Category Archives: Million Homes

There’s no place like home: can reimagining our concept of the “good home” help us reach sustainability goals?

Close your eyes and imagine a good home. What do you see – a house in a garden, a cottage by the sea, an apartment, high up, in the city? Who lives there? Go inside – what do the rooms you walk through look like? How does it feel?

As KTH architect Erik Stenberg’s blog showed, urban planners and architects had a clear set of answers to these questions when they started building mass public housing in Sweden during the 1960’s – the so-called Million Homes Programme era. They saw bold, modern apartments set admits nature and connected to the city by sweeping roads. These apartments were inhabited by Swedish nuclear families, each with 2.7 kids.

Time and changing circumstances have shown how transitory this image of the good home and its inhabitants really is. We have moved on, become different and more diverse. The apartments built during this period however remain, sustaining in weather-bleached concrete a fading ideal of the good home.

The Ideal of Home

The research of Pernilla Hagbert, a doctoral student associated with both Chalmers and KTH, is deepening our appreciation of the powerful role that such ideals of the good home play in our personal living decisions, as well as in the development of housing market more widely.

“Today’s media presents us with a clear but limited set of images of what the home looks like,” Pernilla comments. An owner-occupied detached house sits proudly in a well-maintained garden plot – or the childless residents of an apartment look out through floor-to-ceiling windows over the lights of the city. “These norms are attractive and work for many people,” Pernilla continues, “however, in an increasingly diverse society, there is a clear need for alternative ideas about home, particularly ideas that make more effective use of our limited resources.”

Pernilla’s work has led her to explore contemporary collaborative housing initiatives, sometimes called collective housing initiatives in Sweden – though Pernilla warns that the word “collective” comes with outdated associations that can hinder discussions and exploration of this form of housing.

A collaborative house development in Sofielund in Malmo opened December 2014. Image from Pernilla Hagbert.

“In a contemporary collaborative housing initiative”, Pernilla continues, “a group of people take decisions about how they can live better through sharing certain resources and facilities.”

Contemporary Collaborative Housing Initiatives in Sweden

Pernilla gives an example from Sofielund in Malmö where a community of residents has worked together with the local housing authority, MKB, and developers NCC to deliver a diverse set of homes that make different use of shared facilities. One-person homes have a private living area but share facilities for making food and socialising. Larger units provide a home for example for small teams of single parents who share social spaces, this allowing them to support each other with childcare. “These homes challenge norms about the good home, allowing us to become more creative and responsive to the real needs of our lives,” Pernilla reflects.

Pernilla is especially interested in the role that new ideas about the good home can play in helping us live more sustainably. “Collaborative housing allows us to live smaller and share, using less resources,” Pernilla comments. She draws attention to the work of architects such as Hauschild Siegel who are re-thinking the detached suburban house in a compact urban form – that still manages to capture the ideals that led homeowners to seek a property in the suburbs such as access to a garden and individualised design choices – whilst (at least in theory) aiming to limit their environmental footprint.

A multi-dwelling in Malmö by Hauschild Siegel. Image from

A multi-dwelling in Malmö by Hauschild Siegel. Image from

 Utopia Architects in Stockholm have put forward a collaborative housing proposal focused on younger city residents called KomBo  that outlines a plan for a housing block with a mix of private and shared facilities. The goal is to speed up the provision of housing to this vulnerable group as well as establish a sense of friendship and community.


Drawings of how the KomBo development might look in plan. Images from Utopia Architects.

Drawings of how the KomBo development might look in plan with shared and private spaces. The image above shows the outside of the building. Images from Utopia Architects.

Architects Paradiso in Stockholm and OkiDoki! in Gothenberg are also producing cutting-edge work exploring new combinations of housing forms that make less use of resources.

Building with Flexibility in Mind

As earlier blogs in this series have shown,this re-thinking isn’t only about new housing. Existing housing can be renovated and repurposed to permit greater diversity and resource sharing.

Pernilla and many others at KTH argue that any new building unit conceived today should be designed with flexibility and repurposing in mind; our ideals, needs and resources change over time and the built environment must be designed to adapt effectively.

Looking forward, the main challenge – and opportunity – Pernilla identifies to the acceptance of new ideas about the good home is amongst housing policy makers and other actors in the traditional housing market. “The system today is designed for an idea of the good home that is standardized,” Pernilla reflects. “Many actors are interested in exploring alternative models, however, it is challenging to move these in to the mainstream when, for example, it is difficult to get bank loans for collaborative housing initiatives.”

Pernialla Hagbert can be contacted here: 



Securing homes for all

Without a home, who would you be? Having an address solves many practical challenges like getting a bank account or having post delivered. Home is far more than address. Alongside physical shelter, a home provides emotional shelter, providing a secure base from which we can build our lives and connect to society. And that, KTH researcher Kerstin Annadotter argues, is why homelessness is such a corrosive phenomenon. People without a home lack one of life’s fundamental sources of personal security, not simply an address.

Kerstin’s research focuses on sustainable housing strategies, especially strategies that support the more vulnerable members of society to get and keep homes. She is passionate about the interwoven issues of social and economic sustainability in housing and the contribution they make to an inclusive, just society.

Kerstin Annadotter reminds us to see homes and people where we sometimes see only housing blocks and problems

Kerstin Annadotter reminds us to see homes and people where we sometimes see only housing blocks and problems

“Whilst Sweden has had a reputation for providing housing for all” Kerstin reflects, “increases in income inequality combined with short-sighted housing policies and cuts in the welfare system affecting the rental sector in particular, mean that more and more people face a genuine threat of not finding a home. The current market situation doesn’t help with a severe lack of rental housing for all potential tenants”.

Is it your fault?

Whilst individuals who find themselves in these types of situation often balm their own actions or lack of resources, Kerstin argues that housing policies and social changes, in fact, have a far greater impact.

Kerstin’s work examines the practices of housing companies in Sweden and the social and economic consequences these have – for residents, for the housing companies themselves and for society in a broader sense.

“Most housing companies,” Kerstin continues “have created criteria for those  who want to rent their properties that are simply impossible for the more vulnerable members of society to achieve –such as having a salary at least three times the rent.” Kerstin’s research helps make the criteria housing companies use to judge prospective tenants explicit, as well as the consequences of using these criteria.

Sometimes the renovation of social housing is used to displace current residents and leads to rent raises that mean they can never return.

Sometimes the renovation of social housing is used to displace current residents and leads to rent raises that mean they can never return.

Kerstin is also interested in the topic of “renoviction” – when housing companies, accidentally or on purpose, use the renovation process to displace residents from their homes on a permanent basis. The supposedly good act of renovating an apartment thus can have the perverse effect of breaking down the personal security and sense of community that underpin social sustainability.

Renovating at a human scale

“Together with colleagues, I champion a more incremental approach to renovation” comments Kerstin. Rather than a whole residential block being renovated at one time and to a single level of quality, Kerstin recommends that a housing company renovate to variable levels that existing clients can afford. Different quality mean existing tenants can return to their homes and, as homes become available, a diversity of new tenants can be attracted at a range of rental levels.

“We can tackle this challenge humanely and in an affordable manner if we tackle it early” Kerstin argues. “Helping people get in to a home and then stay in that home is far more affordable that dealing with the dreadful social and economic costs of homelessness”. She admires the policies of one municipal housing company in Uppsala that has no income criteria for accepting tenants and, with minimum resources, helps vulnerable tenants managing their finances so that they can stay in their home.

Looking forward, Kerstin wants to explore the neighborhoods around housing blocks more deeply, examining the type of investments that different actors make (or don’t make) in neighbourhoods today and how these also affect economic or social sustainability.

Kerstin Annadotter, KTH

Kerstin Annadotter, KTH

If you’d like to find out more about Kerstin Annadotter’s research her profile page at KTH takes you to several links.

Kerstin Annadotter is part of the Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment working group.

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.