The Villa Snellman By Architect Eric Gunnar

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The work of Asplund maintains a lineof thought that consistently dealswith limitless space, and is very muchaligned with the modernism that hadovertaken Central Europe just a half ageneration earlier, but articulates thisspace with a sensibility that is uniquely Scandinavian.


The Snellman villa is a residence designed for a family of comfortableclass in the capital. It is not a verylarge or very luxurious home, but it ismore than enough for a four-membernucleus that wants to live accordingto a petty bourgeois program withouttoo many tight spots. It consists of twosimple parallelepiped bodies toppedby sloping roofs that intersect at theirends occupying an L-shaped portionof the plot and that release a wellorientedrectangle with respect to theafternoon sun for the benefit of thegarden.

Place and space

In 1914, Asplund traveled to Italy andthe Mediterranean. It was a trip thatwould prove to have a significanteffect on his later work. His days wererecorded in over three hundred pagesof notes, sketches and annotations,many of which would eventuallyinfluence his work. ‘ would appear that a purelyteleological doctrine of technicalaesthetic forms is not tenable. Atwhatever stage in the design process itmay occur, it seems that the designeris always faced with making voluntarydecisions and that the configurationswhich he arrives at must be the resultof an intention and not merely theresult of a deterministic process...’1Throughout his career, Erik GunnarAsplund pursued an architecture thatconveyed a very specific idea about placeand space. From the first works to thevery last, the discourse within his bodyof work centered on the expression ofblurring boundaries between interiorand exterior, private and public, oftenby creating an impression of expansivespace within what would sometimes beconsidered quite conventional spaces.

Courtyard type

As for Villa Snellman, it’s courtyard typeto a certain extent. The entry court ofthe Villa Snellman has two sides that areenclosed by the building itself, a thirdside by a garden wall, and the fourthby a large oak tree. In an early scheme,the circulation zone is located alongthe periphery of both volumes of thehouse, facing the court. This emphasizesthe idea of the house as a courtyardtype.



At the Villa Snellman, Asplunddifferentiated the doors by theirmateriality and their opacity.There are two kinds of doors, and oneis double-leaf doors made of woodand glass, the other one is woodendoor, so one can easily get to knowwhich is the main entrance door, andmoreover, won’t be confusing when heencounters two doors next to eachother. However, this is also his trick to blur the boundary between interiorand exterior, because the material ofthe doors is same.


As stone-masons or carpenters, somehave discovered in the origins oftheir experience the very structureof architecture, it’s most certain andfixed point of reference: once again, architecture as craft. The villa like anartwork with beautiful construction, and the architect complete it stepby step: to the outside an elongated, narrow towering cuboid with a flatpitched roof, complemented by anadjoining single-storey side wing, which, with its low-setting roof andsmall windows without a fall, anchorsthe main house in the terrain. Themoderately protruding roof, which wasonly divided by three huge chimneys, covered with red-glazed tiles.



Firstly, the windows on the wall havesame proportion, one or severalrepeated small square, the sameproportion is repeated in the whole aswell as in the parts. Nature follows thesame principle in her creations. Moreover, the distances between thewindows are like 31: 34: 37: 40, it’s anarithmetic series.


Two walls on the ground plan are slightlytilted, and their intersection point is in the position of golden section, as isshown in the picture.


‘The decisive factor in architecture isthe dimensions, the relations of heightto width’ (Hermann Grimm). They essentially determine the character of abuilding. It is therefore very importantto define the expressive value ofproportions.The relations of height to width suggestforce and gravity, ascent and repose.More width would make it appear atrest, more height would make it appearstanding.If we divide main building into twoparts, each part will peculiarity lie inthe equality of height and width; ascentand repose are held in perfect balance,so it’s just like paper, no movement butwith dynamic windows on the wall.


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It is worth noting that in an earlyscheme, the circulation zone is locatedalong the periphery of both volumesof the house, facing the court. Thisemphasizes the idea of the house as acourtyard type.Later schemes eliminate the circulationfrom the periphery of the service wingof the house, but also eliminate allexits to the garden from that façade sothat one is forced to circulate throughthe court to access the landscape,ultimately manifesting in that court aspace of ambiguity.

Threshold between Spaces

The manipulation of thresholds thatsuggests a desire to create the readingof spaces expanding into one another, and beyond to the exterior.‘The artist, the architect, first sensesthe effect that he intends to realize andsees the rooms he wants to create in hismind’s eye. He senses the effect that hewishes to exert upon the spectator: fearand horror if it is a dungeon, reverenceif a church, respect for the power ofthe state if a government palace, piety ifa tomb, homeyness if a residence, gaietyif a tavern. These effects are producedby both the material and the form ofthe space.’

The second doors of the houseconnects the living room with theplinth, and it is a possibility of expansionof the room for when the weatherallows it. In the same way that there arestairs that “go up” and stairs that “godown”, in this case we are facing doors that preferably “enter” and other doorsthat decidedly “come out” or exhibitcolonizing pretensions. The main dooris clearly an entrance door to part ofthe stairs that externally point towardsit, by the presence of the hall, a roomwhere inhabitants and guests are usuallydetached from a considerable amountof clothing. This double door to preventthe entry of cold into the house canalso be output in winter, nothing tooppose the reverse procedure.


Firstly, in the main body and in theinterior face of the “L” two doors inprinciple similar seem to competeamong them for being chosen to crossthe entrance. One door leads in to thehouse, the other leads out from theliving room. A small rectangular plinthrests longitudinally on the façade andconnects the two entrances externallyto the same level of the ground floor.By placing these two doors side by side, on a small stone stylobate, Asplund reinforces the lack of distinctionbetween public and private. Furthermore, the access which leads into the house is made under a canopythat protects us from the rain throughthe “thickest” point of the facade ofthe ground floor. After the access doorthat opens its two leaves towards thegarden we find a small chill court atriumdelimited internally by a second doorthat opens its corresponding leavestowards the interior of the house. Thespace of this transition is not expressedas an independent volume on thefloor but rather as an emptying of thethickness of the wall.



First of all, as just mentioned above, a small rectangular plinth restslongitudinally on the façade and connects the two entrances externallyto the same level of the ground floor. Next, the stucco decorations on three facades remain reliefs. Set either on thenorth façade between upper floor andattic windows or on west and south facade between the windows, the reliefsquote a textile motif antique jewelry, aloosely suspended at two points cloth.The composition of all these details gives the viewer the formative, ambiguous impression: due to the simplicity of the volume and the smoothness of the surface, the building appears as a monolithic block, but the filigree and liberated arrangement of the articulating elements speak a different language: self-sufficient in the area. They contradict the dictates of theblock-like form and develop a life oftheir own, which takes the respectivewall surface as a reason for their rhythmic sequence and composition,but on closer inspection from many perspectives makes the walls seem asunstable as from paper, into which the dark openings now as in itself heavyvolumes seem to hang.

The Composition of the Façades

‘...Nevertheless, in modern art theprinciple of variation seems to be anecessary principle. It is seen as a modeof artistic knowl-edge. Continuous variations of a form shed light onsomething they have in common...; compared to the wall surface, the whitelattice windows are rather small, butthe relationship and the arrangementof the openings lend the façades their animated effect despite the simplicityof the elements used. The upperfloor of the main building is exposedwithout exception by square windows, each of which has a flat attic window, but with one exception illuminatesthe roof space used as storage space.The ground floor has high-rectangularwindows, only on the north facadethere are special formats: double-leafdoors made of wood and glass and the same small recessed windowsthat also illuminate the side wing. Anumber of other very small openingsare distributed throughout the buildingnear the ground, which are to ventilatethe cellar and the crawl space openedfrom the west gable side by means of awooden door. Half-round formats and squares alternate here.

Inside outside

Firstly, as mentioned before, in an early scheme, the circulation zone is located along the periphery of both volumes ofthe house, facing the court. But later schemes eliminate the circulation from the periphery of the service wing of the house and ultimately manifesting in that court a space of ambiguity.

Secondly, the lack of distinctionbetween public and private is furtheremphasized by the articulation of thetwo doors on the main façade of thehouse. By placing these two doors sideby side, on a small stone stylobate, Asplund reinforces this ambiguity.

On the interior of the house he playswith slight shifts of the walls, with thealignment of windows that suggests adesire to create the reading of spacesexpanding into one another, andbeyond to the exterior. He wants toblur the boundary between the insideand outside.


Facade follows the function

The exterior of a courthouse maytelegraph a number of differentmessages, ranging from the idea thatthe building is a courthouse and nota post office, to the indication of animportant chamber, to the fact thatthe building is a public institution, tothe importance of the building in itscommunity, and so forth. The means bywhich and the degree to which each ofthese attributes can be articulated varyenormously from place to place andtime to time.

As we can see all the windows on thefaçade, the windows mainly divided intotwo types, the smaller square windowsand the bigger rectangle windows. Thebig windows are mainly focused on theground floor. And the small windowsare on the first floor. Compared with the floor plan, we can clearly see that onthe ground floor most of the spaces arepublic space. So he used big windows.On the first floor the functions of the space are mainly focused on bedrooms, toilets and bathrooms. These space need to protect the privacy. The small windows are fit here. We can easily understand the function inside through the facade outside.


One of the two volumes in the shape of “house” is wider, longer and taller thanthe other. In this first volume that has abasement, ground floor, first floor andattic, the noble program of housing willbe developed. The other body, as if it hadarrived a little later to its appointment in the place - it does not appear in thefirst sketch of the house, completes the functional program of the first onewith technical stays and the service inthe ground floor. This “arriving later”is evident in the layout of the plant. The small rectangle does not appearcomplete at the intersection; the piecealready occupied by the “previous”volume is missing.The first version of the stone plants ofthe Snellman villa reveals that perhaps what initially seemed to us a loss of orthogonality due to a small localadjustment is, in reality, something similar to a subtle perceptualcorrection of which the architect haswanted that it is hardly constancy in the experience of the constructed building; a compositional resource that makes us think, on the one hand, of the medieval civic architectures with their plants slightly deformed as a result ofthe negotiation with the city or with the relief and, on the other hand, in those stereometric deformations present in the temples of the Ancient Greece, especially in the examples corresponding to the Hellenisticperiod. Asplund thus seems to claim a way of operating in which a tension is established between the logical-formalnature of architecture and our own presence in the place as sentient and physical beings.

In Asplund’s work we consistently seemultiple territories being traversed. By recombining time and place andby applying design strategies thatwere based on Swedish tradition, hisItalian sojourn and the requirements of a newly formed bourgeois culture, Asplund creates an architecture that is neither old nor new, neither private nor public. Traversing physical territories andsocial boundaries, his work becomesunderstood as timeless and placeless — and yet simultaneously entirely of itstime and of its place. The Way of the Cross is not Pompeii revisited; the Skandia Cinema is not a square in Tunis. And yet by applying these images to a new context in a new age, Asplund wasable to manifest an architecture that expresses the methods and materials with which he worked as well as the society for which he built.

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