Tuesday, May 30, 2017

to a poet

I'm currently working on a longer post on Bernt Nyberg and while doing some online research I happened on Arkdes' online archive of Nyberg's drawings and models. unfortunately so far few of the listed items have made it online but among the ones that have I found a drawing for the entrance stair and canopy of his Department of Anatomy and Histology Building (currently referred to as the Josephson Building and belonging to the Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences) in Lund from 1965. last year I went by the building for the first time and was immediately struck by two things: first the almost medieval relationship between the entrance stair tower and the neighbouring building to the south east and secondly the way the stair feels both haphazard in detail but entirely planned in the whole. not that the detailing feel haphazard in an unconsidered way, I probably should refer to it as loose fit instead; it is a whole with improvisations where everything is ruled by a main theme

the first thing to say is that seen from the front the stair tower is entirely separated from the main building, both tectonically and in materiality: the main building shows a laconic acceptance of the programme in that it is a white-rendered brick building with repeated fenestration that doesn't in any way try to seem more interesting than it actually is while the stair tower seems to be a picturesque collage of slabs of different materials, not entirely unrelated to neoplasticism. there is an argument to be had that the ninety degrees indentions at the corners of the main block makes it seem like it too is composed of several slabs but even if that is the case the slabs the stair tower is composed of are much more pronounced.

moving down in scale we have the entrance porch and canopy. now we're suddenly quite far from neoplasticism but when looking closer at the different elements it is quite noticeable how everything is constructed from, well, not slabs but from distinctly flat elements: there are timber boards, flat steel barrs, copper sheets etc. there is one obvious exception, the concrete stair, but that is also clearly separated from the building and belongs to the earth instead.

one significant characteristic of the porch – though one most users of the building probably won't notice until after a long while, if they notice it at all – is that the whole thing is cantilevered off the stair tower. it would be so incredibly easy to just put some short legs under the construction but there are none. the only places it actually touches down are the handrail of the stair – added by Nyberg in 1967 – and the ramp at the back which wasn't added until 1983, after Nyberg's passing, to increase accessibility. so if you take a look at the drawing there is actually no point of the porch that ever touch down.

after a while you realise that the fact that the construction doesn't touch down is symptomatic as none of the major elements of the porch actually connect to each other either; they're always connected by secondary elements or interrupted by some other part. so you have a thin flat timber roof that rests atop T-shaped steel beams (ostensibly made from two flat steel bars connected at a right angle) but before the roof meets up with the wall of the stair tower it's interrupted by a copper gutter resting on the same beams (and which at the front lets the water just fall straight onto the ground but at the back is connected to a rectangular drainpipe). in the same way the T-shaped beams aren't actually resting on the paired uprights at the edge of the porch, that would be way too obvious a construction, instead the beams lie on top of steel brackets made of folded flat steel bars and these brackets also serve as the distances for the paired uprights. and the original railing, a flat steel bar folded into the shape of a rectangle, are connected to the uprights by the same kind of bracket, only smaller. the floor of the porch is made from timber boards resting on further T-shaped beams which are in turn resting on the steel cantilevers connected to the stair tower. originally the Ts, and the boards along with them, made a ninety-degree turn at the back folding up to make a waist-high back wall where the ramp now starts.

as I said the only part of the construction, related to Nyberg, that touches down is the handrail from -67 and that's only with one upright, and in a very odd way: the upright isn't just secured on top of the stair but turns ninety degrees and follows the stair to spill down the riser like some kind of slow-moving liquid.

this became a lot longer than I had at first intended but since my first visit I have been fascinated by how just a few materials – timber, steel, copper – in even fewer shapes – basically a rectangular cross-section of different proportions – can combine in unexpected ways to create what can only be considered some kind of built poetry.

acknowledgements and further info:
most information on dates and the different alterations are from Lennart Lundberg's 2003 thesis in art history Arkitekten Bernt Nyberg och modernismen –en studie av konst- och musikvetenskapsinstitutionens byggnad "Josephson" vid Lunds universitet which although it, from the perspective of a practising architect, has some flaws is useful on the timeline of the building and the different changes since its completition