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Östra kyrkogården, Malmö (English)

THEMES: Kyrkogårdar | Personer

Östra kyrkogården panorama
Östra kyrkogården in Malmö

This beautiful panorama of a part of Östra kyrkogården in Malmö conveys a feeling of the size of the cemetery. The structured design meets the natural environment, and together they form an important part of our cultural heritage. Östra kyrkogården has celebrated its 100-year anniversary, and this story looks both back and into the future. Read more about its history and architecture ↓


People in motion

A cemetery is also a meeting place and a place of work. Some 60 persons work here and many more walk on the roads, narrow pathways, passages, hills and view the private and yet public areas of the individual graves. A resting room for many and a place of work for some ↓

Sigurd Lewerentz

Photographer: unknown

Sigurd Lewerentz

Another nocturnal work episode for the architect who through several decades formed Östra kyrkogården in Malmö.

Who was he and which were his thoughts?
Read more about Sigurd Lewerentz ↓

Flower shop

Lewerentz Flower shop

Many travels here to look at a building that maybe doesn't quite look what it "should" do.
This is Lewerentz' last work and we may discuss how to relate to it? Restore or keep it as it is, or maybe look for a new solution. Read more about the Flower shop ↓

Saint Gertrud's chapel

Saint Gertrud's chapel

Read more about the Chapels and other buildings at Östra Kyrkogården

a park image

As if this were a park

Birds and animals see no difference between Östra Kyrkogården and a Botanical garden.

We may also choose a garden perspective although we are aware of where we are.
See park images ↓

Maintenance and safety

At Östra kyrkogården some 60 persons work with internal and external maintenance. Grass verges are pruned, flowers are cut for the winter season, and paths are raked. Small vehicles swish by with grass clippings, branches, earth and tools. A lot of manual labor.

Man and vehicle

A former stonemason is busy in his new trade


Simple tools, a human touch and perseverance

Safety and tranquility

It is fundamental for the cemetery that is must be a safe place to visit and work. In 2009, there were several unpleasant incidents (article in Sydsvenskan).

Malte Sahlgren, the head of the cemetery, was seriously concerned. He initiated a series of meetings and discussions with people living in nearby Rosengård and other local communities. In October 2010, I spoke with several employees, and they all reported that conditions now were much improved.

History and architecture

At the beginning of the 20th century, a growing Malmö needs a larger cemetery. A suitable location was found in the far east side of the city. There was a ridge, Hohög, with four hills offering both pleasant scenery and adequate space. The ridge has most likely gotten its name, although altered, from "the high ridge - in Swedish". The ridges have today been almost leveled, two of them when the nearby Bulltofta airport was constructed in 1939.

The architect Sigurd Lewerentz is among those, who in 1916 submits a design for the new Östra kyrkogården. His submission "The Ridge" wins the competition, and he is given one year to further develop his design. It takes two years and seven months and the client is far from pleased and decided to withhold his fee. But the construction is started and Lewerentz shall on and off be working with Östra kyrkogården up until 1970 when his Flower shop was inaugurated.

Östra kyrkogården has over the years gone through several developments and some of them are described at this page produced by the Swedish church.

Map from 1916

Sigurd Lewerentz' drawings from 1916. Text: Design for the arrangement of a cemetery in Malmö

map of cemeteries in Malmö

Cemeteries in the Malmo area
Source: Malmö stadsbyggnadskontor. The old Malmö cemetery

Art exhibition 2002

The exhibition was part of a Swedish-Danish project called "Kulturbro 2002 / Cultural bridge". In the preface to the catalog the head of the cemeteries in Malmö, Malte Sahlgren says "It is our belief and hope that this exhibition will portray a cemetery with qualities on such a level that it in its own right can be regarded as a piece of art".

the art exhibition - who comes

Part of the exhibition catalog

The exhibition included works by the sculptors Antony Gormley (today world renowned) and Malmö born Truls Melin. The catalog also contains a text by the professor of architecture and Lewerentz specialist Janne Ahlin that presents the history of Östra kyrkogårdens and its buildings. Among other things, he mentions Lewerentz view of the presence of a central altar in the chapels. "If you don't have a central altar, there is a possibility to imagine new spatial relations and solutions". Ahlin writes that " Preferably he - Lewerentz - had seen that Saint Gertrud's and Saint Knuts' chapels had remained secular, that is without any religious symbols. Then people of different background and confessions could perform ceremonies and rituals according to their own beliefs.". A concept that today probably is almost as controversial as when it was first presented. Read more about the buildings and the chapels.

The title of the exhibition is quite exciting. Who is coming, Who is going, Who stays?
This could be the start of several literary, philosophical, sociological and other studies and debates. If, in the future, there is another art exhibition, at Östra kyrkogården some parts could be displayed, along with much interesting information about the cemetery, in a new extension to the Flower shop.

Sigurd Lewerentz

To learn more about "the head architect" of Östra kyrkogården Sigurd Lewerentz, there are at least two good ways to do this. One is to visit some of his works, and the other is to read Janne Ahlin's book "Sigurd Lewerentz - architect". It is an excellent guide to the life and work of a strange and dedicated man. It also contains a chronology of his projects and life. Unfortunately it is not easy to find and should be republished, preferably with an updated preface. Sources

Sigurd Lewerentz graveyard

Lewerentz graveyard

His last place on this earth is almost as invisible as his work is visible, perhaps a final sign that a detail derives its power from the whole. I am here, but look up and continue your path. Eventually, a real graveyard is planned.

This little white signal from under the grass often has a red hat. One day I found it a few meters away, perhaps carried there by a lawn mower and a gut of wind. Now it is back in its place.

Life history

In a story about Östra kyrkogården it is natural to make a short portrait of the man who not only won the architectural competition for Malmö's new cemetery in 1927, but also was engaged in its development for close to 40 years.

Sigurd Lewerentz was born in Norrland - in northern Sweden - in 1885, a year later than another well-known Swedish outsider and ahead-of-his-time person: the painter and modernist [GAN Gösta Adrian-Nilsson]. They both died in Lund, Lewerentz at the age of 90. Sometimes also Lewerentz is referred to as a modernist, but that is a view open for discussion. My view is that his radicalism is too private, too inward looking to fit into the more optimistic belief in the future that was one of the ingredients of modernism. His coloristic scale from the Stockholm exhibition 1930 gets more somber as he ages and he chooses his own path. At the age of 77 he gets a commission to design a church in Klippan and it develops into something of a private dialog between two creators, where one uses a language of bricks and restraint and the other poetry, myths and religious signs.

Lewerentz last home, in Lund

Lewerentz last home

His last home was as remarkable as modest, a "black box" of some 45 square meters, designed by Klas Anshelm. The outside is covered with quadratic fields similar to the Flower shop at Östra kyrkogården. The light comes from just a few roof windows. There are no side windows, and the only entrance is a narrow glass door to the garden.

The building, in central Lund, still exists in a slightly enlarged form. It makes you think when you are in the presence of this humble abode and compare it to the aspirations and grandeur of the church in Klippan and Östra kyrkogården.

IDESTA  logotype

Lewerentz as entrepreneur

In 1929, Sigurd Lewerentz founded the company Idesta. The factory was situated in Eskilstuna and the family - his wife Edith, born Engblad, and three children - lived on the top floor.

He was active in the business for close to 30 years before passing on the baton to his son Carl Lewerentz, who sold it in 1984.

The name Idesta originates from Latin id est = it is. My guess is that Lewerentz wanted the name to say "This is it, we know what we are doing". After a series of new owners, the original IDesta is since 2000 part of a private business group owned by a family Wahlström. At the company's homepage, you'll find some notes on history that will inform you about the company.

Idesta developed and manufactured window fittings and door and window sections in metal and glass. Hence the shiny image, which is a detail from a marketing brochure of today. One of the company's suppliers is the metal wholesaler Bröderna Edstrand. Knut and Oda Edstrand commissioned Sigurd Lewerentz in 1933-36 to design their summer house in Falsterbo.

According to Janne Ahlin's book Sigurd Lewerentz was not an easy person to work for. He was moody and the workforce, sometimes around 30 people, were never in doubt about who made the decisions. Sometimes we talk about successful companies created by immigrants - for example in Sweden Herbert Felix and Salvatore Grimaldi. My spontaneous thought is that you could call Idesta a company that was started by an immigrant, although an immigrant in his own country, when he disappointed and hurt by the reception of his architectural work travels (moves) to "another country" - as manufacturer in Eskilstuna, south of Stockholm. It is quite a feat that the company still exists.

The Saint Petri church in Klippan - detail

Photo: Anders Clausson
See larger images

The Saint Petri church in Klippan

When Sigurd Lewerentz had turned over Idesta to his son, he spent more time on architectural projects. He participates in several competitions, but alas most of the time without any success. In 1956-60, he worked with the Marcus church in Björkhagen, Stockholm which is often referred to as one of his greatest achievements. Here Lewerentz for the first time used windows without windowsills that were put in place by using black sealant and visible fittings.

The lamps at S:t Petri bow 15 degrees in respect of God. His architecture is full of references and symbolism.

This brief story more aspires to inspire to visits of his works, and further study, than lays claim to be a portrait of a man who was quite silent about himself in both words and writings. Many of his sacral rooms and spaces use light and form to extend and articulate silence. The innate goal was to open doors to other forms of dialog and reflection.

Architects have their specific tools to design and construct silence that lends itself to reflections. Painters like Mark Rothko or Anselm Kiefer, who had a large exhibition at Louisiana art museum in Denmark in 2010 reach a similar presence of silence using other methods and ways. They share a quest.

There is an aspect of Lewerentz church buildings that ought to be more well-known: how priests, theologians, and church visitors view his work. In his dissertation Adversus populum - see an English summary - Lars Ridderstedt presents a theological perspective. This page about the Saint Petri church describes the altar and that "The priest at communion stands behind the altar facing the congregation ("versus populum"). The title Adversus populum of L. Ridderstad's work however connotes something quite different, namely that he thinks that Lewerentz and his colleague Peter Celsing turned their back from (adversus) the utilitarian fixation of the time its social engineering and utopianism. The emphasis of the High Church movement of the church become one part of Lewerentz work.

More about Saint Petri church in Klippan

A large group of roof-tile producers decided in 2008 to institute a large European architectural prize. It was named " The Klippan Award" and was awarded for the first time in 2008. Name and place were chosen in honor of Sigurd Lewerentz. Due to the financial crisis in Spain it may take a while before a second award is realized.

As their logo, they chose the image on the right. The form is borrowed from another famous and ingenious Scandinavian - Piet Hein. One of his many well-known poems (gruks) is

Klippan award - logotype

Little cat, little cat, walking so alone. Tell me whose cat are you – I’m damned well my own.

I have not yet seen a picture where Sigurd Lewerentz smiles, so we'll let Piet Hein by way of his playfulness portray a hidden lighter side of his seriousness.

Sigurd Lewerentz Flower shop

Many people come here to buy flowers to honor their relatives and decorate their graves. It is a commercial flower shop run by a private entrepreneur. Few, but not so few come here from all over the world to see and even touch the concrete walls of a building that over the years has attained an iconic status in the world of architecture. It is not always easy to unite these two perspectives when original design intentions meet the world of commerce.

Original flower shop
Flower shop

Photo: Karl-Erik Osson Snogeröd

The flower shop

I'll start with the name. Architects prefer to call the building a flower kiosk.The reason, at least in Swedish, could be that this slightly outdated word more reflects the building itself rather than the flower business on the inside. It was however built to fulfill a function and in the future it will be even more functional and still be more true to Sigurd Lewerentz intentions, realized or unrealized. My view is that a person who designed offices, posters, window fixtures, chairs, factories and much more also could have designed something bearing the name of a Flower shop. And that is what we'll call it.

Light and concrete

The inside of the Flower shop is molded in large quadratic squares of raw concrete with a slightly elevated edge at the ends. This edge is supposedly an idea developed by his friend and colleague Bernt Nyberg. He has among other projects designed the Länsstyelsen building in Malmö and Landsarkivet in Lund. Above that he has, in my mind, designed one of the most beautiful private villas in Lund - at the corner of Pedellgatan and Nationsgatan.

lighting fixtures

Lighting fixtures

The lighting fixtures are not just visible they are intentionally visible and by that they attain a value of their own. That two lamps have gone dark I guess an architectural student would see as a sign.


Sigurd Lewerentz employed the same method for the window fixtures here as he did a few years earlier at the Saint Petri church in Klippan. There the windows align with the facade and are positioned at the same level.

window detail

Window fixture: the inserted drawing originates from a study at LTH, the technical university in Lund.

The right part of the building stems 1978 and is not designed by Sigurd Lewerentz, neither are the drawings from 1985 for a not built third building. Lewerentz himself made sketches that show an expansion in three steps, but these have for reasons unknown to me not been further developed. The interior can alas not be viewed as congruent with the esthetic philosophy of Sigurd Lewerentz. Can we agree on that?

Can and should the flower shop be changed?

Some people argue that the Flower shop should be restored to its original and planned design and that an entrepreneur could get a lower rent if they accepted some limitations due to esthetic considerations. Views like these are discussed in a Swedish Facebook group with several hundred members. You'll also find a general discussion about the right of a creator not to have his/her work diluted. Some say that the city of Malmö should view and take care of the Flower shop as part of the cultural heritage of Malmö.

Flower shop original
Flower shop

Flower shop

My personal view is that the present division of ownership and private entrepreneur makes it difficult to make any real progress. One one way forward could be that the Swedish church assumes full responsibility and develops the building as well as the flower business. The Swedish church is active in the commercial undertaker business that makes the running of a small flower shop seem to be a not too daunting activity.

The Flower shop could with some relatively small effort be developed into a display of knowledge and guidance about the whole cemetery. Horticultural and many other aspects would add value to visitors. Maybe a sketch for such a project could be a term project for a group of architectural students. To say that the task includes a redesign of the internal and external signage cannot be regarded as very controversial.

Chapels and other buildings

Besides service buildings, Östra kyrkogården has three chapels, one crematorium that is no longer in use, one building that was planned to have an extra floor, one belfry, and a flower shop.


Stairs and heights

A cemetery partly located on a ridge provides both the eye and the pedestrians with an opportunity to move both upwards and downwards.

The staircase can here be seen as a symbol that extends beyond a form of construction that normally is looked upon as a mere practical way of moving from one level to another.

S:t Gertrud's chapel

Saint Gertrud's chapel

Interior S:t Gertruds chapel

Saint Gertrud's chapel - interior


A building that Lewerentz in a drawing from 1923 called "Body sheds"

memorial grove

Memorial grove

Flower shop original
Flower shop

A garden perspective - as if this were a park

Östra kyrkogården is surrounded by tall trees and in the summer you get a feeling of being in an unexpected opening in a forest growing on soft ridges. You'll find a wide variety of rare flowers, and you can imagine yet another building, an extension to the Flower shop where the flowers, trees and animals of the cemetery are displayed

Park image

At the far right, in the shadow, you'll find the Flower shop

Birches of gold

Gold is raining on the branches

Park bench

The allocation of benches is a process that takes time and care

Bird in a tree top

And at the top someone who wanted a better view

Tree trunks

Tree trunks. Like men in an army line

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