An Incremental Approach to Re-Making the Million Homes

In this week’s video blog, KTH architect Erik Stenberg discusses the contribution research can make to the renovation of Stockholm’s “Million Homes” housing areas that were built during the 1960’s and 70’s.

An Incremental Approach

Erik’s research on the original plans for the Million Homes housing blocks helped him appreciate how apartments could be re-shaped through, for example, joining two or more apartments together. “The modernist, modular design of the blocks makes them surprisingly flexible” comments Erik. “It is relatively straightforward to identify the limited number of load-bearing elements in each housing block – and thus – the other elements that can be changed to adapt to today’s needs”. Some families need more bedrooms; some elderly people now prefer a smaller apartment.

Today, using the research arena provided by the Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment at KTH Erik is able to combine his research with that of other researchers such as specialist in building materials, civil engineering, energy management, real estate economics and urban planning to generate fresh, multidimensional thinking.

“Beneath our variety of skills, we share an incremental approach to renovation” comments Erik. “It’s a more gradual approach, based on apartment-by-apartment renovations that adapts to specific circumstances and evolves over time. Hence, it’s more sustainable – in economic, social and environmental terms – than more radical approaches. These often require an entire housing block to be emptied during the renovation process, destroying communities and creating a risk of a “one size fits all” solution”.

Architecture for a Circular Economy

“I hope, also, that this incremental approach inspires the architects we are educating today to reflect on their own practice” Erik adds. “We must be as humble as some the original architects of the Million Program housing areas who appreciated that we can’t envisage the needs of tomorrow’s societies. What we can do instead is leave a level of flexibility, adaptability or sufficient “possibilities” in the morphologies of our buildings so that when inevitable social changes take place, future architects and communities are able to adapt their buildings to their realities with a minimal use of new resources”.

Buildings, like other goods, can be part of the “circular economy”. They should be designed with the re-use of all their elements in mind. “This is a fantastic challenge for young architects to take on – and how our architectural era will differentiate itself from those that have gone before” concludes Erik.

Erik is currently leading a cross-KTH project called BoStad, championing an incremental approach to the renovation of housing in Stockholm. As well as working with owners of housing areas in the Million Homes areas, BoStad is being developed in cooperation with KSL, an organization established by the different municipalities (kommuner) of Stockholm to advance and collaborate on good practice. You can find out more HERE.

In next week’s blog, KTH real estate economics researcher, Kerstin Annadotter, takes up the issue of Swedish apartment rental policies, arguing that these too should be used to support an incremental approach to renovation. To make sure you get this post, subscribe to the blog by entering your email in the field on the right hand column.

You can view Erik Stenberg’s first film introducing the Million Programme era HERE.