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KTH Campus: hidden gems and history

In December, the digital student ambassadors were invited for a historical tour of the main KTH campus. We were introduced to towering heights, some clever architectural elements, and historical facts about the campus that most of us had never encountered before. 

I appreciated the new perspective on what has become a very familiar setting. I also always find it fascinating to learn about the history of buildings and past eras of a place. Safe to say, KTH campus doesn’t disappoint. To illustrate, I’ll offer some tour highlights:

1. KTH Observatory Tower

Towering above the main courtyard and visible from many viewpoints around Stockholm is (today) the KTH clock tower. It was built during the 1914-1917 construction of the main courtyard, but it was originally a functioning observatory. This was practical at the time, as the location of KTH was considered to be on the outskirts of the city and was situated amid dark, forested royal hunting grounds. Although the city and campus have expanded a lot, I appreciate how the national forest has been preserved. From one direction of the tower terrace, we got an incredible view of Stockholm, and from the other direction, simply trees. If I had to pick favourites, this spot would be a winner.

2. KTH Library

Would you have guessed that the KTH Library was once not such a quiet place? The building was completed around 1917, along with other parts of the original campus. We discovered that the inner courtyard (today the main hall of the library) of the V-shaped building was used as a testing ground for steam engines, lab work, and other (supposedly explosive) experiments. When this was no longer in demand, a roof was constructed with glass side panes, and it was converted into the campus library as we know it today. In 2016, the space was updated, transforming the main atrium from bookshelves into study space.

4. Our 3-headed Campus Guardians

The tour made me realise how many clever artistic details are hidden in plain sight around campus. Guarding the grand entrance to the KTH courtyard is an example, where you can find two statues of a Cerberus, the three-headed dog from Greek mythology. While the ones at KTH don’t guard the gates of the underworld, they were supposedly placed to guard students from the chaos and distraction of life beyond this academic haven… 

4. Auditorium E1

If you’re lucky enough to have class here, you’ll find a vast ceiling mural with a very interesting backstory. The mural, titled De elektriska strömmarna (The electric currents), was originally painted in 1918 by Axel Törneman in a domed ceiling of a different auditorium in the building. But, it had such bad acoustics that it became unusable for teaching. In the 1950s, the room was remodelled for administrative use, with the mural concealed in an attic-like space. It was nearly forgotten and feared destroyed until its rediscovery in 1993. As a fresco painting, it was possible for experts to carefully remove large sections and affix them to the ceiling of Auditorium E1, where it remains today. If you get a chance to examine it up close, you’ll see the naked figures actually symbolise electric currents.

Reading about the campus is fine, but it’s much more fun to see it yourself. If you’re at a distance, check out the KTH Virtual Tour. If you’re coming to KTH in the future, keep an eye out for events (including tours like this) as part of the International Reception, which is organised by the student union (THS) for new international students each January and August. I can definitely recommend it!

// Claire