On a Swedish island, not far from Stockholm, is moored the Verona. The sailboat belonging to the architect Ralph Erskine has been completely restructured to accommodate his studio and his collaborators.
A british architect exiled in sweden
Ralph Erskine (1914-2005) was an English architect and urban planner although most of his built work is in Sweden. Even if he built projects that were recognized in England, the Swedish social welfare model that was being transmitted in the country’s public architecture was more in line with his humanist convictions. Moreover, he found in Sweden the functionalist masters Gunnar Asplund, Sven Markelius and Sigurd Lewerentz who greatly influenced his work.
One of his first important projects was the workers’ housing district in Gyttorp (1945-1955), a Swedish workers’ city, where he implemented a new typology of social housing and redesigned the city center. Another of his early projects, the Borgafjäll ski resort hotel (1948-1950), illustrates the architect’s early interest in the notions of climate and domestic architecture, which he questioned for almost 60 years on the basis of modernist principles. Indeed, the English architect discovered in Sweden a more hostile climate and a different relationship to nature, parameters that impacted his work.
The captain architect
In 1955 Erskine’s career evolved and he thought of a new office place to work with his collaborators. The architect bought an old sailboat from the Thames built in 1905 that he restructured to make his studio. The boat is renamed “Verona” and is moored at Drottningholm, an island on the outskirts of Stockholm. The floating studio was fitted out for about ten architects and draftsmen, all located on the same level inside. Only Erskine’s office was symbolically located in the captain’s cabin. This close configuration, almost only horizontal and with forced proximity favoured the development of cooperative ideas. During the summer, the ship sailed to Rågö, an island off Nyköping with the families of the architects. In a society where the separation between family and work is very strong, the studio, which functioned like a large family, was an anomaly.
In 1963 the Villa Erskine was completed in Drottningholm, it was the residence of the architect himself as well as his new studio that replaced the Verona. The sailboat continued to sail for another ten years, but its use became much more singular.