Three of the country's master architects competed to build the museum and a requirement was that it was absolutely prohibited for it to be built in the functionalist style. Here is the story of how Sweden, after many trials and tribulations, finally got its maritime museum.
The Maritime Museum opened in 1938, but in a way, the story began about 25 years earlier.
The Association for Swedish Maritime Museums in Stockholm played a crucial role for founding the Maritime Museum we enjoy today. At the association's first meeting, in March 1913, it was resolved that work whereby Stockholm would have a maritime museum would be undertaken immediately.
On 15 February 1914, the new Maritime Museum opened its doors to the public for the first time. It was originally based on the ground floor of the Skeppsbron 46 building in Gamla stan (Old Town). The museum was small and specialised in things like shipping companies, merchant ships, navigation and seamanship. The association also had its own library, which grew year by year.
At the same time we also had the national naval war collections, which the Maritime Administration authority of the time was responsible for, and above all about the history of the Swedish Navy. In 1928, sections of the national naval war collections started being showcased in a newly opened museum, the Maritime Museum in Stockholm, situated on Strandvägen.
The Naval Museum (Sjöfartsmuseet) and the Maritime Museum in Stockholm are the foundation for what would become the National Maritime Museum.
No functionalism clause
The idea to exhibit the two collections under one roof had been the subject of discussion for many years. In the early 1930s Hans Ericson, president of the Association of the Swedish Maritime Museum in Stockholm, succeeded in engaging the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation in the matter. In March 1931, the Foundation offered to contribute SEK 800,000 to the construction of the museum, a very considerable sum of money in interwar Sweden. But there were a number of caveats. One was that the state had to make a site available for the museum to be built. The Foundation also called for the cabin and the transom of Gustav III's pleasure yacht and command vessel Amphion to be given a prominent position and that the building was not to be built in the functionalist style.
The Swedish Parliament decided in 1932 that the government would accept the donation from the Wallenberg Foundation for the construction of the Maritime Museum. The state took over the Swedish Association of Maritime Museums in Stockholm collections in the same year.
Competition between master architects
Three of Sweden's most prominent architects, Ragnar Hjorth, Cyrillus Johansson and Ragnar Östberg, competed over who would get to design the Maritime Museum. It ended with Ragnar Östberg, the man behind the City Hall in Stockholm, picking the longest straw. But his work would be far from problem-free. During the construction of the mighty Stockholm City Hall (inaugurated in 1923), Ragnar Östberg more or less had a free hand. But when it came to the Maritime Museum, the government appointed a committee in June 1932 to work on the new museum. They scrutinised Östberg's proposals to the minutest detail and demanded occasional changes. It was the case that the master architect, sometimes following strenuous discussions, had to tow the line and revise his plans.
The new museum was built over the years 1934 and 1935. It was built in Gärdet, ironically the same location that part of the Stockholm Exhibition was held in 1930. An exhibition that is usually considered as functionalism's breakthrough in Sweden, an architecture form where functionality is the focus and where features such as ornate façades are regarded as outdated.
The Maritime Museum is a neoclassical building, a style that was inspired by the architecture of the Roman Empire and ancient Greece. However, despite the requirement set by the Wallenberg Foundation, there are a few traces of functionalism in building, with bright, clean surfaces and smooth façades.
The museum was opened on 28 May 1938 by King Gustav V, in brilliant sunshine and with 1,500 invited guests and much of the press corps in attendance. Sweden had finally got its Maritime Museum.