Friday, February 26, 2010

[stopping time]

Gunnar Asplund’s desire for clarity in the glazing at the Stockholm Public Library came in the wake of his experience designing the small, Woodland Chapel, completed in 1920 at the Woodland Cemetery (Skogskyrkogarden) in Stockholm. Although both buildings are descendents of classical, domed structures, the two Asplund projects are differentiated by their programs and in the way they remake daylight to support those programs.

The Chapel is a pristine, white dome under a steeply hipped, black, shingled roof; with its small size, and roof pulled down close over its walls, it defers, like a hut, to the surrounding trees, which rise from the forest floor to more than twice the Chapel’s height. A note of formality, and what begins to differentiate the building from a cabin in the woods, is struck by the set of twelve, white, polished porch columns.

Inside, tucked under the roof is the unexpected domed ceiling, a half-sphere inscribed in a pyramid. The dome is set over a slightly larger square room, its brightness in counterpoint to the dark roof that shelters it. At every stage in the illumination of the chapel, the sun is deprived of direction to make light that does not change and color that is muted by a sequence of techniques. Not only is the sky often overcast in this climate, but tall pine trees filter much of the direct sun that would come at the chapel from the side of the sky. At the top of the dome, a small, translucent oculus further diffuses light as it enters the room. Once inside, the light is distributed evenly by the dome’s smooth, white, spherical surface, a geometry without corners that would create shadow. Instead, the dome reflects incoming light into the room at an infinite number of angles; the form is a very effective diffuser of illumination.

The square room beneath the dome is painted gray and is larger than the dome, which, as a result, appears to hover in the space. Asplund’s chapel, singular in its vertically axial orientation, is centralized, focused, cool, and light is stilled. Time stops and the cemetery chapel sets itself apart from the world of the living.