Category Archives: Stockholm

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.




Stockholm’s Post War Housing: a Source of Sustainability for the City

Over the next few weeks, the KTH Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment’s blog will look at Sustainable Homes from a rage of different perspectives based on the work of researchers at KTH. In this first post, Erik Stenberg from the KTH School of Architecture introduces us to Stockholm’s Million Homes project areas and asks us to reassess what they give to the city. A short video – cut with some excellent footage from the 1960’s when the homes were built – introduces the Million Homes project and current research. You can find out more about the Centre’s work with Sustainable homes here and may we suggest you subscribe to the blog to make sure you get future posts?

Stockholm: another building boom

Building homes, again, in Stockholm.

Building homes, again, in Stockholm.

Whilst you may think that a skyline dotted with a hundred construction cranes and endless glossy billboards advertising the launch of apartment blocks is a recent phenomenon in Stockholm, it’s nothing new. Stockholm has been subject to wave after wave of housing crises – and subsequent remedial building programmes – over its history. The city, it seems, is more attractive than it plans to be.

Erik Stenberg’s work focuses on the housing construction boom that took place between the mid-1960s and 70s in Stockholm. This is the so-called Million Program Era when Sweden set out to build one million homes for its expanding and urbanizing population.

The project was successful, providing homes for a whole generation. It was also considered an architectural, planning and construction success – at least at the time.

“The millions homes areas led modernist thinking on architecture and urban planning” reflects Erik Stenberg. “The construction process was also remarkable” Erik continues, “innovative apartment and block designs were realized through the production of modular units and, to varying degrees, prefabricated elements that were slotted together at the building site, speeding up production whilst maintaining quality. This hadn’t been achieved before at that scale”.

The Millions Homes area of Tensta, emerging from the wooded landscape outside Stockholm.

The Millions Homes area of Tensta, emerging from the wooded landscape outside Stockholm.

The results were, indeed, remarkable. Bold, elegantly simple housing blocks rose from forest landscapes around the city of Stockholm. The towers and low-rise apartment blocks circled around community resources such as shops, schools, theatres, health-care and sports facilities. These new areas were well-connected to the resources of the capital through new motorways and an expanding network of public transport.

This was top down, large-scale, social welfare state planning at its very best. At the time, the concern was that central Stockholm might be abandoned as people moved out to enjoy the delights of these new suburbs – Stockholm’s iconic department store, NK, even opened a branch in the Million Homes neighborhood of Farsta.

The triumphal opening of NK in the shopping suare at Tensta in the 1960's.

The triumphal opening of NK in the shopping square at Farsta in the 1960’s.

From boom to disaster?

How different the situation is today.

The large-scale million homes suburbs are amongst some of the most deprived and reviled areas of the capital. Their names have become synonymous with deprivation, social tension and neglect. Whilst genuine hardship is encountered in these areas, notably, the media plays a significant role in maintaining the image of the areas as “troubled”.

Images like these dominate perceptions of the Million HOmes areas today in the rest of Stockholm.

Images like these from Husby dominate perceptions of the Million Homes areas today in the rest of Stockholm.

This is a pattern of development mirrored time and time again in post war housing areas across Europe and North America. In many countries the “solution” has been demolition, with blocks of post war housing being knocked down so that cities can start again.

In the midst of this storm, Erik Stenberg’s work challenges us to see the Million Homes era areas again, for what they were meant to be – and what they can still give us.

He champions careful, community-engaged renovation rather than demolition. “These areas were well-built and today provide good homes and communities for many” notes Erik. Whilst modernism might have fallen out of fashion, Erik considered the apartments blocks well designed – and with a nascent potential to be redesigned – see next week’s blog for an example of how this is already happening.

Working with what you’ve got

In this month’s video blog, Erik takes us out to the Million Program era suburb of Tensta, an area where he used to live, to reflect on the design and construction of these still remarkable neighborhoods.

Before we rush decisions aimed at changing the Million Homes areas, Erik wants us to notice and reflect on the value of what is already there. “Sustainability is about managing with and for the assets you already have” he comments. Perhaps a new mind-set is required, rather than new buildings?

See the video here:

Next week Erik will talk us through some of the renovations that are already on-goin in the Million Homes areas, reflecting on how a more gradual and context sensitive based approach to renovation, an “incremental approach” is supporting sustainability goals.

You can read more about Erik’s work here or, if you speak Swedish, hear him on radio here.



Sustainable Homes in an Urban Future

Until recently most of us could take it for granted that we would have somewhere to live, a place to call home. We had shared ideas about how that home would look – perhaps a large-windowed apartment downtown or a small timber-framed house in the suburbs, with a lawn and obligatory trampoline. We looked forward to getting to know the neighbourhood – to “putting down roots”.

In just a few years, the situation for those of us who live or want to live in cities has changed dramatically. The rapid influx of people in to cities has created a new reality leading us to question what home is – and explore new possibilities for what a home might be.

“Don’t look to Stockholm!” the poster cries “21,000 people are already looking in vain for homes”.

“Don’t look to Stockholm!” the poster cries “21,000 people are already looking in vain for homes”.

Some of the issues are deeply challenging – a lack of housing stock in cities, housing (un)affordability, the renovation of ageing housing stocks, unsustainable profit-driven development, social alienation and the breakdown of neighbourhood….  At the same time, shoots of possibility are starting to push through, a new openness and curiosity, allowing us to explore different ideas about what a home could be.

Over the next few weeks the Centre blog will highlight some research themes around “homes” and “housing” emerging at KTH. The Sustainable Homes Focus Area being developed by the Centre provides a platform for exchanging and developing ideas around this theme.

We start off talking with KTH architect Erik Stenberg about his work on the renovation of post-war housing in the Stockholm region. With PhD student Pernilla Hagbert we discuss alternative ideas about home that some people are beginning to practice, before examining new types of home ownership with KTH real estate economist Kerstin Annadotter.*

First, some basic background information on the situation faced in Stockholm (and mirrored in many other urban centres). It is estimated that the population of the Stockholm region will grow from 2.2 million today to 3 million over the next 30 years. This growth will come primarily from rural depopulation and immigration to Stockholm from outside Sweden.  Plans are underway to build 140,000 new homes in and around Stockholm to accommodate the influx. At the same time, almost 1 in 4 homes in Stockholm require renovation, if carbon dioxide outputs (mainly from heat waste due to poor insulation) are going to reach European targets. Property prices in the capital are at an all-time high and the waiting lists for rental properties are measured in decades. The situation, clearly, is acute.

Despite a building boom, many struggle to find a home in Stockholm.

Despite a building boom, many struggle to find a home in Stockholm.

Sixty years ago, as Europe raised itself out of destruction wrought by the Second World War, people likewise rushed in to Stockholm. The poster above, plastered up on railways stations and small town notice boards across Sweden, told them to go home. Today we’ve learned to see the potential in big cities – and have become dependent on the creativity and productiveness of our urban economies. We can’t and don’t want to go home. Our challenge, then, is to understand what “home in the city” is and how we can deliver viable homes to all of our city’s residents.

*if you want to make sure you receive these blog posts, please subscribe to this blog using the field on the right hand side.



Welcome to the KTH Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment Blog

Today we launch a new blog for the KTH Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment. The blog will profile innovative research fields emerging at the university that have the potential to provide radically new approaches to the built environment.

“KTH is an inspirational place to be at the moment” comments Centre director Amy Rader Olsson, “with a diverse range of research areas emerging that will change how we address the built environment for the better”.

“Both for people at KTH and outside” continues Amy, “one of the key challenges we face is communicating this research and its potential in an effective way”.

The new blog will help KTH researchers and their partners share their findings.  It will provide bite-sized updates on new research frontiers on a regular basis with video and interviews.

“We will lead with a series of blogs profiling KTH’s work with Sustainable Homes” comments Emma Read Källblad, the blog’s editor and Centre coordinator, “ before moving on to look at DIY Urbanism, Smart Cities and Building Information Modelling (BIM)”. Regular updates from the Centre and its partners also shared on the blog will help connect readers to further events and activities.

To provide a base for these blog themes, we start today with a video that gives an overview of the Centre’s work and aims.

If you’d like to be kept up to date about the Centre’s work, please subscribe to the blog (entre your email in the right hand column). If you’d like to contribute stories or ideas to the blog, please contact the editor ( Further contact points for the Centre and information about our work can be found HERE.

Can a city be too smart?

In this third of the “pre-launch” blogs from the Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment, KTH Professor Kristina Höök gives a short talk on how we can make better use of smart technology in cities. Kristina works in the field of human-technology interaction. She argues that, in our cities that are ever-more connected by technologies such as sensors and smart phones, these technologies need to be designed to suit to people, indeed, they need to be desirable to people, or else they run the risk of being ignored – of being “too smart”.

Kristina makes her presentation in Swedish. A summary in English follows.

English Summary

Kristina reflects that visions for technology and big data use in urban contexts haven’t materialized as planned – our fridges don’t order milk for us. She argues that this is, in part, because these visions were developed by technologists who tend to be fascinated by the potential of their tools, rather than by the needs of people. The work of Kristina and her group focuses on human needs and desires, seeking to explore how technology can respond to these. We move to cities to live more interesting lives, not simply more effective lives, and the development of cities must respond to this. Indeed, Stockholm is, by styling itself as an “attractive” city, rich in experiences and multidimensional.

Kristina introduces the audience to the “Internet of Things” and the “Cloud” that supports its functioning. These technologies mean that it is possible for people, objects and information to be connected constantly. Smart phones and other devices act as our portals into these systems. These connections make it possible to develop an entire wave of new smart solutions – solutions that are designed for people.

Kristina and her colleagues have developed a range of human smart solutions. One allows you to track your stress levels via a wrist band. Another allows you to couple nature into your city apartment so that you can see real time weather or the dynamics of other natural systems in your home. A third uses design to develop an attractive energy meter for the home – a meter that is also a ceiling lamp. As you reduce energy use in your home, the lamp opens, flowering outwards. Controlling your energy use thus becomes a pleasurable, positive experience.

Kristina and colleagues have also developed connected apps for people out in the city, for example, that allow you to trace other people’s responses to museum exhibitions. Another smart phone based app allows skiers to track their performance in real time.

Developing these connected systems requires a broad range of competences – ICT, materials, data analytics – and, vitally, insights into human behavior. KTH has the range of skills to deliver desirable, human solutions, enabled by outstanding technologies.