Last month KTH – Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm had the distinction of installing world-leading Harvard scholar, Edward Glaeser, as an Honoury Professor. To mark the occasion Ed Glaeser visited KTH and gave a lecture titled: Cities and the Post Urban World.
The recording is available here:
As always, Professor Glaeser gave a sparkling performance spinning data, method innovations and insights together like the premier craftsman of contemporary urban studies he has become. The great thing about watching his lecture on YouTube is that you can pause it (!) to let the impact of his many powerful observations and interpretations sink in. This is a Master’s course in contemporary global urbanism delivered in a little under an hour.
Sustainability for Stockholm – and Beyond
In the context of prosperous and beautiful Stockholm, Ed’s core message really hit home. The global battle for sustainable urbanism will have its front-lines in developing world cities. It is here that the majority of the world lives today and will live in the future. It is here that the greatest urban challenges are being faced – around housing, transportation, healthcare, energy provision and, vitally, equity. And, it is here that we must find solutions.
For a university like KTH in a city like Stockholm that is, perhaps, the world’s most sustainable capital, there is a responsibility beyond ensuring our own future. Those insights we establish in Stockholm and technologies we develop here must be taken forward and made use of in cities around the world. Sustainable urbanism is a global, shared challenge. Many of our projects (and projects developed in other European capitals) would benefit from having this perspective in mind from their initiation. Great for my city AND great for the world should be our mantra.
“Sweden” Karin Bradley KTH researcher reflects in her campus office, “hasn’t been an early adopter of DIY urbanism – but is making up for it now.” A large and relatively competent public sector has meant that many Swedes have had their urban needs addressed; when this is coupled to a strong history of bottom-up initiatives such as “koloniträdgårdar” – city allotments – there haven’t been the same urban challenges or “urban gaps” that DIY initiatives tackle. Over the past decade, however, the situation has changed and now a wide range of DIY projects can be found across Sweden.
What sorts of DIY Urbanism projects are thriving in Sweden?
Hundreds of DIY projects are blossoming, especially in the communal gardening and food areas. Karin, however, draws our attention away from vegetable plots towards the urban transport sector and the role that DIY bike schemes are now playing in changing the options that people, especially people from disadvantaged backgrounds, have for moving around the city. Access to affordable transport directly affects the access, indeed freedom, people have in the city for both work and leisure.
The Malmö Bike Kitchen. Photo from ydhag.net
An initiative Karin finds particularly inspiring is Cykelköket. Cykelköket translates literally as the “Bike Kitchen” and is a global movement that supports people to set up their own DIY open repair centres in their cities. Whilst a global movement, people in different cities can tailor the Bike Kitchen to the particular character and needs of their city. “There are parallels with the Open Source movement in computing,” Karin Bradley adds, “An initial idea is developed, it is then made public, open, free to copy, so that other people can take it forward and adapt it to their needs”.
In Sweden the Malmö Cykelköket, in the south of the country, has set the pace.
A short film on the Malmö Cykelköket – in Swedish but you’ll understand the pictures in any language.
Its been in operation since 2011 and is not a bike shop or a bike club but a bike repair workshop where people can bring a bike themselves and loan tools to mend their own bike collaboratively.
The initiative is about spreading cycling and the know-how about bike maintenance that will support more people, especially people from poorer backgrounds, to take up cycling. It’s a direct challenge to the commercialization of cycling that’s taken place in recent years, asking and enabling people to repair and reuse bikes rather than buy new. The Malmö Bike Kitchen also receives bikes that have been officially declared “dis-guarded”, striping them down for parts that other cyclists can use to repair their own bikes.
Mending your bike. Photo from regionskåne.se
What Karin Bradley likes about the Malmö Bike Kitchen in particular is the way in which it works with the community, unemployed and recent immigrants to Sweden. The Kitchen has a volunteer system that is open to newcomers to take part, becoming expert volunteers themselves eventually. The Kitchen, Karin notes, “provides a meaningful base for people, especially whilst they are having their official papers processed and are unable to apply for formal work. It means they can start to learn Swedish and begin to feel part of a community”.
Where else is this happening in Sweden?
The Malmö Bike Kitchen is part of the multi-purpose makerspace organization STPLN also located in Malmö (Karin comments that STPLN has recently had its public support funding removed, making its future uncertain). Several other Swedish cities including Gothenburg, Jönköping and Solna now also host Bike Kitchens and temporary initiatives are also popping up elsewhere.
Can I get involved?
Pedal on. Photo from sverigesradio.se
All Bike Kitchens are open to volunteers; make contact via the websites above. Want to start a Bike Kitchen yourself – an open source handbook can be found here.
And the effect?
Urban transport options are evolving rapidly in Sweden, as elsewhere. Whilst we are familiar with top-down investments in public transport networks, its interesting to see new, bottom-up, DIY players becoming a force, from Uber to Bike Kitchen. The challenge will be to see how well these different initiatives, with their different organisational forms and aims, can support and reinforce each other.
In the next blog Karin Bradley will introduce us to what’s new around the world in DIY Urbanism.
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 hauschild-siegel.com
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 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.”
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.
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.
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 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 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 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.