Translator of Steiner's ideals dies in Sweden aged 85
The death in Sweden at the end of last month of the Danish-born architect Erik Abbi Asmussen, aged 85, occured just a week after his major retrospective exhibition opened in Stockholm.
A reserved, shy but deeply committed man, 'Abbi' - as he was know to a wide circle of friends and colleagues throughout the world - devoted the major part of his career to the creation, virtually from scratch, of the Rudolfsteinerseminariet at Jarna, some 40km south of Stockholm.
Here, designing and working with his inspiring friend and fellow visionary Arne Klingborg, Abbi translated the philosopher Steiner's ideas for a 'new way in architecture' into reality. No slave to the wonky windows and crazy-roof syndrome often associated with the work of Steiner's followers, Asmussen was his own man, a free spirit who, without disregarding the chief aspects of Steiner's design principles, produced a truly natural and organic architecture. With Klingborg he took Steiner principles into all aspects of his building programme, which at Jarna had begun with a Master Plan in 1964-65.
Located in Ytterjarna at the edge of the Baltic Sea, the Seminariet serves some 150 full-time trainees for teaching in Waldorf schools or involved with bio-dynamic farming and horticulture. Asmussen designed all the buildings on the site, including the Almandinen (1974), a charming set of music rooms; Robygge (1977) a superb community hall, which won Sweden's highest architectural award in 1977; Ormen Lange, a dormitory for students; and, in 1992 the first 'herbal' natural cure Vidar Clinic in Sweden (1985-92). His whole achievement was crowned in 1992 with the completion of the Cultural House at Jarna.
He also built a number of Waldorf schools in Sweden and abroad (including the Peredur Home School at East Grinstead 1964-67) and created the memorable Salta Bakery and Mill (1969-78) near Jarna, for the production of bread using wheat grown in line with Steiner's ideas for biodynamic agriculture.
As the Jarna project came to fruition, Asmussen's reputation for producing interesting and sustainable buildings, using simple methods of construction and natural materials, was enhanced nationally and he began to receive a number of housing commissions from local authorities for buildings outside the Anthroposophical community.
He housed his office in a sensitively converted old barn commanding views over the growing Jarna community and the tranquil waters of the Baltic Sea. Set in the rather monotone environment of eastern Sweden, the buildings Asmussen created vibrate with colour both inside and out, and were the fruit of a long-time collaboration with Klingborg and the German colour theorist and painter Fritz Fuchs.
It could be said that Jarna was the result of an intimate collaborative process, although all the major design ideas lead back to the fountainhead, Abbi Asmussen, a man of great talent committed to a humane and liveable architecture whose influence will undoubtedly prevail.