Research Magazine

Auburn Research
Spring/Summer 2022
Interpreting Silence:
Reading the Architectural Language of Lewerentz and Nyberg
Matt Hall
Matt Hall

Over the course of his career, architect Sigurd Lewerentz (1885 – 1975) designed a number of influential buildings in his native country of Sweden, notably the Woodland Cemetery (designed with Gunnar Asplund), St. Mark’s church in Stockholm, St. Peter’s in Klippan, Malmo Opera and Music Theatre and several buildings in the Eastern Cemetery in Malmo. Lewerentz garnered attention for his consideration of place and light along with a focus on detail and materials in his designs. His concern for detail and material can be seen in Lewerentz’ late works of St. Mark’s and St. Peter’s church designs in which he had bricks custom made for the project of a specific color and texture and refused to allow any bricks to be cut during construction, but rather insisted on the careful arrangement of bricks to account for spacing needs. Lewerentz is sometimes referred to as the “silent architect” for his studied refusal to discuss his work, only showing a willingness to discuss technical and structural details, not the design or intentionality. His silence has encouraged curiosity and demanded others experience and study his spaces in order to interpret them.

Associate professor of architecture, Matt Hall, first encountered Lewerentz’ work as a student and his interest in understanding Lewerentz and his work has grown over time.  During research trips to Sweden in 2010 and 2012 while teaching at the University of Tennessee College of Architecture and Design, Hall was also introduced to the work of architect Bernt Nyberg. Nyberg (1927 – 1978) was one of the first people to attempt to document Lewerentz’ work and life; through that research Nyberg interacted extensively with Lewerentz and the two developed a friendship over time. A talented architect in his own right, Nyberg’s work is less well known, and a number of the buildings he designed are now at great risk of destruction. Hall is working to uncover the full scope of Nyberg’s work and draw attention to it before the work is lost.

Of their work, Hall said, “Lewerentz lived through and practiced during almost the entirety of the 20th century constantly in search for an appropriate language for architecture. This led to many shifts and rifts in his work, and thus myriad interpretations of his intentions. Nyberg, however, was quite clear and intensely vocal and was both influenced by, and influential to an aging Lewerentz, nudging him to talk about his intentions in an attempt to be his first biographer. Perhaps it is the quality of the architecture that continues to incite interest and research into their work, or maybe it is the quality of the mystery and a body of work so open and ripe for interpretation. For me it has been both, and the work durably continues to raise fundamental questions worth investigating.” 

Dr. Jaimie Roper and Ph.D. student Patrick Monaghan

Hall has visited and documented each of Lewerentz and Nyberg’s built projects, conducted archival research, photography and interviews with those who knew and worked with the architects. Nyberg has not been studied as closely as Lewerentz and there is considerable material in the archives on his collaboration with Lewerentz, which sheds light on their process and values. Hall interviewed people who knew Nyberg and also found a former co-worker who had some of Nyberg’s records stored in shoe boxes in the back of a closet, including tapes and transcripts of Nyberg’s interviews of Lewerentz and documents from the work they did together in Lewerentz’ final years. Hall’s research on Nyberg has expanded knowledge of both Nyberg and Lewerentz – especially the last part of Lewerentz’ career.

In the classroom and studio, Hall teaches architecture students how to apply the lessons from Nyberg and Lewerentz in their work – attending to how built space can connect to and reflect place, careful attention to materials and details, and consideration for a person’s experience in a space and architecture’s place within its time and culture. Each spring, Hall takes a group of third-year architecture students to Scandinavia to view work in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland, and to study at the Aarhus School of Architecture. The program gives students the opportunity to experience and study the spaces, their antecedents and cultural context. While in Sweden the students are exposed to work that spans Lewerentz’ career as well as buildings that were inspired by his work. The travel program was put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic but has resumed.

Hall said, “In the classroom we rely on images and descriptions to explain space and culture, yet both are limited by the viewpoint of the instructor and only limited representations of what the conditions on the ground actually are. The goal for any field study, and in particular our voyage through Scandinavia, is to become immersed in an intense dialog with place — from its food to its bricks. Studying architecture in architecture also allows students to view the work through their own eyes, and to develop specific attitudes in the hopes of constructing a philosophy regarding how one understands and thus contributes to culture — culture, in this case, through building.”

“Studying architecture in architecture also allows students to view the work through their own eyes and to develop specific attitudes in the hopes of constructing a philosophy regarding how one understands and thus contributes to culture — culture, in this case, through building.”

– Matt Hall

Hall has published and exhibited extensively on his research. He curated an exhibit, Endangered Architecture, on the work of Bernt Nyberg at the Skissernas Museum of Public Art and Process in Lund, Sweden, and the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and guest edited a special edition of journal A+U on Bernt Nyberg. He recently served as co-editor for a book, Lewerentz Fragments, that examines Lewerentz’ work from new perspectives, introducing archival material and drawings that Hall helped to uncover. He also contributed to the recently released Sigurd Lewerentz – Pure Aesthetics: St. Mark’s Church and is now developing a monograph on Bernt Nyberg.

Last updated: June 02, 2022