#1 The Untouchables – Scandinavia

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In September 2014 ANA has been travelling and researching through Denmark, Sweden and Norway We have talked to various stakeholders in housing architecture; architects, municipalities, projectdevelopers, housing corporations, private clients, architecture schools, builders etcetera.
In 2,5 weeks we had 40 meetings, visited 8 cities and saw numerous projects. This first pilot trip was very inspiring in many different ways.

 

A different context generates new perspectives.

In recent years, the housing debate in the Netherlands has been strongly determined by de financial crisis. This crisis has not affected Denmark, Sweden and Norway as much as it did the Netherlands. In these Scandinavian countries, the debate on housing architecture has focused on other issues. For instance, the high pressure on the housing market has both in Sweden and Norway strongly  dominated the debate. Also in these countries (architectural) quality is under pressure, but for other reasons and with other outcomes.

ANA at Dutch Ambassy in Stockholm

ANA at Dutch Ambassy in Stockholm

The Dutch have a good reputation for innovative architecture. One of our research questions is what will happen with innovation under the new more restrained circumstances. If you look at the Dutch situation from abroad there is still much innovation. The new circumstances have caused a vacuum that has generated innovative solutions. To name one example, the introduction of the smaller scale in developments, that is clearly visible in Amsterdam (Houthavens, Buiksloterham, Zeeburgereiland), is something that the Danes also want very much, but are unable to develop due to high market pressure.

 

Architects reclaiming their role

During our first trip to Scandinavia we have met many passionate architects that have the ambition to make good housing projects. The role of architects in housing is under pressure in all countries we have visited, but in some more then in others. Some of the architects we met are developing interesting strategies to reclaim their role.
Especially in Sweden architects involved in housing complain very much about their limited role. In Sweden builders have a very dominant role and determine construction methods up to a detailed level. Architects are often not commissioned for the later stages of the design and the building process. For instance Tengbom, a firm with around 500 employees and offices in twelve cities, is focusing on how they can add value for the client. They offer performance instead of hours, in order to reclaim and strengthen their role. White architects, an even bigger firm with over 700 employees  and offices in thirteen cities, has shown us another way in which they are able to make high quality housing. In Äppelträdgården they have taken over the role of the client and worked together with a building company to design, build and sell innovative housing types in a poor neighborhood.

 

The new housing assignments

During the meetings we have focused on the future housing assignment. We found several issues that overlap with the Dutch situation, but also many differences in the way these issues are addressed.
Making livable and divers cities that provide housing for all social groups is an important issue in all the places we have visited. Building affordable housing is a recurrent topic, but the solutions differ very much, going from building small & clever, new financial strategies to using prefab building systems. Related themes are keeping families in the city, creating housing for the new generation elderly Europeans and providing affordable student housing.

Taking care of environmental issues is also a returning topic that has different emphasis in the different countries; the Swedes are taking good care of waste, whereas the Danes focus more on mobility issues.
Quality under pressure was in every meeting we had a recurring topic. Even in good economic circumstances that all three Scandinavia countries are blessed with, quality is not taken for granted. Quality has numerous definitions, defined very much by what is missed. For instance in Norway quality is defined as space, in Sweden it’s experiment and in Denmark quality is defined as creating good public/private relations.

Striking was also that we missed some themes that are part of the Dutch debate: the participation of citizens,  populism in housing architecture, private plot development, dealing with the existing housing stock. These themes are not necessarily not relevant, but they are not being debated.

 

 

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Housing, planning and architecture, lectures in Linköping & Norrköping

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In march 2015 we had the opportunity to visit Sweden again, on invitation of Sveriges arkitekter in Linköping and de municipality in Norrköping. This invitation was related to the LivsRum/WoonRuimte exchange project we have been involved in. LivsRum/WoonRuimte is an initiative to stimulate the quality of housing architecture in Sweden by organizing exchange events between Dutch and Swedish architects. We used this opportunity to talk to local stakeholders on local housing and planning issues.

Linköping is a midsize (150.000) town on the east of Sweden. Norrköping  (120.000). The two cities work together to create a strong region. Both cities are growing and are being  challenged to build new housing for all their new inhabitant and  Both cities are growing and building a lot of new houses. Norrkoping is f.i. working on Inre Hamnen, an area of 2000 houses. Linköping is working on BOmesse 2017/ Vallastaden a new innovative housing  area of around 500 houses on the southern outskirts of the city.

After both lectures sharing information about the Dutch planning, architecture and housing tradition we have been discussing with the  participants  the local issues in housing and architecture. The architectural quality and diversity in housing is a question that needs attention in both cities. The role of the cityplanning office, in how to guard ambition throughout the whole process. Can they work with defining rules? What other means can the cityplanning office use to stimulate quality? Is it enough to sell smaller plots to attract also the smaller developers? At the Lecture in Linköping it was emphasized that there may be even a more urgent matter to deal with in planning and housing. That is segregation. It is stated that Linköping is the second most segregated city in Sweden with Skäggetorp with its around 10.000 inhabitants as the most problematic area. Should social mixture not be the key issues to address in urban planning of new and infill neighborhoods is one of the raised questions.

Christina Nilsson Collste, chairwoman of the Östergötland department of Sveriges Arkitekter believes that Linköping already has an interesting example of socially mixed planning, in the eighties neighborhood of Lambohov. Although there is a lot to criticize as well on this development, the social, financial and typological mix has really contributed to a more integrated neighborhood in her opinion. We have noticed a strong worry that Sweden is not handling segregated neighborhoods in the right way, from the spatial planning point of view. In Norrköping we have seen small attempts to diversify in the area Ringdansen, a Bijlmermeer-like scheme on the southern outskirts of Norrköping.  Some floors of apartment blocks have been torn down to create lowrise housing with private gardens in an area that is dominated by small apartments.  That this also demands a specific approach to the public-private border is maybe the next step to develop.

We will try to continue with a dialogue with the two cities and see if we can use the LivsRum/Woonruimte approach of exchanging knowledge and experience to stimulate the debate on architecture and housing.

Göteborg in the mix

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Göteborg is a beautiful, vibrant city, yet it is also a socially and functionally segregated city. In order to accommodate the expected growth of the population, the city of Göteborg has made a vision. In the vision ‘Göteborg Rivercity’, the city has formulated the ambition to transform Göteborg in a city for everyone. ‘Rivercity Göteborg therefore needs to provide a mix of housing, enterprises, jobs, uses and public places that provide room for different expressions.’

The way in which Göteborg wants to achieve this is interesting. By involving the people of the city, but also professionals and institutes like the Chalmers University the city wants to make sustainable plans for the future development of Göteborg. Up until now they are doing that very well. The vision document is filled with pictures of workshops and quotes from the citizens. The big question is if they will succeed in keeping everybody involved and creating truly mixed areas in the building projects as well.

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Typical Swedish housing in Kvillebacken

We have talked to Anna Braide Eriksson, a researcher on housing who teaches at Chalmers university. Chalmers is very involved in the development of the city. Students participate in the development of the city, for example in workshops on Frihamnen, one of the most prestigious development areas on the west bank of the river Älv. Chalmers also participates in ‘real’ projects as a knowledge partner. One of the examples is the project ‘Positive footprint housing’.
Anna is both positive and sceptical. She is very positive about the ambitions of the city, especially in regard to other cities in Sweden. However, she is quite sceptical when it’s about the potential result of this involvement. As an example she mentions Kvillebacken, where the ambitions of the city in order to create a mixed, but delicate and nuanced development of the area were not achieved. The small scale mix of social groups and small businesses that characterised the old area totally disappeared and, according to Anna, have now been replaced by the generic Swedish buildingtypology of 7 to 8 stories apartments.

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Typical Swedish courtyard in Kvillebacken

We also spoke to Josefine Wikholm and Susanne Clase of White architects, one of the largest architecture firms in Sweden. They emphasize that Göteborg needs better functional, social and economical mixed areas and therefor more typological diversity. Both architects live with families in typical Swedish apartments. They immediately add that luckily they also have a weekend house to get out of the dense city and small living space.

It is interesting that White has been acting as an initiator and developer of new typologies. In one of the Millionprogram areas, called Frölunda in the outskirts of Göteborg, they have developed the project ‘Äppelträdgården’. Together with the builder FO Peterson they have realized 19 terraced patiohouses for rent and sale.  This development was not completely without risks, but White found it very important to develop these new typologies and show that this innovation could actually improve the quality of the neighbourhood. For this project they won the Swedish Housing Award 2011.

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New typologies at Äppelträdgården

Göteborg will select the first parties for development of Frihamnen this autumn. Frihamnen will be ‘the testbed for socially sustainable development’. Here the city wants to provide possibilities for new ways of living. It will be very interesting to follow the outcome of this process and see if these possibilities are taken up by developers and architects to generate new urban typologies and new living concepts.

Terraced patiohousing at Äppelträdgården

Terraced patiohousing at Äppelträdgården

Building in concrete in the land of endless forests

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On our way from Stockholm to Oslo we passed a gigantic paper factory somewhere in Sweden. Big piles of trees were waiting to be made into paper. That is what happens to most trees in the Swedish wood industry.  Sweden has however a long tradition of building in wood. Wood frame building has been the main building technique for centuries. Nowadays Sweden builds mostly in concrete. This development started already before the so called Millionprogram that the Swedish state has initiated in the 60’s to fulfill the enormous postwar housing demand.
But the Millionprogram certainly has given concrete building an enormous boost. Today the Swedish building industry is dominated by ‘the big four’, building companies who all build mainly in concrete and who take care of the majority of the total building production in Sweden.
To us it is very surprising that a country with so many trees and such high environmental aims doesn’t build more in wood.

There are however some small countermovements. The municipality of Växjö for instance promotes building in wood. They call themselves the wooden city (http://www.vaxjo.se/trastaden/). Midroc Property Development has built Limnologen, an eight stories housing block, which was at  that time, in 2009, Sweden’s highest building in wood.
Växjö municipality challenged Midroc by offering them the possibility to double the building volume if Midroc would build in wood. Midroc hired Architect Bolaget, a local architect who was already experienced with building in wood. They cooperated with a manufacturer, specialized in wood construction. They succeeded in building an eight story building that fulfills all the regular technical requirements. Apart from a few extra measurements in concrete and steel that were necessary to make the building more heavy and to tackle windforces, the whole construction is made of cross laminated timber, also the elevator shafts.

Calculations of Folkhem, a municipal housing company from Stockholm, point out that building in massive wood is now around 15-20% more expensive than building in concrete, but a reduction of building time has not been taken into account. Midroc has however realized the project for a regular budget because they also operated as main contractor. The reason for this was not to cut costs but because no contractor was willing to take the risk for such an experimental project. The framework of the building was built by Martinsons Byggsystem, the manufacturer of the wooden construction elements. For the other part Midroc hired a small local contractor.
Production of wood construction is not at all optimized in Sweden. The capacity of factories is not used to its fullest potential. Building more in massive wood would definitely lead to lower costs and lower risks. On top of that, building in concrete is not at all as industrial as it used to be in the postwar era, according to Erik Stenberg, who researches the postwar housing period at the KTH. The environmental specialist from one of the big four construction companies has supposedly stated that they produce 2,5 tons of waste for each apartment.  Industrialized building methods have been replaced by low payed workers who build on the site.
We have been told that Folkhem Is going to build only in wood. That sounds like a brave and ambitious statement in the Swedish context. They have recently finished their first wooden highrise building in Stockholm after the design of Wingård Arkitektkontor in the area of Sundbyberg.
Also Anders Persson of Midroc states they are working on more buildings in wood. So there are some good signs, but still the question is if also the powerful concrete builders will seriously develop  other, more sustainable ways of building.

 

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Limnologen – galeries

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Limnologen at the lake

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Limnologen Växjö

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Building in concrete Kvillebacken Gothenburg

Housing in Sweden, struggle for quality?

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The demand for dwellings in most Swedish cities is enormous. Stockholm in particular has to deal with a huge demand for living space. Until 2030 the amount of 140.000 houses has to be built in the Stockholm region. Politicians put a lot of pressure on the production dwellings in order to be able to house all the citizens. Due this enormous pressure the housing prizes in Stockholm are very high.

This pressure on the housing market makes it hard to realize urban and architectural quality in new housing areas. High density is inevitable when land prizes are high. Striking is that in Stockholm the municipality owns most of the land, Nevertheless, the struggle for housing quality is a hard one.

The building industry in Sweden is dominated by four big building companies who build around 80 percent of the total housing production. They operate both as developers and as total entrepreneurs.  In Sweden, a total entrepreneur takes over the whole process , from design to building, after tendering. This situation differs a lot from other countries. For instance Denmark has around eighteen bigger building firms. These big four Swedish companies have a strong lobby in politics and have a lot of influence on the building sector in Sweden.

We have talked to Anna-Stina Bokander, coordinating project manager for the municipality of Stockholm on the new development area Norra Djurgårdsstaden. This area around the royal Seaport on the eastside of the city is one of the biggest developing sites of Stockholm.
The plots in Norra Djurgårdsstaden are sold to developers and municipal housing companies. In the first phase of the development the plots were sold for the highest prize. In the second phase this strategy has been changed, in order to  generate more spatial quality and more architectural variety. Prizes were fixed by the municipality and the developers were selected through a competition on quality. In this phase the plots were also smaller, in order to create more space for smaller developers and builders. The plans that were selected show indeed a greater variety in comparison to the projects in the first phase.

But the projects of the second phase are not built yet. There is still the risk that a lot of quality is lost in the building preparation phase. In Sweden, architects get an assignment to make a design, but are often not involved in the later stages of projects. It is very common that the projectering, as they call it in Sweden, is done by another, cheaper architect. The original architect plays no further role and is most often not consulted when things are changed in the project, which of course is very likely. ­ All Swedish architects involved in housing complain about this phenomenon.

Still, if you look at this discussion from a Dutch perspective, the Swedish situation is a bit strange. One wonders why there is so much pressure on land and why everyone complains about lack of housing qualities. After all, Stockholm has enough space. It is one of the greenest cities in the world. The city owns most of the land and has the tools to challenge developers to set a standard to housing qualities.

Looking at Hammarby Sjöstad, a very centrally located development area from the ‘90s and 00’s, it seems that the city of Stockholm does have the capacity to make very attractive living environments. In Hammarby Sjöstad the city has developed a dense, mixed living area with good public transport and foremost great outdoor qualities. However, also in Hammarby Sjöstad it is clear that Swedish housing architecture is a bit boring and much of the same. Typological innovation is very scarce. New concepts for urban living patterns do not seem to be developed. So there are some challenges to deal with, but, from a Dutch perspective, it doesn’t look like a mission impossible at all.

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Hammarby Sjöstad

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Hammarby Sjöstad

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Hammarby Sjöstad