The Technological Sublime: Slussen, Katarinahissen and Wenner-Gren Center

Frida Rosenberg

Project Period:
Type: Affiliated PhD research
Program Area(s): Critical Historiography


This paper will discuss the 20th century technological sublime through three important steel frame structures in the urban context of Stockholm—Slussen, Katarinahissen and Wenner-Gren Center. These will historically be placed as “emotional configurations that both emerged from and helped to validate new social and technological conditions.” Slussen and Katarinahissen are two powerful structures, which imbued a public experience of the city with an atmospheric vantage point. These infrastructures illustrate political and social attempts to transform the urban landscape supported by particular technologies: the introduction of rolled steel and the electrical elevator. Both have arguably been the two most important factors for the possibility to construct tall buildings.

Together with a few other high-rises built at the same time, Wenner-Gren Center productively established a vertical experience of the city. The visual construction of the building, which capped off the end of Sveavägen was documented and publicized through film and other media communicating its becoming to a public audience. This paper argues that the social context of building technology is that of aesthetical experiences within political systems, and it is also, at the time, a result of negotiations among ascendant politicians and businessmen. The technological sublime of Wenner-Gren Center, Slussen and Katarinahissen illustrate how architecture integrates into the fabric of social life.

What these structures meant to the city resonates with how they have been experienced. At the moment of construction, or moment of disassembling (the old) Katarinahissen in 1933, were remarkable engineering projects that esteemed fascination. The public experience on the street is one level of understanding city development; newspaper charging these objects with a storyline another and technical descriptions to a field of engineers yet another. This essay will unfold this, capitalizing on David E. Nye’s conception of the technological sublime

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