Midsommarkransen! Taylorism as architecture

By the outbreak of World War II, Ericsson had grown into a gigantic industrial complex in Midsommarkransen south of Stockholm that also included the development of a residential area with apartment buildings surrounding the square Telefonplan, whose name was inspired by Ericsson's operations. Architecturally, Ericsson's manufacturing complex was one of the most admired internationally as an outstanding example of Swedish functionalism and, even more perhaps, as a well-conceived production facility according to the Taylor school.

Project work was started in 1936 through a close collaboration between architect Ture Wennerholm and Ericsson's head engineer Olof Hult. The industrial complex, built in re-enforced concrete with white plaster facings, consisted of two parts. One was a low production facility for heavy manufacturing, consisting of a 14,000 square meter hall with sawtooth roofs and sky lighting. The other was a four-story building housing offices and lighter manufacturing.

Noisy work was kept away from quieter workplaces. Workers and salaried employees not only had separate entrances, but also as previously, different standards. Stairs in offices were made of marble, while non-slip tiles were used in manufacturing premises. The walls between departments in both manufacturing and office premises were made of glass to facilitate supervision and control.

Planning took as its starting point two flows: the flow of materials from raw goods to finished products, according to the assembly-line principle, and the flow of several thousand workers to and from their workplaces. The goal was to separate the two flows as effectively as possible. The inspiration for this functional separation was found in the basic principles of "Scientific Management" the bible of Taylorism, which was published in a Swedish edition in 1913 by the Swedish Manufacturer's Association, and in "Industrial Buildings" a special handbook produced by the Industry Department within the Swedish Manufacturer's Association, which was responsible for organizational development.

From these sources, Ericsson concluded that one wash stand was needed for every four workers, for example. Areas devoted to the worker's hygiene, including the lunch room, dressing rooms, showers, toilets and even rest rooms for female employees, were gigantic, earning much contemporary praise and imitated well into the 1960s.

Ericsson was ahead of contemporary development with respect to both the assembly line principles inspired by the Ford plants in Detroit and space devoted to employees. The rational decomposition of work into discrete tasks based on time studies placed equal weight on everything that workers did from the moment they punched the clock. This view was reflected in an equally rational and sterile functionalist architecture. Worker housing was also built in the functionalist style on the Tellusborg and Nässlan properties in Midsommarkransen. Backström & Reinius (1937-39) were the architects for these buildings.

After World War II, construction continued with an eight-story building for laboratories and a 70-meter tower for short wave research. The industrial complex has been expanded continuously. In the early 1970s, technical offices, additional laboratories and training facilities built of red brick were added. In the mid-1990s, much of the manufacturing premises were converted to offices.

Author: Fredric Bedoire

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