine's buildings and projects, Barberaren embraces reoccurring themes and details that can be seen to evolve throughout his career. While Barberaren is quite different from most other Erskine buildings that tend to be freestanding groups, Barberaren is an urban-infill kind of project with all of the attendant problems of existing buildings, streets and uses. Still, important references can be made to other Erskine work. The idea of the perimeter wall which was first developed as a device to provide protection from north winds in arctic climates, and is typical to most of Erskine's residential project such as Brittgérden (1959), Kiruna (1961 where the tower form is also used), Svappavaara (1961) where the only part of the community that got built was part of the perimeter wall), and an idea that was used repeatedly after Barberaren, is a dominant concept here. The vaulted building along the plaza which also is used to define the surfaces of the two side streets, serves to define a protected, landscaped, interior realm to the south; a more private area for the dwellings which have private balconies overlooking this space wherever possible. The perimeter wall is certainly qualified here because the north facade is also the principal facade of an important public space. The courtyard spaces within the block at Barberaren seem also to have been derived from the type of residential courtyard that was used in most of these perimeter wall projects; a south-facing, landscaped semiprivate realm. The suspended balconies, an idea demonstrated by Erskine in his early towers as Växjö (1954), was developed to stop the cold bridging effect of cantilevered concrete balconies by supporting them independently from the structure of the building. This is a concept which is applied in many of his buildings and is certainly an critical part of the architecture at Barberaren. The "gantries" here are exaggerated independent elements, with shapes reflective of stress diagrams and oversized transverse beams, suspension rods and other details which create an architectonic veneer which is vital to energizing the planar repetitive quality of typical apartment buildings .
These elements are a critical feature of Erskin's architecture. In many of Erskine's later low-rise, high density residential projects, the Byker Wall, for example, or at Nya Bruket--also in Sandviken--the idea of the elaborate suspended balcony is maintained, but with more modest details as part of the strategy to open individual dwellings to a southern exposure. The exaggerated roofs are another important characteristic of Erskine's architecture. Developing as well from early studies about building in a severe climate, the roof was the focus of protective and energy-efficient strategies that had obvious form-producing potential. The domed Lisön house of 1955 introduced the idea of reducing insulated surface but also the idea of the umbrella as a metaphor for the roof. Teaming this notion with the wind-deflection potential of perimeter walls or screens resulted in the exaggerated profiles and shapes of the towers and roofs at Kiruna in 1961. Here for the first time an almost "aeronautical" form emerges: rounded corners, continuously, undulating roofs, deflection screens, and super-dense, flush outer walls on one side and super-transparent walls on the other. Building plans begin to take on "aeronautical" characteristics (which appear for the first time in the rounded corners of the Växjö towers); at Kiruna, they begin to look more like air foils or cross sections of airplane wings than building plans. The deflecting roof at Svappavaara which extends well out over the south side of the building, presumably to direct the cold north winds over and away from the protected area to the south may be seen as a version of the umbrella idea; a continuous, independent, separately supported, undulating, membrane which can be folded over the top of the building. Erskine's office referred to this as the "wilted" roofs and preferably they were black and metal. While Barberaren was underway, Erskine's house and office were being built at Drottningholm. The vaulted concrete form here was also covered by an independent sheet metal roof complete with the exaggerated chimneys which, by this time, had become a standard feature of almost every Erskine building. The idea was that the separate un-insulated roof would allow the snow to melt naturally and overhangs the walls so that gutters and down-spouts were unnecessary. Drottningholm may be seen as a prototype for the vaulted copper roofs at Barberaren. The copper extensions of the elevator penthouse, chimneys and vents combine with the balcony gantries to heighten the ambiance of the roof architecture. Of course, Erskine was also well aware of the metal roofs that can be seen everywhere in Sweden so the roofs cape at Barberaren may also be seen as simply continuing an old tradition of Nordic vernacular building.

In 1970, Erskine received the Kasper Salin Prize for design of the Barberaren and the jury praised the project as follows: "In a multifaceted production of housing environments, Ralph Erskine has shown an ambition to give form to physical space, to the benefit and pleasure of people, both individually and collectively. In his forming of space, he wishes to create the preconditions for both social community and individual privacy and, in strongly articulating form, he makes the environment richer." (from Mats Egelius, Ralph Erskine, Architect, p. 102.)

Peter Collymore, The Architecture of Ralph Erskine, Academy Editions, London, 1994, pp.94-7.

Arkitektur, 5/72; 7/81.

Mats Egelius, Ralph Erskine, Architect, Byuggfölaget, Stockholm, 1990, pp. 102-5.

Architectural Design, No. 11-12, 1977, (special issue), pp. 809-10.

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