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Claesson Koivisto Rune

Av Leo Gullbring
What's the ultimate sensation for the Minimalists at Koivisto - Rune - Claesson? Maybe Ann Veronica Janssens has found it in her installation at Rooseum, one of the two Art Museums of Malmö. You descend the stairs and encounters a soft immaterial wall. It fails to register with your senses, and no wonder, it's a misty smoke. Carelessly you almost walk straight into the white wall behind. On the other side of the glass doors is the source, smoke fuming out on the floor, along the walls, climbing up the stairs, the walls. This whiteness is an almost sublime sensation, where the materiality is done away with, where touch, hearing, sight gets all confused, where the sensational reigns supreme.


  

I've passed by this large window set below street level in central Stockholm several times before. Often it's empty inside. And since all is white, your eyes are infallibly drawn to it. The view to the rest of the interior is abruptly closed off by greenish greyish unframed frosty glass panels. Sometimes people in black clothes sits on nicely designed white plastic chairs around the smug white plastic table. Little extraordinarily nicely done wooden models are shown around. Crispy drawing on papers. Obviously these guys and dolls are designers or architects. And if you search the window you'll finally find their names etched in one of the corners: Claesson - Koivisto - Rune. But no mentioning of what kind of company. This is the young generation, of course, it's only the names which counts.

 

This very day the white room is empty all right. I knock on the glass. Deep in there voices comes aloud. Somebody appears from the inside. This must be Mårten Claesson, 29. And he opens the door. And here comes Eero Koivisto, 40. And so is Ola Rune, 35. Young architects, interior decorators, furniture designers and teachers. Much talked about in the press, even abroad, and rightly so. When they graduated from the College of Art, Craft and Design in 1994, they did it with style. On the much talked about modernist city square Sergels Torg, which the city council now wants converted to some ersatz reminiscence of 19th century, they placed their villa Wabi - simple quietude in japanese - as a refuge from the outside world. The interior was almost in Janssens spirit, all white, a kind of nonmaterialistic, spiritual freedom, without any sharp contours outlined, all soft and nice.

 

'These first four years we've been much occupied by space', says Eero, 'about what constitutes space, and what our body experience moving through it.' 'Yes,' cries Ola, 'adding sequences of rooms together, and see what happens.' 'There's some links to how Le Corbusier succeded in arranging rooms en suite', adds Mårten. 'It's the experiencing of space, light, acoustic which counts,' explains Ola. 'We want people to feel something, to react, indifference is the worst' retorts Eero. 'But it's always in a relationship to context,' underlines Mårten, 'like the kids and the teenage girls waving at us when they pass our window.' 'We did choose this place since we got contact with the cityscape here,' remembers Eero, 'we want to see people, we want to see if the sun shines, if it rains, if its getting cold.'

 

CKR are chatting about, obviously enjoying a break from two current projects, an office for Sony Music in Stockholm, and the residence for the Swedish ambassador in Berlin. Out of school they were also out of work, so they decided to try doing something together, setting up their own office. And this sound almost European in a country where a steady job, employed by whatever architecture studio, has been the demise for way too many talented young architects. Instead of selling out, they've stuck to their independence and their ideas. And there's is a straightforward honesty about it, not to accept whatever commission, to actually go for what they believe in.

 

A good example is the recent addition to the art museum Liljevalchs here in Stockholm. The client had the need to expose postcards, posters and some books. 'They expected a desk and a bookcase,' laughs Eero, 'and we gave them this room in a room.' 'We've taken all the measures from the original space,' adds Mårten, 'so we can retain the old whilst adding something completely new.' 'And this bookshop only involve the visitors which want to buy something,' exclaims Ola, 'you can look straight through it, the retail assistants is outside of the space, and you can sit down to wait or relax outside as well.' The interplay with opening and shutting off space, reflecting the proportions of Bergsten's classical architecture, is not restricted to the walls of the cube, but continues in the ceiling, thus allowing for a truly sensational space.

 

CKR best project so far, in my view, is situated in an industrial area by the Hammarby Lake in Stockholm. The office premises of the industrial design agency No Picnic, fellow friends from the Art Collage, is found right below Arthur von Schmalensee's cultish Luma light-bulb factory from the thirties. Here CKR has inserted a narrow stairwell to tie together the three storeys, and to serve as a distinct borderline separating client areas from working areas. This aim to enhance secrecy, of foremost importance to this kind of company, lends itself to a sculptural play with the dividing construction elements. Unframed glass panels allows for an open plan, while accents of green, and occasionally warning red - this area is off limits! - intensifies the stark white interior which awaits the accidental visitor.

 

CKR excels in a play with different gloss levels, from matt-matt to an almost blinding white. As a single cloud passes in the shallow blue sky the light changes for a fleeting moment. The walls are alive and let you experience the passing of the day. Through the open windows you hear the rustle of leaves, you hear the ripple of water. Whitewashed oak covers the floor. And here's an affinity with the Swiss school of architecture, now so much in vogue among students of architecture in Sweden, with this almost phenomenological approach. The goal seems to be to use the finished surface, and to hide away the joints between different materials, in a wish to present the building with an inner skin, with a soft almost immaterial sensation of light and spatial qualities.

 

Structure, space, light and compositions are all used to arrive at what CKR denotes an 'emotional modernism'. It might sound funny though, since most modernists disregarded emotions, rarely captured in quantifiable terms. But why not? Putting this slightly negating words emotional and modernism together might produce something new. And sure, things are happening. Instead of treating the used materials as mere matter, CKR strives to animate it, endowing it with more than it own simple materiality.

 

The same want for something more is prevalent in their lately quite extensive furniture designs. The recent 'Noon' for Skandiform, by Eero, is not only for sitting, you can stretch out for a nap as well. While their 'Berliner', for Swedese, improves on Le Corbusier, 'Tinto', for Offecct, is readily identifiable as a furthering of this play with opposite volumes. 'Sure you can find a lot of references to the old masters in our designs,' acknowledges Eero, 'but I think you have to improve and refine, it's like Schubert's sonatas, they all have the same kind of theme, but the last ones are the best.' And while Eero stresses the need to make furniture accessible in price, there's a strong desires for the whole trio to work on switch from the small to the large back and forth.

 

'We don't think modernism is dead,' assures Eero, 'it's just not thoroughly researched.' 'Sure, you might label us minimalist,' says Mårten, 'but it has become an etiquette everybody tries to free themselves off, altough as a method I like it, to arrive at the core by reducing.' 'But without a context we can't exist, and we can't bring about change,' implies Ola. 'So much of new architecture are objectified, it doesn't allow for other events, outside of the architecture itself.'

 

This I experience later at night, out to dine close by the architectural school. 'One happy cloud' is yet another addition to the flowering night life of Stockholm, though strikingly at odds with the prevailing trend of heavily designed restaurants. Here CKR has created an interior design which leaves plenty of room for the main ingredients in a good night spot, which is people, food, drink and music.

 

Upon entering this Japanese-Swedish-cross-over-place, one finds oneself in between parallel frosty glass, the only thing you see is the bar. But taking another two steps you enter in a vast space, larger than imagined from the outside. On both right and left the restaurant multiplies, until you notice the wall-mounted mirrors. The walls are all white, while space is divided with this greenish greyish acid etched glass planes, allowing for various depths to be imagined. A blackboard entirely covers one of the walls, so instead of a fixed appearance, the look alters subtly every two months when the menu is renewed and a new artist covers the walls with freshly new figures and such.

 

What will become of CKR is way too early to say, but they are sure way ahead on a promising start. Without any problem distinguishing themselves among Swedish architects, most of them to tied up by penny-pinching clients and endless compromises, the main question remains: is this really Swedish? It's hard to say. It's like Swedish music. Why is it so popular? Because it's not Swedish any more. It's international. And it's damn well done.

 

The success of current Swedish interior architecture and design lies in this international approach, which nevertheless has something uniquely Swedish about it. Where else, in a city the size of Stockholm, do you find the same vast choice of cross-breed restaurants and bars? While the radical heroism of the Swedish model might be dead, there's still a close tie to nature and its materials, as well as to different qualities of light. But here is also a need to deal with the superficial conservatism you can experience all too well among the clients of a place like One happy cloud, a heritage from the modern project which did away with a lot of past values, where this endless chatter about furs, appartments and taste seems to be more related to the stock exchange than to the very meaning of life. Whereas CKR does aspire to master the best out of the Swedish functionalism, as in the project for No Picnic, they are quite firm about the fact that there is no looking back anyway. The present retrotrend, doing ersatz copies out of the past, is no option. The trio seem tightly convinced that the only feasible solution is to look ahead, to modernise modernism.

Published in Frame


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