The History of HDK

The History of HDK

The Academy of Design and Crafts (known as HDK, the Swedish abbreviation for Högskolan för design och konsthantverk) was founded as early as 1848, more than one hundred years before the establishment of the University of Gothenburg. The reason for its foundation was the discovery, during the process of industrialisation, of the need for a completely new category of trade or occupation. Craftsmen had formerly passed on their knowledge in, say, art metalwork or cabinet-making directly to their apprentices and journeymen. However, with the abolishment of the guild system in 1846 and the introduction of freedom of trade in 1864, professional skill was no longer a requirement for starting a company, a workshop or a factory.

With factory owners who were perhaps lacking in specialised knowledge, machines that needed instructions and more or less unskilled workers, there arose the need for yet another, new profession with the ability to supply sketches and models. These new professionals were called designers and were in particularly great demand in the developing industry of applied arts.

Konstfack ( the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design) had opened four years earlier in Stockholm, with the same aims as HDK. Each of the two schools had a support association backing it, whose financial and pedagogical support were for a long time crucial for the continuity of the two enterprises. The Association in Stockholm was Svenska Slöjdföreningen (the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design, in Sweden today known as Svensk Form). In Gothenburg the name of the Association was Slöjdföreningen i Göteborg (the Society of Crafts and Design in Gothenburg). The purpose of the Associations was mainly protectionist, or as it was termed at the time îpatrioticî, which meant qualitatively improving Swedish industry in order to make import less necessary and therefore less attractive.

The schools tapped into an enormous demand for education and soon courses were being taught during the day and also in the evenings. The schools were pioneers as well when it came to giving women the right to further education. Women were enrolled at HDK from 1876 onwards, and four women teachers were also appointed to take responsibility for their tuition in, amongst other things, free-hand drawing, book-keeping, arithmetic, handwriting, calligraphy, clay-modelling, wood-carving and cardboard-modelling. Most of the technical and constructive subjects were reserved for the menís courses.


Decore painting of HDK 1920

Freehand-drawing was always central, but it was first around 1900 that slavish copying was abandoned and a more personal expression permitted. Tuition that had previously been rather technical in its emphasis started to change and at the same time came under the influence of the Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau movements, leading to a new orientation towards crafts and applied art.

At this time the first school workshops were established, that were later to become the distinguishing-mark of the future HDK. Art history was always included as a subject in order to educate pupils in good taste. Over and above crafts and applied art, graphic design, furniture design and textile art have long held strong positions at the school, while industrial design was introduced for the first time in 1966. The names and aims of the educational programmes and courses have been changed over the years.

There is a Swedish saying that a much-loved child has many names. HDK has changed its name a couple of times during its 160-year-long history. When the school started in 1848 its name was Slöjdföreningens skola, popularly called "Slöjdis". The name was changed in 1964 to Konstindustriskolan. We have had our present name, the Academy of Design and Crafts (Högskolan för Design och Konsthantverk, usually abbreviated to HDK), since 1989.

HDK has been at Kristinelundsgatan since the building was completed in 1904, adjacent to the Röhsska Museum which was inaugurated in 1916. We have belonged to the University of Gothenburg since 1977 and we are a part of the first ever Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts in Sweden.

Text written by: Lasse Brunnström